Road protesters plant new trees

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The Independent Online
Campaigners protesting against the Newbury bypass yesterday planted more than 100 new trees on a site cleared by contractors last week.

A number of trees were felled on the Tot Hill site at the southern section of the proposed road last Wednesday and that area was replanted yesterday. Police and Highways Agency officials said they were powerless to stop the planting.

Highways Agency spokeswoman said later: "This will not delay work at all. It is a pity because if the protesters had asked they could have planted the trees in a place where they could have remained. As it is we will just tear them down when the actual construction work starts later on this year."

There was no sign of the contractors at the site yesterday and security guards had been given the weekend off before the battle of the bypass enters its second week today.

The demonstrators' move came amid reports that the Government was considering stopping benefits payments to the "tree people".

The Department of Transport is thought to be putting pressure on the Department of Social Security to stop the campaigners' dole cheques. Although most of those who oppose the road are in paid employment, some receive social security.

A senior Department of Transport official described "as absurd" the dole payments to the protesters. "It will be a priority to identify these individuals and stop their payments," the official said.

Graham Allen, Labour's transport spokesman, said he was concerned by the apparent "back-door" way of curbing the protests.