Road protest (UK)

Road protest (UK)

Road protest in the United Kingdom usually occurs as a reaction to a stated intention by the empowered authorities to build a new road, or to modify an existing road. Protests may also be made by those wishing to see new roads built or improvements made to existing roads. Motivations for protests may be altruistic or selfish. In some cases, protests have also acted as a training ground for individuals and groups who continue to be active in campaigning and advocacy.


Motivations have changed over time. Early actions, such as the response to the 1970s London urban motorway proposals, tended to be based on local environmental and social issues.cite book | first = David | last = Banister | title = Transport Planning | date = 2002 ] Routing was contentious, while alternative schemes involving tunneling were generally not available because of the difficulty of planning an unobstructed route or on cost grounds. Surface level urban motorways and junctions required large areas of land take, while visually-intrusive elevated sections depressed house prices or introduced urban blight to wide areas. Socially, communities could be flattened or split in two with little access between them. Environmental considerations were not just focused on visual impact, but also noise and pollution – vehicle's emissions were not restricted at that time. Some of the local 'NIMBY' issues could be mitigated through the scheme proposer making concessions to access and small changes to routing, while increasing the levels of compensation would sometimes quieten objections and smooth the passage of a public enquiry.

At that time more consideration was given to economic issues and how the effect on the community and the built environment could be mitigated – with schemes sometimes going so far as to relocate historic buildings affected by road schemes. cite web | title = A view of Ballingdon Hall being moved convert|200|yd in 1972 when the A131 was improved | date = 1972 | url = | publisher = English Heritage ] Since the 1980s much wider social and environmental concerns have been called into question; policy changed to allow environmentalists to be increasingly involved over the loss of wildlife and its habitat. Since the 1990s there has been more research and awareness around induced demand and climate change, which are often now central to the arguments put up by some groups of protesters.

Early attempts to incorporate wider considerations have resulted in lengthy enquiries, with the result that circumstances change while costs escalate. By being much more general in nature, these latter issues can sometimes contrast with the specific local issues raised in a scheme. Because of their less specific nature, at times it has been difficult to address these broad issues within the scope of a public enquiry, which have frequently been restrained by public policy and attempts to speed up or 'simplify' the process. Thus for many years environmental impact was not given as much weighting as the economic benefits quantified within a cost benefit analysis, while questions aimed at national economic models and traffic forecasts could not be addressed within the normal planning process.cite book | first = David | last = Banister | title = Transport Planning | date = 2002 ]

Thus, while a road scheme may take a decade or two to work through the planning system, there would still be sections of society who would feel disenfranchised from the process. While protests were often seen at public enquiries in the 1970s and 80s, some of the more recent protests have been characterised by civil disobedience at the construction site after the enquiry concluded.


Early popular attempts to confront schemes generally attempted to work within the existing democratic planning and public enquiry system. The Westway enquiry in the early 1970s affected affluent inhabitants of West London who were able to afford representation by professional transport planners. Although they were unable to stop that road, their approach and questioning raised important issues that allowed some of the major policy assumptions to be queried, which subsequently resulted in London County Council dropping their support of other London urban motorway schemes. It also changed the government's approach towards public enquiries.

Tactics have changed over time and have generally become less technical but more publicity-orientated and political. Initially the public enquiry would often be accompanied by a small group of local residents waving placards and shouting slogans. The Twyford Down M3 extension saw the first direct action protest camp, led by idealistic young people and a few ex Greenham Common protesters. On occasion protests have led to changes in transport policy, planning process, policing techniques and the law.

Recent protests have had supporters from not just the local area but diverse communities including New age travellers, environmentalists, and the rural wealthy.


