Newbury protesters prepare for end of the high life

The Guardian Saturday January 27 1996

Vivek Chaudhary at a treetop standoff

DOZENS of tree top protesters living along the proposed route of the A34 Newbury bypass were preparing last night to be evicted by bailiffs and security guards after a High Court judge granted possession against them.

Mr Justice Collins said the Department of Transport had made out its case in law and he had no discretion to refuse or suspend the possession orders they were seeking.

Lawyers representing the protesters were refused leave to appeal, but were told they could approach the Court of Appeal directly.

Possession orders were granted against sites near the River Kennet, Elmore Woods, Reddings Copse and The Chase. The department is expected to return to court on Monday to obtain possession orders against two more camps.

As news broke of the decision, protesters in Newbury began taking stocks of food up to the trees in preparation for the arrival of bailiffs. Aerial walkways have also been erected between the trees.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency said it would like to take possession of the four sites immediately. «The timing depends on the bailiffs, but we can serve eviction notices immediately. We are quite satisfied with the progress of the work so far, and the work will continue until it's finished.»

During the High Court hearing, David Watkinson, for the protesters, argued that the compulsory purchase orders which the department has issued were invalid because they should have been preceded by an environmental impact assessment as required by an EU directive.

Mr Justice Collins said the directive, which came into effect in Britain in July 1988, did not have retrospective impact on projects already in the pipeline. About 40 protesters were in court for the day-long hearing, and shouts of «coward» greeted the judge's decision. Groups campaigning against the bypass vowed to challenge the evictions through peaceful non-direct action.

A spokesman for the Third Battle of Newbury group said: «We expect the Department of Transport to get its way sooner or later. We plan to appeal and if we lose that then we are more than prepared to resist the evictions in the trees.

«Lots of the protesters have been living in the trees for up to a year. They are experienced climbers and it's going to be difficult to get them down. The judge's decision has not affected our resolve. The protesters have been preparing for these evictions for quite some times. They know these trees like most people know their back gardens.»

With some of the protesters in trees up to 100ft high, the spokesman also expressed concern over safety when the evictions began.

The spokesman added: «The best way to ensure safety is by making sure the bailiffs behave in a proper way. They are the ones that make evictions dangerous.»

The Health and Safety Executive also expressed concern over safety.

«Those who go to pull the protesters out will have to convince us they have thought every contingency through and have measures in place to deal with emergencies,» said John Dickinson, the HSE's construction inspector for Berkshire.

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said: «The Highways Authority has already been put back on its schedule by two weeks. They have got an awful lot of work to do and they still have to get possession orders on other sites. The evictions will take some time.»