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
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts
Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested
George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios
Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?
Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets
Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination
I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title
Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday
The X Factor's judges colourful outfit was mocked by Simon Cowell
- 1 Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
- 2 Star Wars memorabilia called a 'bit of plastic' on Antiques Roadshow by Fiona Bruce valued at £50,000
- 3 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 4 Russell Brand might seem like a sexy revolutionary worth getting behind, but he will only fail his fans
- 5 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
Sophia Loren: How I rejected Cary Grant and 'pulverised' Marlon Brando with my eyes
Ebola outbreak: What is bushmeat – and is it to blame for the disease that has killed thousands?
'Russian submarine spotted' by Swedish military off coast of Stockholm
Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
Oscar Pistorius sentence: Athlete's wealth and notoriety provoke an overdue debate on South African prisons
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Sorry Judy Finnigan – Ched Evans is no less sickening than an alleyway rapist
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Workers 'could be forced to pay £5 a week' to get benefits
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'
£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...
£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...
£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...