Fifty charged after motorway demonstration: Environmentalists are warning of a summer of discontent with protests in the South and the Midlands, writes Steve Boggan

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The Independent Online
A PROTEST at Twyford Down in Hampshire during Saturday night and Sunday morning, which resulted in more than 50 people being charge last night, was only the start of a summer of discontent, according to one of the leading opponents of the Government's road-building programme.

Chris Gillham, of the Friends of Twyford Down, predicted that the frustration of environmentalists would spill over into large but peaceful demonstrations at key sites in the Midlands and the south of England.

'There is definitely a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the Government's plans to spend pounds 23bn on road building when it has promised to cut emissions of carbon dioxide at the same time,' he said. 'That feeling is likely to be vented in a significant way during the summer.'

The Twyford demonstration, which began on Saturday night and resulted in arrests early yesterday, was staged at the site of a temporary bridge being constructed overnight across the A33 as part of the controversial M3 extension.

According to accounts given by police and demonstrators, about 200 protesters converged on the site and cut through razor wire before many gained access to the bridge. John Ackers, one of the demonstrators, said 118 people climbed on to the bridge, where they remained until being moved by police early yesterday.

'The police gave some people the choice of moving peacefully or being arrested,' he said. 'Some moved, others were led away. There was no violence on either side. The bridge was completed and the A33 was re-opened later, but we consider our protest to have been successful because so many of us got to the bridge.'

Inspector Paul Openshaw, of Hampshire Police, agreed that the demonstration was not violent. He said there had been over 50 arrests - thought to be the largest amount for a single incident at Twyford Down. Those arrested were charged with a variety of public order offences.

Mr Gillham, 50, a physicist in whose name representations about Twyford Down have been made to the European Commission, said the protest was indicative of growing unrest among environmentalists. He said large protests were likely during the summer at Oxleas Wood, the 8,000- year-old forest in Eltham, south-east London, part of which would be destroyed by the proposed pounds 200m East London relief road, and at Hackney Marshes in east London, which is threatened by an extension of the M11. Thousands are expected to join a march next month in which a symbolic pounds 23bn will be carried from the Department of Transport to the headquarters of British Rail.

Other scenes of past environmental controversy are likely to be revisited, Mr Gillham said. Probable sites are the Timbmet complex in Oxford, which has been accused of trading in hardwoods from rain forests, and the Tesco superstore in Golden Hill, Bristol, which was built at the expense of a row of lime trees.

(Photograph omitted)