1958 to 1988

The first British motorway was opened in 1958 at a time when road building was central to all political party manifestos and viewed as critical infrastructure for the national economy. In 1963 a report on urban transport planning policy, "Traffic in Towns", was produced for the UK Department of Transport by a team headed by the architect, civil engineer and planner Colin Buchanan.cite web |title=Professor Sir Colin Buchanan|publisher=Colin Buchanan and Partners Ltd|url=] While it advocated the construction and reorganisation of towns to accommodate the motor car and lorry, it stressed that this would have to be balanced with restrictions, in accordance with local needs. It highlighted the urgency of the problem of dealing with the expected massive growth in road traffic, ["Traffic in Towns", "It is impossible to spend any time on the study of the future of traffic in towns without at once being appalled by the magnitude of the emergency that is coming upon us. We are nourishing at immense cost a monster of great potential destructiveness, and yet we love him dearly. To refuse to accept the challenge it presents would be an act of defeatism."] the damage it could cause to our towns and cities if unplanned, ["Traffic in Towns", para 22: "The American policy of providing motorways for commuters can succeed, even in American conditions, only if there is a disregard for all considerations other than the free flow of traffic which seems sometimes to be almost ruthless. Our British cities are not only packed with buildings, they are also packed with history and to drive motorways through them on the American scale would inevitably destroy much that ought to be preserved.] the eventual need for demand management [ "Traffic in Towns", para 30: "Distasteful though we find the whole idea, we think that some deliberate limitation of the volume of motor traffic is quite unavoidable. The need for it just can't be escaped. Even when everything that it is possibly to do by way of building new roads and expanding public transport has been done, there would still be, in the absence of deliberate limitation, more cars trying to move into, or within our cities than could possibly be accommodated."] but with implications of restricting the mass of the population from doing something they didn't see as wrong, ["Traffic in Towns": Introduction para 31: "It is a difficult and dangerous thing, in a democracy, to try to prevent a substantial part of the population from doing things that they do not regard as wrong; black markets and corruption are the invariable fruit of such attempts to prohibition. Even if this overriding objection could be removed, there would still be severe difficulties in pushing any of the particular methods very far" ] and of the inevitable need for a change in policy as the social costs increased. ["Traffic in Towns", para 68: "Indeed it can be said in advance that the measures required to deal with the full potential amount of motor traffic in big cities are so formidable that society will have to ask itself seriously how far it is prepared to go with the motor vehicle."] With the report popularly adopted as policy, governments and local authorities embarked on a large range of new road building projects. (Buchanan later became president of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, noting that his reported had often been misinterpreted as advocating unrestrained redevelopment.cite book|title=Oxford Dictionary of National Biography|year=2007 |publisher=Oxford University Press] )However, as planning and funding was a slow process, many of these schemes would not be ready to build for a decade or more.

After the unsuccessful attempt to halt the construction of the London Westway, protesters became more radical during the first enquiry into the widening of the Archway Road. Not only was the scheme questioned on technical grounds, but the enquiry was disrupted at intervals. Four public enquiries were held between the 1970s and 1990s before this scheme was dropped.cite web
last =Stewart
first =John
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =A Road Can be Stopped!
work =
publisher =Road Block
date =2005-05
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate =2007-05-14
] .

Subsequent government policy ensured that new road building could not be undertaken unless it was in accordance with local Strategic Plans. Once firmed up, the basis of these schemes could not be questioned in an enquiry and many plans for the regional trunk network and inter-urban road network were approved at this stage without major interruption. However, political considerations sometime meant that ministerial decisions to proceed with contentious road schemes were deferred. Thus schemes like the East London River Crossing were approved by the enquiry inspector but dragged on through the 1980s and 1990s as they were sent back to another inquiry before being dropped by the minister.

1989 to 1997

In 1989, the Government of Margaret Thatcher launched proposals for a trunk road enlargement programme, outlined in a white paper called "Roads for Prosperity" (often referred to as Roads to Prosperity). [cite web|url=|title=Roads for prosperity|accessdate=2008-01-16|publisher=British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service] The stated aims of the proposals were to assist economic growth, improve the environment, and improve road safety. [cite web
title=Sessional Papers 1988-89: Cm 693: Roads for prosperity
] The 10-year programme was estimated to cost of £23 billion (1989 prices),cite web|url=|title=Towards a Sustainable Transport System: Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World|publisher=Department for Transport|accessdate=2008-01-16] with convert|2700|mi|km of new or improved road to the trunk road network and 150 new bypasses.cite web
title=Written Answers to Questions - Tuesday 6 March 1990
publisher=House of Commons
] The benefits of each scheme within the programme would need to be validated through a thorough financial assessment and planning process in accordance with HM Treasury's "Green Book". [cite web|url= | title = The Green Book : Appraisal and Evaluation in Central Government |accessdate=2008-03-01|publisher=HM Treasury, TSO]

