Protesters stock up for Birmingham road war

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EVEN ECO-WARRIORS must eat. Ming, one of the protesters who has set up camp near the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, took time out to buy provisions at the weekend.

He is one of about 30 people who have been gathered at two camps near the proposed route for the road since last October in protest at the six- lane privately owned toll expressway which Labour once vowed would never be built. The protesters have created a warren of bunkers with the intention of holding up clearance work. They claim they can chain themselves to the security doors for a month if necessary.

The Rev David Shawcross, who spends as much time as he can at the Greenwood Camp, in Sutton Coldfield, plans to "lock on" to a tree and start reading the Bible aloud once the demolition starts. "It is illegal to interrupt a clergyman or minister while he is about his normal business and as I hold regular prayer meetings up there, it is my normal business," he said. "It takes about a fortnight to read the Bible right through continuously and after that I shall begin on the hymn book."

Charles Bradshaw-Smith, a business analyst and chairman of the Alliance Against the BNRR, which includes 16 communities, said: "It is hard to believe that the Government has given the go-ahead to build this road. It is environmentally destructive, will create more traffic and is not wanted by the local people.

"Why should our communities be sacrificed when there is no greater good. The traffic in and out of the conurbation will remain the same so there is no point in building this road."

While the protesters at the camp concentrate on direct action, members of the alliance are taking their protest through the courts.

They have demanded access to the secret contract agreements for the construction of the 27-mile-long toll road which is due to run through greenbelt land and two sites of special scientific interest.

Mr Bradshaw-Smith said that on the basis of a letter written by John Prescott, which the group has seen, the concession agreement contains illegal clauses which forced the Secretary of State to give the go-ahead to the road last July.

Last week, a judge ruled that the group's lawyers could have access to certain parts of the agreement with the contractors, Midland Expressway Limited. "Our lawyers have said that document should be in the public domain and that is what we are fighting for," said Mr Bradshaw-Smith.

"Once our lawyers have seen the documents we can use that information in our second case which is to put a stop to the road altogether."

Gerald Kells, of West Midlands Friends of the Earth, who helped organise the alliance, said the road would not ease congestion but would simply shuffle traffic elsewhere. "The Government has admitted that the traffic on the M6 will be the same and most of the people who will use the BNRR are currently using A roads. They will just end up being pushed on to the motorway causing a huge bottleneck," he said.

The BNRR was conceived in the 1980 as part of an "M25-style" orbital motorway round Birmingham and was to be used as the flagship for a Conservative policy of private toll motorways. The developers were hoping to start work on the pounds 400m scheme in December but have admitted that the legal action has set them back a year.

The BNRR will link the M42 at Coleshill with the M6 at Cannock.