Second battle of Twyford Down looms over plan for car park

IT WAS Britain's most controversial road scheme - and to mollify its opponents, the Government made a unique promise.

A major highway, the A33, would be ripped up and turned back into countryside as compensation for the loss of Twyford Down, the unspoilt chalk hill near Winchester bisected by the M3 in 1992.

But now, say local campaigners, the Government and two local councils are reneging on their "world first" pledge to transform a four-lane road into open grassland for public recreation and amenity - and they are mounting a High Court action to force the Government to keep its word.

At present, the stretch of the old A33 has gone and in its place is a country walk full of wild flowers. The tarmac, diesel fumes and traffic jams have been replaced by a riot of vetches, ox-eye daisies, wild marjoram and purple flowering self-heal.

But a 428-space park-and-ride car park will soon be under construction on a four-acre stretch of the land, complete with toilets, 100 lampposts, administrative building, roundabout and slip roads to junction 10 of the M3. The site extends across the old bypass into the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Permission to build it has been given by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, in spite of comments by the inspector at a public inquiry into the plans that local people "regard the undertaking as a pledge to keep the restored former bypass in perpetuity as an open grassed area".

They would regard approving the car park as "reneging on such a pledge", the inspector said.

Now, half a dozen local community groups, organised as the Winchester Meadows Conservation Alliance, which regard the car park as a betrayal, are going to court to fight it.

The original promise came in 1992 from Malcolm Rifkind, transport secretary at the time, who assured Parliament that to compensate the citizens of Winchester for the loss of Twyford Down, the old A33 just east of the city, which until the motorway was built carried the through traffic, would "revert to green fields". His cabinet colleague Cecil Parkinson described the restoration as "a measure of the importance we attach to the environment around Winchester".

Hampshire County Council and Winchester City Council, backed by Mr Prescott and his Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, now have other ideas.

"We want more people to use park-and-ride rather than drive into the city centre, and this is a key means to try [to] reduce congestion in Winchester," said a county council spokesman. "We estimate the park-and- ride extension will remove 200,000 car journeys a year from the city centre and that is why we need it."

The campaigners do not agree. Winchester's existing car parks are far from full, they say. On a weekday afternoon last week, the existing 200- space St Catherine's park- and-ride next to the site was half empty. In another car park, only 30 out of 80 spaces were taken. "There's always at least 800 spare parking spaces in Winchester," says Keith Story, chairman of the campaigners. "This is what makes the scheme so very odd."

It is strange, they say, that the county council already owns a site large enough to accommodate the car park - an old depot right next to the restored grassland site, screened by mature trees and entirely within Winchester's development envelope.

He suspects that the whole plan may have a hidden agenda: to provide parking for a so-far-undisclosed high-intensity development on the county council depot site, further increasing its value. "There are so many alternative brownfield sites they could have used for a park-and-ride and have chosen not to," he says.

Alan Weeks, chairman of the Winchester City Residents' Association, said the area was part of Winchester's unique landscape setting. "We would like to see it enhanced so it becomes a great visual and recreational amenity and a significant wildlife resource," he said. "Instead we are faced with the imminent sterilisation of this big stretch of land which has only just been brought back to life."

Last week, Mr Story applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the Government's decision to sell the land to Hampshire County Council.

A spokesman for Mr Prescott said: "Neither Cecil Parkinson nor Malcolm Rifkind made statements which were legally binding. Their statements were fully considered by John Prescott when he came to make the decision in the park-and-ride scheme and were weighed in the balance; and he decided they were not of sufficient weight to cause him to refuse permission."

Mr Story said: "I am sure the whole thing is driven by money. But we believe the people and the environment of Winchester should come first."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have experience of B2B s...

Citifocus Ltd: German Speaking Client Specialist

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Prestigious asset management house seeks a...

Citifocus Ltd: Performance & Risk Oversight

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: This is a varied role focusing on the firm's mutua...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game