The battle against the bulldozers goes on, says Hynde’s daughter
Saving the Sussex woodland is worth a brush with the law, the activist tells Charlotte Philby
Charlotte Philby is a writer at The Independent with a weekly column on motherhood in The Independent Magazine. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp award for excellence in popular journalism for her undercover investigative work, and writes for various cultural magazines.
Sunday 03 February 2013
She is the most famous soldier in the new Battle of Hastings. Natalie Hynde, the daughter of The Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde and The Kinks’ Ray Davies, was arrested along with 26 others last week after bolting herself to a tree while attempting to defend an area of ancient Sussex woodland from a new bypass linking Bexhill and Hastings.
They lost that battle, but, the 30-year-old vows, the war “has only just begun”.
Ms Hynde was one of around 100 protesters attempting to defend an area of specific scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty, which runs between Upper Wilting Farm and Crowhurst, from the bypass.
“There are so many reasons to be angry, aside from the fact that they are destroying our land,” explains Hynde, who grew up in north-west London and moved to Leonard’s-on-Sea in Hastings two years ago, where she now works as a painter and decorator.
Together with protestors who flocked from across the country to support this vulnerable pocket of countrside, she has been living at a protest site in Crowhurst for nearly two months. Before it was flattened at the end of last week, the site was decorated with bunting and fairy lights, with a communal kitchen. Protestors lived in treehouses high in the branches, as well as tents, through gale-force winds and snow. “People thought we were mad to be living in trees in high winds. I say it’s mad to sit back and watch your local area being destroyed.”
“This is just the beginning of the road protest movement,” Hynde adds. “What they’ve done in Crowhurst has only made us stronger.”
The Bexhill-to-Hastings link bypass, will cover 6km of Sussex with the £93.8m bill picked up by the Government and local council. It is the first step in a nationwide programme that will see nearly £900m spent on new roads.
Officially there are now 44 local and major road schemes either under construction or with plans for building to start before the end of 2014/15. But critics fear this is just the beginning, and that the true cost will be much higher.
Last year, the former Conservative Transport Minister Stephen Norris and environmental campaigner Rebecca Lush Blum launched a report based on a trawl of Local Authority planning documents as well as plans outlined by the Highways Agencies and Department for Transport. It identified 191 major projects in discussion, including 76 new bypasses, 48 link roads and nine new bridges and tunnels, at a cost of more than £30bn.
A Government spokesperson said the Hastings to Bexhill link road would play “an important role in delivering growth in the area”.
Today, however, there was a landslide onto the railway where trees were felled at Crowhurst. For the Combe Haven Defenders, a local direct action group which Hynde joined last year, it is a sign of things to come.
“This is not about winning, it’s about doing what’s right and not letting them walk all over us. If we let them take this land, what’s next? We want a place for our children to play,” Hynde says.
Before beginning their action at the end of last year, there had been a long preparation period. “It’s important to trust the people you’re working with. Also, we had one of the country’s top climbers put on a workshop were we learnt to climb trees.” The number of local people who have turned out, if only to deliver food to the protesters and show solidarity, Hynde adds, has been “heartening”. “A lot of older women who are retired have been coming down to help defend this area for future generations...Seeing middle-aged women pepper-sprayed was quite an eye opener.”
Hynde is due in court on 12 February charged with aggravated trespass and obstructing a high-court official. Her arrest inevitably attracted more media attention than those of her fellow protesters, but she doesn’t seem to mind: “If I can use who I am to bring attention to our cause then that’s great.”
And in the meantime, the woman who could be the new Swampy - only with far more famous parents - remains defiant. “What they’ve done in Hastings is only the beginning. This is only the start of their plans to flatten the British countryside, and we will be there every step of the way.”
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