Bypass protesters eligible for Giros

The Times January 15 1996

Nigel Williamson

WHITEHALL officials have told ministers that they cannot stop benefit payments to protesters living in tree houses and make-shift shelters in the Newbury bypass battle.

A team from the Benefits Agency has visited the sites with employment officials and declared that the protesters meet the conditions of eligibility for benefits.

The decision has caused frustration at the Department of Transport, which faces increased costs in building the bypass because of delays caused by the protests.

At the weekend an un-named Transport Department official called for benefits to be withdrawn, saying that the protesters were clearly not available for work. Although the Highways Agency, which is building the bypass, has hired a detective agency to identify protesters, no evidence has been produced of benefit fraud. The Post Office has recognised the make-shift camps as permanent addresses for the delivery of mail.

Protesters yesterday planted more than 100 trees on a site cleared by contractors last week. A number of trees were felled on the Tot Hill site at the southern section of the proposed road on Wednesday and that area was replanted.

Police and the Highways Agency both said they were powerless to stop the planting. There was no sign of the contractors at the site and security guards had been given the weekend off.