Radical Lady B joins anti-bypass activists

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The Independent Online
DANNY PENMAN

Amid the "crusties", white rastas and mud-stained tree huggers, Jeannine, Lady Barber, wife of Sir David, the Baronet of Greasley, cuts a curious figure.

Shoulder to shoulder, but not too close, with hardened environmental activists, Lady Jeannine and like-minded local members of the supper-partying classes have been turning out daily for the romantically named "Third Battle of Newbury".

More disgruntled Tory voter than doughty eco-warrior, she was out again yesterday on the picket lines, 18 months into her own campaign of conscience against the proposed bypass. "I'm a Conservative voter and I'm in a bit of a dilemma at the moment," she said.

Currently Lady Barber is chairman of the Tory Party association in the nearby village of Inkpen. Despite this, her implacable opposition to the road finds her cast in the role of a militant: "I know I'm behaving like one of Arthur Scargill's miners but I've never done anything like this before."

Ironically, as a keen fox hunter, Lady Barber would normally find herself confronting many of the activists opposing the road. Drawn to their ranks by a shared goal, she is picking up some of their ideology, if not their dress code. "I'm now a bit more radical and it is dominating my life at the moment. There's a dichotomy in my life. Should I carry on campaigning or come back and be a housewife? It's a question I cannot answer," she said.

Another convert to the cause out yesterday was Jo Carter, a former Tory voter who has lost faith in the political system. "You do not have the ability to challenge the decisions of the Secretary of State," she said. "We are told that we are part of a democratic system but that clearly is not correct.

"We are low in confidence in the procedures but gaining conviction that we should do something about it. Constitutionally we've done as much as we can and this is the sort of thing that leads to more action groups.

"As far as direct action is concerned a lot of people like myself identify with the people involved. We have children and grandchildren at university with the same philosophy as the activists," she said.

Ms Carter, 49, who runs an electronics company and a small farm, has set up supply lines to the eco-troops. She provides food, money and moral support to the activists.

Among the well-heeled in woods was Peter Yarrow, owner of a local newsagents chain, and his wife Tessa.

Mr Yarrow said the road was not supported by the whole town. Many felt it would lead to Newbury becoming "as big as Basingstoke" and would attract social problems such as unemployment.

"I have established I'm not agile enough to go up the trees so I'm standing on the ground," he said.

The protesters have been quick to welcome their unlikely allies. Tony Hooligan one of the protest coordinators said: "Nobody asks your political views, we've all got the same aim. It's pointless to put people into categories, most people are individuals. Everybody is just concerned about what's happening."

On Day 10 since construction of the road began, the battle had moved to Pen Wood, south west of the Berkshire town, where contractors attempted to continue tree-cutting.

Three people were arrested as about 60 protesters were out-manouevered by 200 police and security guards allowing workers to cut down 70 silver birch trees.

Meanwhile, the chief executives of the environmental establishment, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildlife Trust and the Council for British Archaeology joined forces with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth yesterday at Newbury to support the activists opposing the road.

The opposition to the road has begun to worry the construction companies tendering to build it. Only the route clearance contract has been awarded with the main contract to be awarded in six weeks.

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