It is disconcerting to be wandering on foot along the middle of the fast lane of London's Westway at 10am on a Tuesday. But this, one of the capital's busiest thoroughfares along which hundreds of vehicles thunder each minute on their way into the city, was yesterday completely free of traffic – turned over instead to an impromptu lorry park.
Some 300 HGVs from across the South-east, many of which set out in convoys from their home depots soon after dawn, pulled up on the eastern carriageway of the A40, forming a queue of lorries stretching back some two miles towards Heathrow.
They had arrived under police escort shortly after rush hour as part of what was billed as the biggest ever fuel protest to be staged in London. Demonstrators were demanding the Government grant hauliers a privilege currently enjoyed by bus operators – a 20-25p "essential users" rebate on each litre of diesel they buy.
The organisers, Transaction 2007, believe hundreds of small family-run haulage firms, some of which have been built over several generations, face imminent bankruptcy unless the Chancellor reduces their tax burden.
Memories of the 2000 fuel protests which brought the country to a standstill and provided the first major challenge to Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown's authority were fresh in everybody's minds in the convoy yesterday.
Among those taking part in the demonstration was Andrew Spence, from Co Durham, who was bound over for six months for a breach of the peace after joining a rolling blockade at Jarrow in 2000. He said nothing had changed. "I haven't been able to make any money since 2000. I have tried really hard to make it work but I just can't. It really is very sad," he said.
For Kerry Calver, who made the journey from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, to London yesterday, the rise in fuel duty is the final straw. "It has got beyond a joke. This is a family-run business with a dozen vehicles. You can only imagine the kind of pressure the bosses are under. It is pricing us out of a living. There has been talk of redundancies. Personally I think I will be all right but that doesn't mean it won't happen."
The London day of action, which culminated in an emotionally charged rally in Marble Arch and the delivery of a letter to 10 Downing Street, was timed to coincide with a show of strength from Welsh truckers, 150 of whom mounted a 60-mile convoy protest along the M4 before handing in a petition at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.
The leader of the Welsh protest, Mike Greene, told the BBC that hauliers would give the Prime Minister seven days to cut fuel duty or they would blockade refineries and ports.Reuse content