In 1991 John Stewart and others formed Alarm UK! to act as a central, umbrella organisation which supplied local groups with information on transport, environmental and campaigning matters and to stage occasional nationwide stunts (including a 'Stop That Road Week')cite web|url=|title=HOW PEOPLE POWER IS WRECKING THE ROADS PROGRAMME|published=Road Block|accessdate=2008-01-16]

Direct Action protests started at the construction site at Twyford Down in 1992. Although the route of cuttings had been diverted as a result of earlier representations in the planning process, proposals for a more environmentally-sympathetic tunnel had been rejected on cost grounds. Action at Twyford sparked the M11 link road protest in 1993, Solsbury Hill in 1994 and others in Glasgow and Lancashire and elsewhere..cite web
title=Do we have to set England alight again?
author=Paul Kingsnorth
publisher=The New Statesman
] .

In 1992 the Earth Summit reported concern at rising levels of CO2 emissions which was seen by the UK government as a sufficient risk to justify precautionary measures. Whilst the M3 extension was being built through Twyford Down, protesters continued to cause disruption to the works. On several occasions protesters received prison sentences for refusing to be bound over, or for breaking court injunctions. [cite news
title=Jail for M3 protester
publisher=The Guardian
] [cite news
title=Twyford down - Six M3 motorway protesters are still in jail but the legal battle against the Department of Transport is continuing
author=Oliver Tickell
publisher=The Guardian

While in prison Rebecca Lush was visited by European commissioner for the environment [cite web|url=,,1775735,00.html|title=Good lives - Rebecca Lush|publisher=The Guardian|date-2006-05-15|accessdate=2008-01-16] . In relation to this she, and others challenged the UK Government’s Breach of the Peace legislation at the European Court of Justice in 1998.cite web|url=|title=CASE OF STEEL AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM|date=1998-09-23|publisher=Netherlands Institute of Human Rights|accessdate=2008-01-21]

In 1994, the M3 extension at Twyford Down was opened and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, comprising some of Britain's top scientists, published a report, Transport and the Environment that expressed concern about the consequences of further large-scale growth in road traffic, called expenditure on motorways and trunk roads to be reduced to about half its present level and for real investment in alternative transport modes. [cite web|url=|title=A new strategy covering all forms of transport well into the 21st century is outlined in a report published by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution|publisher=Royal Commission of Environmental Pollution|date=1994-10-26|accessdate=2008-01-17] Also in 1994, SACTRA (The Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) produced evidence, that for congested roads, the predicted journey time benefits from increased capacity were generally reduced by induced demand, although typically the net benefits would still be positive. [cite web|url=|title=Transport and the economy: full report (SACTRA) Chapter 2|publisher=Department for Transport|accessdate=2008-03-06] Both the main opposition parties (Labour and Liberal Democrat) adopted policies which promised a focusing instead on Transportation Demand Management. The Criminal Justice Act became law and created a series of new offences including peaceful protest [cite web|url=|title=Multi-issue Politics|publisher=George Monbiot|date=2007-02-21|accessdate=2008-01-17] Stephen Norris was replaced by Dr. Brian Mawhinney as secretary for transport.

