Bypass march claims protest record

The Guardian February 12 1996

Alex Bellos

ABOUT 5,000 people marched along part of the route of the proposed Newbury bypass yesterday, in what environmentalists claim was the largest ever single demonstration against road-building in Britain.

Friends of the Earth, which advertised the rally on the front pages of national newspapers, organised at least 40 coaches from all around the country and arranged a shuttle service from Newbury rail station.

Demonstrators carried placards with slogans such as Stop the Road, Save the Trees, and Local People Against The Road as they walked two miles from Snelsmore Common, site of the largest protesters' camps, to Bagnor.

Tony Juniper, deputy campaigns director, said: «It was a huge success. The cross-section of people was incredible. There were locals and non locals, and people of all ages. It is the largest demonstration we have organised in recent years.»

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said the protest was peaceful and there were noe arrests.

The march was organised to keep up the pressure on the Government to abandon the 9˝ mile road, which is due to take more than two years to complete. The building company now at work is only contracted to clear the route, and the Highways Agency will announce who is to build the road itself in the next few months.

The protest is predicted to reach a flashpoint this week when bailiffs are sent in to evict people living in treehouses on the route.

A High Court order was given to Nick Blandy, Sheriff of Berkshire, Last month but it has taken him several weeks to organise the bailiffs, who include a team of tree climbers. Like the protesters, the climbers are veterans of previous road protests, and several on each side know each other.

Protesters believe the bailiffs could move in any day now, and are securing their treehouses as well as roping up walkways between trees. There is an appeal against the High Court order.

After yesterday's «official» rally, other protesters have declared today an unofficial «day of action» and hope to bus in a few hundred people to try to stop the tree-felling. It is believed they aim to provoke mass arrests for aggravated tresspass under the Criminal Justice Act.