Protesters at battle stations in Newbury

The Independent Monday 8 January 1996

Danny Penman

Anti-roads protesters preparing to battle against the proposed Newbury bypass were put on the highest state of alert last night for a fight they believe will begin within the next 24 hours.

The campaigners have been frantically gathering scraps of information over the last few weeks to try and guess when construction work will start. During the last week, more than 1,000 security guards have been recruited across London for «an eviction in Berkshire».

The guards have been told they will start work this morning, and carpenters building a police compound at Newbury racecourse were told they must have it finished by last Saturday.

A staff member at Blue Arrow Recruitment told one job seeker that the work will «involve grabbing protesters and removing them from site -- it won't be dangerous, you'll outnumber them four to one».

The organisers of the protest are unsure whether the security guards will be given training. If they are, then construction may not start until tomorrow.

Last night, the Third Battle of Newbury (TBN) protest group, which is co-ordinating the campaign locally, was testing its lines of communication. They expect to summon hundreds of protesters within an hour of work starting and hope to muster several thousand inside a day. Thwy aim to strike when the construction workers are most vulnerable -- as they try and build a secure compound on the route of the road.

As the workers try and build the compound and move equipment into it they are likely to find themselves faced with hordes of protesters chaining themselves to all available machinery. They may also try and block roads in the area.

Another tactic that the construction workers may use is to rely on mobile chainsaw crews to clear trees in the path of the road. If protesters arrive, they may simply leave and move on to a different part of the road.

The protest camps along the bypass route have been turned into a battleground between rival television crews and national newspapers.

Most attention has concentrated on the network of treehouses and tunnels that the protesters have built to hinder the progress of construction. But most of the campaigners have never slept in a treehouse and would not dream of crawling through the network of tunnels. For them the mundane office work is just as important.

«The media gives the impression that you have to be fit and agile before you can take part but there's all sorts of people down here all doing different jobs,» said Tim Chapman, a TBN co-ordinator.

«You don't have to be a ecowarrior in a climbing harness to make a difference.»