Work on bypass halted for third successive day

Battle of Newbury: Protesters claim another victory at road site while effort to have camps outlawed in High Court is delayed
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The Independent Online

Contractors were forced to abandon work on the Newbury bypass for the third day running yesterday as activists threw themselves in front of a hydraulic digger and climbed up its arm.

Workmen flanked by 150 security guards had begun uprooting trees at the northern end of the site at 9am but after an hour of struggles, watched by 50 police officers and involving 80 activists, work was stopped.

Although the Third Battle of Newbury protest group described their victory as "3-0 to us", they are perplexed by their success.

Paul, one of the co-ordinators of the campaign, said: "I don't understand their tactics at all. From the beginning we expected them to send out two or three clearance crews at once but they just aren't doing that."

Both sides are keeping a high proportion of their resources in reserve, making the anti-road struggle a game of strategy.

The campaigners have not mustered more than a quarter of their supporters so far. They are worried about committing too many people to stop clearance work at one site in case work starts simultaneously at several others.

Reliance Security, the firm providing the guards, has likewise never committed more than 150 people out of an estimated 500-strong presence. Reliance has refused to give any details of its plans.

The controversy over the bypass of the Berkshire town continued in the High Court yesterday. The Highways Agency is trying to get eviction orders for the protest camps along the new road's planned route. A full hearing of its case against the people in two camps was postponed until 26 January so it can be heard together with the cases on two other camps. Since the Highways Agency applied for possession of the four camps, another eight have been established.

The vice-principal of a school for the deaf close to the route of the bypass yesterday expressed his "deep concerns" about the bypass. Many deaf people can still hear low frequencies sounds. The bypass will sweep within 500 metres of the school.

Tony Shaw, of Mary Hare Grammar, fears that the deep rumble of heavy trucks may swamp the residual hearing of the deaf children at the school.

The Highways Agency says they have assessed the noise impact on the school. Mr Shaw said the techniques used by the agency were inadequate because they only measured the sound detected by people with normal hearing. "If you can hear only at low frequencies then you're damned," he said.

The Highways Agency said it would build earth embankments, plant trees and use porous Tarmac to dampen down the road noise. Low frequency noise, however, is transmitted through the ground rather than air and is very difficult to counteract using normal road-building techniques. The Highways Agency says the new road will be no closer to the school than the existing A34. However a greater length of road will pass close to the school and the resulting noise level may be greater.