Anti-Roads campaign fights highway construction in England, 1991-1995

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
January
1991
to
December
1995
Location and Goals
Country: 
England
Location City/State/Province: 
Twyford Down
Goals: 
To prevent construction of a three-mile long portion of the M3 highway to connect London and Southampton Port
 

Twyford Down, a small area in southern England, was the site of the Department of Transport's (DoT) plans to extend the M3 highway from London to Southampton Port in 1990. The DoT had used economic analysis to determine that the time saved from this more direct route, as well as the increased business in the cities connected by the motorway, made up for any lost economic value to the sites damaged by the extension. Winchester College, the town's public school, sold the land needed for the highway to the DoT for £300,000.

Residents of Twyford Down and nearby communities joined together with various environmental organizations in England to protest the proposed route because of the damage to valuable habitats and important cultural heritage sites. Twyford Down and nearby St. Catherine's Hill which would also be damaged were of historical important to the area because of the location of known settlements from the pre-medieval period of early civilization. The highway would destroy two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, two Scheduled Ancient Monuments and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all sites that should have been protected by English law. Although informally active since 1985, the Twyford Down Association (TDA) was formally constituted in 1991 to fight against the proposed project. Led by David Croker, a former Conservative Party councilor, TDA proposed that a tunnel be built underneath the important site to protect it but the DoT determined that this was far more costly. In October 1991, TDA brought a case against the DoT to England's High Court on the grounds that it was a violation of the country's environmental laws. Although the High Court did not rule in TDA's favor, the European Union Commissioner for the Environment also investigated the case and ruled that England was violating environmental laws by not conducting a thorough environmental assessment before beginning construction. Despite this ruling, the DoT made no plans to halt construction and moved forward with their plans to extend the M3 through Twyford Down.

After the High Court rejected their appeal, the TDA invited Friends of the Earth (FoE) to help them challenge the project. In February 1992, several protestors occupied a bridge that was going to be demolished. Work was scheduled to begin on the last day of February but FoE set up a protest camp and placed chains around the site. TDA and FoE attached signs and banners to the chains, which blocked access to the Itchen River water meadows. The protestors received some media coverage, but the new European Commissioner dropped the case in March 1992. TDA then invited Earth First!, a loosely formed network promoting the ideas of deep ecology, to assist in the campaign. Some tension existed between the various groups that were involved, especially because of the different structures of FoE, an established environmental organization, and Earth First!, which called itself a "disorganization". Lastly, a group of protestors called themselves the Dongas Tribe in reference to the ancient Celtic roots of the area. The Dongas Tribe used Celtic symbols and earth-based spirituality to tie itself to a global struggle against ecological destruction of indigenous people and their lands in Australia, the United States and Canada. In response to the protest camps, Winchester College, the original owner of the land, applied for an eviction notice, and in March 1992 an injunction was issued against the protestors.

In October 1992, the Bishop of Winchester held a service at the Dongas Tribe camp, which was attended by 100 locals and featured singing and tours of the site. The Dongas Tribe also organized a Teddy Bear's Picnic, which brought local families to the site so that they could see the threatened land for themselves.

In December 1992, the protestors were forcibly removed from the site. The three-day-long violent eviction came to be known as "Yellow Wednesday" because of the yellow jackets worn by the private security guards that were used to remove the protestors. Although the camp was reconvened in February 1993, FoE was forced to give up the fight when the High Court issued an injunction, threatening the organization with major fines and a freezing of its assets if they continued to protest at Twyford Down.

Although they faced legal ramifications, protestors continued to use nonviolent direct action to oppose the project on an almost daily basis in 1993. Site occupations, involving between 4 and 500 people, were organized by the Dongas Tribe and the newly formed Friends of Twyford Down throughout the year. Protestors locked themselves to dumper trucks with D-locks, damaged machinery and equipment, and held large rallies. In May 1993, 200 protestors occupied a temporary bridge on the work site and 57 people were arrested. In July 1993, the High Court issued an injunction that named several protestors, and two days later, 500 people marched onto the site. Police arrived and dispersed the camp. Eventually, seven of the protestors were sentenced to twenty-eight days in jail. Also in July 1993, the National Union of Journalists gave its support to an appeal by Margaret Lambert, a student photo-journalist who had been named on the injunction while covering the demonstrations in early 1993. Demonstrations, involving speeches, posters and singing, were held in November 1993 and January 1994. In July 1994, the largest demonstration, attended by 1,500 people, was held with support from Greenpeace, Earth First! and England's Green Party. The DoT attempted to press charges against several of the protestors after the construction company it had contracted sued the DoT due to the extra costs and delays incurred because of the activists.

In July 1995, the DoT dropped any outstanding cases against protestors. Despite the efforts of the Dongas Tribe and the Friends of Twyford Down, construction was completed on the M3 in 1995. Members of the Dongas Tribe continued their involvement in the anti-roads movement by organizing the direction action networks Road Alert and ALARM UK, which facilitated resistance to other highway projects.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The failed attempts at Tywford Down inspired other anti-roads campaigns in England, including non-violent direct action against other highway construction projects in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester and Devon. (2) The "Reclaim the Streets" movement, started in 1995, was also inspired by the earlier protests at Twyford Down. (2)

Sources: 
Doyle, Timothy. Environmental Movements in Majority and Minority Worlds. New York: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Fairlie, Simon. "Tunnel Vision: The Lessons from Twyford Down".  The Ecologist. January/February 1993.

Lamb, Robert. Promising the Earth. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Seel, Benjamin, Matthew Paterson, and Brian Doherty. Direct Action in British Environmentalism. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Wall, Derek. Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Williams, Rhys. "Protestor jailed for defying Tyford Down ban is freed". The Independent. 27 July 1993. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/protester-jailed-for-defying-twyford-down-ban-is-freed-activist-agrees-to-abide-by-injunction-to-stay-away-from-m3-site-at-centre-of-environmental-battle-1487377.html

Additional Notes: 
The anti-roads movement in England began in the 1980s but became much more prominent in the 1990s in response to an extensive road-building program put forth by the British government.  Protestors were inspired by earlier action in Australia and were responding to a huge increase in the numbers of cars on the roads.  The anti-roads movement associated numerous ills with the increase in "car culture", including a lost way of life in small towns and big cities, threats from car accidents, damage to vital habitats, rising demand for oil, and increased carbon dioxide emissions. 
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Nathalie Schils, 12/8/2011