In 1995 the Newbury bypass was given the go ahead in July by Dr. Brian Mawhinney half an hour before he resigned, [cite web|url=|title=NEWBURY NIGHTMARE! COWARDLY LAST ACT OF MAWHINNEY|publisher=SchNEWS|date=1995-07-21|accessdate=2008-01-17] the final protesters were evicted from the M11 camp in June. In November 300 road schemes were cancelledcite web|url=|title=Protest Culture - history|publisher=Protet Culture|accessdate=2008-01-17] The Newbury bypass was built during 1996 in the face of stiff resistance with over 1,000 people arrested and a policing bill of £26 million. [cite web|url=|title=Environemnal protest groups|publisher=The Making for the Modern World|accessdate=2008-01-16] The roads program still contained many road schemes at a total cost of £6b as detailed in the November budget that year [cite web|url=|title=GOVERNMENT COMMITMENT TO 6BN POUNDS TRUNK ROADS PROGRAMME|publisher=Treasury|date=1996-11-26|accessdate=2008-01-28]


In 1997 the new Labour government cancelled the remaining road schemes and committed to an "integrated transport system", as described in their white paper 'A new deal for transport: better for everyone'. [cite web|url=|title=A new deal for transport: better for everyone|publisher=Department for Transport|accessdate=2008-02-01] [cite book
title=A New Deal for Transport: The UK's Struggle with the Sustainable Transport Agenda
author=Iain Docherty (ed.), Jon Shaw (ed.)
date=August 2003

In 2002 the government proposed a new major road building program with convert|360|mi|km of the strategic road network to be widened, 80 major new trunk road schemes to improve safety, and 100 new bypasses on trunk and local roads. [cite web|url=|title=Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Eighth Report|publisher=House of Commons|accessdate=2008-01-16]

In 2004 veterans of the Tywford Down protest visited the Department for Transport to warn of a new campaign of direct action in response to a claimed 200 new road-building proposals in the government's recently unveiled 10 year transport plan and to deliver a letter and a D Lock as a symbol of the past protests. [cite web|url=|title=Direct action road protest veterans delegation to Dept for Transport|publisher=indymedia|accessdate=2008-01-13]

In 2005 Rebecca Lush founded "Road Block" to support a growing number of protests around the country, later to became a project within the bus and rail advocacy group Campaign for Better Transport (UK). [cite web|url=|title=Road Block e-bulletin * 25th March 2005|publisher=Road Block|accessdate=2008-01-16]

In 2007 a new Planning Bill introduced to parliament regarding "the authorisation of projects for the development of nationally significant infrastructure" and "provision about town and country planning". Friends of the Earth and others expressed concern at the erosion of democracy in the proposed bills. [cite web|url=|title=Planning Bill - What's going on|accessdate=2008-01-18|publisher=Friends of the Earth]

In a February 2007, Mick Hume, 'The Thunderer' argued in The Times for renewed road building pointing out that only convert|150|mi|km had been build from 1995-2005 and that motorways account for "barely 1 per cent" of Britain's roads. He added that "the Left’s embrace of the anti-road/anti-motorist lobby marked its turn up a deadend: abandoning the social –the progressive attempt to transform society through human action –in favour of the natural –the reactionary attempt to defend the environment against humanity". [cite news
title=Of course we need more roads. It’s a no-brainer
author=Mick Hume
publisher=The Times

Lush the cosmetics company started to publicly supporting transport related protest groups and others,cite web|url=|title=Guerrilla giveaway|date=2007-04-17|author=Bibi van der Zee|work=The Guardian|accessdate=2008-01-15] introduced the 'Charity Pot' to support small campaign groups, such as NoM1Widening [cite web
publisher=Lush (store)
] and introduced a line called 'Go Green', that they said was inspired by Rebecca Lush (no relation). [cite web|url=|title=Go Green|publisher=Lush|accessdate=2008-01-15]

Current protests

Road schemes subject to anti-road protests

There are currently a number of new road, and road improvement schemes, which are the subject of an anti-road protest in the UK.

