Bypass activists and the baronet's wife

The Independent 19 January 1996

Danny Penman

Amid the mud and trees of Berkshire yesterday the middle classes stood shoulder-to-shoulder with protesters in the campaign to block work on the Newbury bypass.

As hardened environmental activists hung from trees to prevent clearance work, a very different group of people stood below, among them Lady Barber, disgruntled Tory voter and wife of the baronet, Sir David Barber.

She has been campaigning against the road for the last eighteen months. «I'm a Conservative voter and I'm in a bit of a dilemma at the moment,» she said. Lady Barber is the chairwoman of the Tory party association in the nearby village of Inkpen and is implacably opposed to the road. «I know I'm behaving like one of Arthur Scargill's miners but I've never done anything like this before,» she said.

A keen hunter, Lady Barber, would normally find herself confronting many of the activists but now she finds herself on the same side. Their radicalism has even begun to rub off on her.

«I'm now a bit more radical and its dominating my life at the moment. There's a dichotomy in my life. Should I carry on campaigning or come back and be a housewife? It's a question I cannot answer,» she said.

Jo Carter, a former Tory voter who was also out with the protesters, says she has lost faith in the political system.

«You do not have the ability to challenge the decisions of the Secretary of State and anybody who wishes to uphold this democratic system must be aware of that.

«We are low in confidence in the procedures but gaining conviction that we should do something about it. Constitutionally we've done as much as we can and this is the sort of thing that leads to more action groups.

«As far as direct action is concerned a lot of people like myself identify with the people involved. We have children and grandchildren at university with the same philosphy as the activists,» she said.

Ms Carter, 49, who suns as electronics company and a small farm, has taken to giving the protesters food, money and also moral support.

Also adding support was Peter Yarrow, owner of a local newsagents chain, and his wife Tessa, who live on the town's outskirts.

Mr yarrow said the road was not supported by the whole town as many felt it would lead to Newbury becoming «as big as Basingstoke» and would attract social problems such as unemployment.

The protesters were quick to welcome their unlikely allies.

Tony Hooligan, one of the protest co-ordinators, said: «Nobody asks your political views, we've all got the same aim. It's pointless to put people into categories, most people are individuals. Everybody is just concerned about what's happening.»

On Day 10 since construction of the road began, the battle had moved to Pen Wood, south west of the Berkshire town, where contractors attempted to continue tree-cutting.

Three people were arrested as about 60 protesters were outmanoeuvred by some 200 police and security guards allowing workers to cut down about 70 silver birches.

Meanwhile, the chief executives of the environmental establishment, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Wildlife Trusts and the Council for British Archaeology, joined forces with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth yesterday to support the activists opposing the road.

The growing opposition to the road has also begun to worry the construction companies currently tendering to build the road. Only the route clearance contract has been awarded with the main contract to be awarded in six weeks.

Road construction costs have increased by 30 per cent in the last year and they are concerned that this may force the Government to scrap the project. The spiralling security costs plus the escalating «risk premium» may also encourage the Government to cancel the road.