MP dismisses `unrepresentative' campaign by businessmen
Newbury firms join protest at bypass

The Guardian Wednesday January 17 1996

Owen Bowcott

A GROUP of Newbury businessmen yesterday launched a campaign to halt the town's £100 million western bypass and highlighted growing local support for anti'roads protesters delaying construction.

Their initiative, backed by Friends of the Earth, was dismissed by Newbury's Liberal Democrat MP, David Rendel, as unrepresentative.

As more than 40 demonstrators were arrested, Business Against the Bypass called for tree felling to be stopped.

«We do not want to see the desecration that has been proposed,» said John Bentham, a local employer. «This bypass has been sold to us as solving all of Newbury's traffic problems, but it won't. A tunnel should have been built to carry the traffic.»

Adrian Foster-Fletcher, an executive headhunter who has attended protests in his Jaguar, said the community had only woken up to the issues when anti-roads protesters arrived. «We were told the M25 would solve all our problems, but it didn't.»

Clive Osborne, whose electronics companies employ 200 people in the surrounding area, said 80 per cent of businessmen were concerned about the western bypass.

«It would have made more sense to put the bypass on the east where most of the business is situated.»

Richard Frett, a chartered accountant and leading member of Newbury Business Breakfast Club, said: «An overwhelming majority of our members are against the western route. Their main concern was destruction of the beautiful countryside.»

Mr Rendel had claimed 100 per cent of businessmen in Newbury backed the western route cutting through three sites of Special Scientific Interest and the valleys of the Lambourn and Kennet rivers.

But he said yesterday: «If I did say that 100 per cent of business was in favour, then I fully accept that was an exaggeration. It was a figure of speech rather than an arithmetically correct estimate.»

But the MP and Liberal Democrats who control the local council still insist that businesses support their stance. A survey he had carried out in recent weeks showed that 95 per cent of businesses supported the bypass. But his survey did not specify the route.

Thames Valley chambers of commerce and large local employers such as Bayer and Vodafone were also in support. «The most recent survey by the local TV station Meridian found 6-1 support in favour of a bypass last year.»

Mr Rendel said the Liberal Democrats had always favoured bypasses bringing environmental benefits. «But we are not in favour of opening up new routes all over the place.»

The officer in charge of policing the protest, assistant chief constable Ian Blair, said the cost to Thames Valley police had risen from an initial estimate of £35,000 to £55,000 a week in extra overtime. «It's our job to ensure both the right to work and the right to demonstrate. It's the job of the contractors to provide sufficient security staff to enable their workers to operate properly. I have no doubt that in the fullness of time work will proceed at a faster rate.»

Yesterday, more private security staff were drafted in to push back protesters who eventually brought work to a halt by scaling trees.

At Donington Wood, north of the town, as many as 100 helmeted security men and women formed a cordon to keep protesters away from trees as they were felled by chainsaw. Work continued until the early afternoon, the longest continuous period of construction preparation.