The Third Battle of Newbury
by Jonathan Olley
Newbury is a small English market town on the sleepy rolling hills of the Berkshire - Hampshire borders, made famous after two decisive civil war battles; the first and second battles of Newbury (1643 and 1644). The local council in conjunction with the Governments road building programme have decided to build a relief road around the town but there is popular objection to the new road; The Newbury Bypass.
Newbury Town has a traffic congestion problem as the A34 road transporting freight from the industrial midlands to the coast runs directly through the town centre. Ever increasing local traffic exacerbates the situation causing high levels of pollution and frustration in the ensuing traffic jams. The solution was to build a bypass road, this was built in the 1970s and now the decision has been taken to build another bypass to the west of Newbury cutting through the heart of ancient forest, the last of the forest that covered South Eastern England 800 years ago.
The Department of Transport's own figures say that the building of The Newbury Bypass will only relieve Newbury's traffic problem for five to seven years before traffic is up to today's levels.
Anti-road protesters, including local landowners, ecological activists, students, old hippies, anarchists, and ordinary members of the general public who oppose the road have come together to fight a common cause, getting the Department of Transport to rethink its road building programme and stop The Newbury Bypass.
The road, which also includes development of housing estates and out of town shopping centres on either side will drive through Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by a European Economic Community Commission and the heritage of two important English Civil War battlefield sites all a part of what is a very beautiful area of British countryside under increasing pressure of the rapidly expanding motorcar culture.
Protesting has taken the form of Non-Violent Direct Action, basically occupying the land and placing themselves in front of machinery, protesters hamper the construction progress. Due to these protests new laws brought in by the government have changed the act of trespass from a civil to a criminal offence, enabling the police to arrest anyone found on the site of the bypass that does not have the permission of the contractor, ending the right to protest. The contractors have spent over one million pounds in one month on hiring a thousand private security guards, unemployed thugs from various cities around the country to prevent the protesters from disrupting the work.
To combat these laws and the security guards, the protesters build houses in trees with rope walkways between and secret Viet Cong-style tunnels underground on the route of the bypass. This has made the protesters very difficult to capture, construction of the road has been at a snail's pace since the start and the price is spiralling out of control.