The roadblock that became a bandwagon
How a campaign in the Tory heartlands changed the nation's road policy
Tuesday 04 April 1995
While large protest meetings often fizzle out when it becomes clear that the campaign cannot be sustained, the anti-motorway protesters in Surrey had caught a tide of feeling that proved irresistible. The M25 was completed only in October 1986 and residents had been promised that this would spell the end of their traffic problems. The through traffic that had been such a blight on their lives would now go on the motorway, returning little towns and villages such as Egham and Thorpe to their former peaceful selves. Admittedly, a bit of the countryside had been lost to concrete, but it was a sacrifice worth making.
Now these protesting residents were being told that there were plans to widen the motorway with link roads to 14 lanes, giving it a breadth, at one point, of 22 lanes. Los Angeles was coming to Surrey. It was too much to bear.
The extraordinary momentum of the campaign was never lost. All the tools of the trade were used: more mass meetings were held, newspapers were written to, MPs contacted and stalls set up in shopping centres.
The protesters realised that they had two enormous strengths. First, the proposed widening of the M25 to 14 lanes would be the first of a series of similar measures around the country. This made it a national rather than local issue and enabled the protesters to form links with similar groups around the country. In the meantime, they quickly established relations with local authorities and protest groups all around the M25, a huge swathe of South-east England.
Second, they were in a Tory heartland, a place where the votes for the Conservatives can be weighed rather than counted. With a weak government vulnerable to backbench revolts, they only needed to obtain the support of a few local MPs to get the scheme scrapped. In the event, after obtaining the immediate support of Sir Michael Grylls, who sits for North West Surrey, and Sir Geoffrey Pattie, a former minister, others like Kenneth Baker and Sir George Gardiner quickly joined in.
Such was the scale of the local protest that it became unwise to be seen as supporting the idea of a 14-lane M25. BAA, which owns Heathrow, is keen to build Terminal 5 right next to the M25, and was originally going to appear as a witness in favour of the widening at the public inquiry. But when Des Wilson, the former environmental campaigner, joined the company last year, he asked his colleagues whether the new terminal really needed the widening. They told him that it was not necessary and he said: "So I thought, why appear at the inquiry if we don't need the widening. It was unnecessary."
Nor did MPs want to be associated with the M25 widening, and all the local authorities were against it. The tide became unstoppable, but as one campaign leader said: "We only see yesterday's announcement as a partial victory. We want all widening schemes to be scrapped. And we will win." CW
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting
- 5 Man hospitalised with pneumonia after downing eggnog at office Christmas party
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader
£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...
£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...
Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...