A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton

The Highways Agency wishes to increase capacity on the busy section of the A14 between Ellington and Fen Ditton. [cite web
title=A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton
publisher=UK Highways Agency
] to reduce congestion and improve safety [cite web
title=Stage 2 Scheme Assessment Report - Part 1, Volume 1, Part A
publisher=UK Highways Agency

The "Offords A14 Action Group" formed to oppose the proposed route (the "Orange route") for the scheme, favouring the "Brown route" which would have taken the new road further away from their villages.cite news
title=Finally, work can begin on A14 upgrades
publisher=Cambridge Evening News
] [cite news
title=A14 campaigners hit by council's decision
publisher=Cambridge Evening News
] Cambridgeshire County Council have backed the scheme, and there is reported to be widespread support within the local communities for the plans. [cite news
title=County unites to demand A14 work
publisher=Cambridge Evening News

A57/A628 Mottram in Longdendale, Hollingworth and Tintwistle Bypass

The Highways Agency (HA) have planned to provide a section of bypass (also known as the Longdendale Bypass) to tackle congestions problems in Mottram, Hollingworth, and Tintwistle. [cite web
title=A57/A628 Mottram in Longdendale, Hollingworth and Tintwistle Bypass
publisher=UK Highways Agency
] and residents of these villages have campaigned for a bypass since the 1970s. Four groups: the "Save Swallows Wood campaign", the "Friends of the Peak District", the "Council for the National Parks", and South Yorkshire group "WAIT" oppose the scheme, which will pass through the Peak District National Park, and the Swallows Wood nature reserve.cite news
title=Green plea to stop Peak probe
publisher=Manchester Evening News
] In December 2007 the inquiry was adjourned for the fourth time at the request of the Highways Agency who requested time to adjust their correct their traffic modelling, the inspector commented that it was the fifth interation of the traffic model since the original announcement in February 2006. [cite web|url=|title=Controversial HA bypass inquiry adjourned for the fourth time|date=2008-01-11|work=Local Transport Today|accessdate=2008-01-21] .

M74 Extension

Transport Scotland have planned to extend the M74 by five miles to link it to the M8. [cite web
title=M74 Completion
publisher=Transport Scotland
] . The M74 Extension, also known as 'M74 Completion' and 'M74 Northern Extension' will extend the M74 northwards by convert|5|mi|km through the south-eastern suburbs of Dalmarnock, Polmadie, Rutherglen, Govanhill and parts of the Gorbals to meet the M8 near the Kingston Bridgein Glasgow into on an elevated embankment. The required land has been purchased and ground works have started with a current completion date of 2010 at an estimated cost of £375m to £500m. [cite web|url=|title=Work to begin on Scotland’s ‘missing link’ of motorway|date=2007-05-28|work=The Herald|accessdate=2008-01-20] The Scottish Executive report that the scheme will lead to a wealthier and fairer, healthier, safer and stronger, and greener future. [cite web|url=|title=M74 - Benefits|publisher=Transport Scotland|accessdate=2008-01-20] JAM74, a coalition of community, environmental and sustainable transport groups believe the scheme will be detrimental. [cite web|url=|title=Resources|publisher=Jam74|accessdate=2008-01-20] .

In May 2003 the Green and Socialist MSPs joined local campaigners in their fight to stop the project. [cite web|url=|title=Parties unite to fight M74 plans|date=2003-05-11|work=BBC News|accessdate=2008-01-21] A public inquiry for the scheme ran from December 2003 until March 2004 and the report, not published until March 2005 [cite web|url=|title=M74 verdict: not the end of the road|work=Sunday Herald|date=2005-03-27|author=Rob Edwards|accessdate=2008-08-20] recommended against the building of the road saying that it would "be very likely to have very serious undesirable results". [cite web|url=|title=REPORT OF PUBLIC LOCAL INQUIRY INTO OBJECTIONS|publisher=The Scottish Government|date=2005-03-24|accessdate=2008-01-21] The transport secretary at the time Nicol Stephen simultaneously announced that insufficient weight had been given to the economic benefits that the scheme would bring and that they would proceed with the scheme [cite web|url=|title=M74 link gets go ahead|publisher=Scottish Government|date=2005-03-24|accessdate=2008-01-21] and Friends of the Earth Scotland said that it was "probably the worst environmental decision ever taken by the Scottish Executive" and that they would challenge the decision in court [cite web|url=|title=Legal threat after M74 decision|work=BBC News|date=2005-03-24|accessdate=2008-01-20] but then withdrew it in June 2006 on legal advice. [cite web|url=|title=Motorway court action abandoned|work=BBC News|date=2006-06-28|accessdate=2008-01-20] In September 2004 the EU ruled that land on which the road was to be build should be classified as hazardous due to chromium dumps buried underground meaning that millions of pounds may have to be spent on cleaning up the ground. [cite web|url=|title=Euro ruling doubt over M74 plans|work=BBC News|date=2004-09-17|accessdate=2008-01-21] .

