Scots vow to win Britain's `last motorway battle'

Protesters in Glasgow say the M77 will not be built
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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S latest motorway construction battle, over the M77 development in Glasgow, will intensify this week when radical anti-roads protesters publish photographs of local people working as security guards for the contractors.

After more than 20 securitystaff abandoned their posts and joined the protesters' camp last week, environmentalists say they will step up efforts to "shame" locals into quitting their jobs at the motorway site.

The protesters have video and still pictures of men and women from the Glasgow area who are guarding the seven-mile-long motorway route for the roadbuilders, Wimpey. Any local workers who turn up for work tomorrow will, they say, find their faces displayed on posters around the city.

The campaign is being organised by local Scottish Militant Labour councillors, but it is supported by environmentalists living in the self-proclaimed Pollok Free State, built in the middle of the planned development. Colin MacLeod, 28, who founded the tent-and-treehouse camp last year, said: "Obviously it's not very nice if people lose their jobs in an area of high unemployment like this, but this issue is bigger than any individual. We are just not prepared to see this area destroyed. No one has the right to ruin our future. We are going for the kill now."

Mr MacLeod and other protesters hope the campaign will disrupt Wimpey's efforts to clear a path for the new £52m road, which will link Ayrshire with the M8 in Glasgow city centre. Last Tuesday, Wimpey was forced to cut short a tree-felling operation when security personnel walked off the job. Some have now joined the protest.

At the Pollok camp yesterday, one of the former guards, William Lang, 26, said he had changed sides because until last week he had not realised that most of the objectors were locals. "Before I went up there that morning I thought that the demonstrators were environmental nutters from Europe. But they are not. Most of them are from this part of the city - schoolchildren, young people, old people. I listened to what they were saying and saw the extent of what was proposed and I just thought `Wait a minute. This is wrong'."

Last night protesters set fire to a circle of eight scrap cars buried nose down on the motorway route Organisers said the ritual cremation near Pollok Estate symbolised the demise of the car's status in modern society.

The protesters say that the M77 will destroy environmentally sensitive green-belt land and increase air and noise pollution, notably in Pollok Park, Glasgow's largest open space. They accuse Labour-controlled Strathclyde Regional Council of being "roads-obsessed" and say it should use the £30m it is investing in the project to improve the city's public transport.

Alice Mosely, secretary of the Glasgow for People environmental pressure group, explained: "Across Europe, planners and politicians, including Conservatives, are reassessing road-building programmes and looking at public-transport schemes as new evidence emerges that roads are inefficient and damaging. But this Labour council wants to plough on undeterred."

Ms Mosely's charge is a sensitive one because Glasgow, more than any other city, represents the failure of Britain's post-war urban motorway programme. In the Fifties, architects and planners laid plans for a network of inner-city highways. By 1970, phase one was completed when the Queen Mother opened the Kingston Bridge over the Clyde. For the first time, motorists could drive straight through the heart of the city on the M8 motorway - over the site of thousands of demolished Victorian tenements.

But the planners' vision of motorways as a source of freedom in a society where every family had a car proved hopelessly flawed. Glasgow has the lowest level of car ownership of any British city. Worse, the highways were badly built. At rush-hour, cars crossing the Kingston Bridge grind to a halt as workmen continue repairs to stop Europe's biggest motorway bridge collapsing into the Clyde.

For architects who have acknowledged the mistakes of the past, the decision by Strathclyde council to press ahead with the M77 is perverse. Gavin Stamp, lecturer in architectural history at the Mackintosh School of Art in Glasgow, said: "Councillors have conceded the errors they made with tower blocks and they are now pulling them down. But with the Kingston Bridge collapsing under their wheels, they have failed to learn the lesson that motorways are not a good way of getting people in and out of cities. Glasgow planners are dinosaurs who still still believe it is right to smash roads throught the centre of cities, wrapping our environment with concrete. The policy is insane."

It is a charge angrily rejected by Charlie Gordon, a former Scotrail booking clerk who now chairs Strathclyde council's roads and transportation committee. Motorways, he argues, are a "valid part of an integrated transport network". The M77, he says, will reduce accidents, cut journey-to-work times, and link Ayrshire to Scotland's motorway network, boosting the local economy. He points out that council subsidies have helped create in Glasgow the biggest public-transport system in Britain outside London. The M77, he insists, will be built.

Others are not so sure. In Pollok, local people are preparing for a war of attrition. With schoolchildren threatening to strike over the road project and more roadbuilders set to quit their jobs next week, demonstrators say that Britain's motorway programme will come to a halt on Clydeside. One local councillor, Nicky Bennett, who is helping to co-ordinate theprotests, said: "Never forget that it was in Pollok that the Anti-Poll Tax Federation was born. That eventually destroyed one of the Tories' key policies. People here have a long and successful tradition of protest."

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