Priory Crescent/Cuckoo Corner improvement scheme

The Southend on Sea Borough Council are developing a scheme to improve traffic flows along Priory Crescent in Southend-on-Sea. [cite web
title=Priory Crescent/Cuckoo Corner Improvement Scheme
publisher=Southend-on-Sea Borough Council
] The plan has been revised after the origianl scheme was dropped after being the subject of sustained protest by local interest groups, including one set up at Camp Bling.Fact|date=January 2008


Other active protests include the ones against the following schemes: The South Bristol Link Road, Weymouth Relief Road, M6 widening, Bexhill to Hastings Link Road, Heysham to M6 Link, Kingskerswell Bypass, M1 Widening, Norwich Northern Distributor Road, Aberdeen Bypass, Thames Gateway Bridge, and the Westbury Bypass. In Ireland there is a protest opposed to upgrading of the N3 road to a motorway which will pass close to Hill of Tara ancient monument.

Pro-road protests

Boston Bypass

In May 2007 a single-issue political party, the "Independent Bypass Group", campaigning for a bypass to be built around Boston, Lincolnshire, took control of Boston Borough Council , wiping out the Labour Party majority. [cite news
title=Bypass group wins race for Boston

Whaplode and Moulton bypass

In May 2007 the Spalding Guardian reported again that campaigners were calling for a bypass around the Lincolnshire villages of Whaplode and Moulton to made a top priority. This call followed another fatal collision on the A151 road in Moulton. Measures which have already been taken on the road, including lower speed limits and speed cameras, haven't stopped the increasing death toll. [cite news
title=Just how many more must die?
publisher=Spalding Guardian
] The current campaign to have a bypass built started in 2002. In June 2004 the campaign group "WRATH"' (Whaplode Residents Against Traffic Horror) was launched to lobby for the bypass. In January 2005 "WRATH" submitted a proposed route for the bypass to Lincolnshire County Council. [cite news
title=Call for bypass: the story so far
publisher=Spalding Guardian
] In July 2007, "WRATH" organised a three-mile (5 km) protest march through the villages to publicise their campaign. A Lincolnshire county councillor was reported to have said that there were twenty one other villages in Lincolnshire saying they had a need for a bypass. [cite news
title=We want a bypass
publisher=Spalding Guardian

Past protests

Pro-road protests

A66 Temple Sowerby bypass

It was reported in October 2007, that this bypass around Temple Sowerby was now open. The report went on to quote a Transport Minister as saying "The Temple Sowerby bypass will make a significant difference to the community. It will remove through traffic, noise and pollution and breathe new life into the village." The bypass aims to reduce traffic in the village by 95%. [cite web
title=Temple Sowerby motorists get £36.6 million bypass
publisher=Ordnance Survey
] Locals had been calling for a bypass since the 1960s. In 1974 the government announced plans to build one, but these were abandoned in 1983. This was followed by years of increasingly vocal protests. [cite web
publisher=Cumberland and Westmorland Herald

ee also


*Environmental direct action in the United Kingdom
*Freeway and expressway revolts *1960s-1970s protests in the USA
*Fuel protest protests against increases in taxation on petrol and diesel
*Rebecca Lush

Protest groups

*Dongas road protest group
*Reclaim the Streets
*Road Block
*Road Alert!
*Earth First!

Further reading and viewing

* The Secret Life of the Motorway, BBC, 3 part series. The last programme deals with the protest movement []

External links

* [ UK Protest Culture]
* [ Third Battle of Newbury factfile]
* [ Environment & road protest camps (mainly UK and Ireland)- 2007]
*World Carfree Network


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