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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 17:32 GMT
Anger over war graves road plan
WW1 cemetry at Ypres
The road will pass close to several war cemeteries
A campaign has been launched to stop an "offensive" road being built alongside the war graves of up to 300,000 World War I soldiers.

The Flanders Regional Government wants to extend the A19 to connect the Belgian town of Ypres to the coast.

But the proposed route passes along the Pilckem Ridge, part of the Ypres Salient and at the heart of one of the most significant battlefields. The road would also pass through the remains of thousands of unburied victims.

People will find it impossible to enjoy any sort of tranquillity when they visit

Lord Faulkner
News of the planned road has so angered British Labour peer Lord Faulkner he is mounting a bid to get the plans scrapped.

On Monday at question time, he called on the UK Government to back his campaign to halt the development and have the road re-routed.

He had earlier told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the area was a "sacred" pilgrimage site for thousands.

"The reason why this is such an offensive road is that Pilckem Ridge is largely unspoilt and pretty much as it was in 1915 before the terrible fighting took place in 1917.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester
Lord Faulkner - tranquility will be impossible
"Hundreds of thousands of people go to Flanders and the overwhelming majority visit the Pilckem Ridge.

"The problem is that whilst the road will not go through Commonwealth war graves cemeteries, it cuts the area completely in half and comes extremely close to seven of them.

"It will also disturb the remains of up to 200,000 unburied soldiers in that area."

Junior defence minister Lord Bach assured peers the route proposed would not encroach on any War Graves Commission cemeteries.

Unique site

But he added the government "recognises the sensitivity of this issue and would resist any proposal which would affect these important sites".

Lord Faulkner, who began his crusade after being contacted by a concerned senator from Belgium, said he had anticipated the response.

"I was sure the initial response would be that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has said the road will not go through its graves so it cannot be re-routed, but I will not leave it at that.

"This is a unique site and should be protected."

Watching brief

Peter Francis, spokesman for the War Graves Commission, said there were "certainly some concerns" about the plan.

He told BBC News Online: "We are concerned mainly with our cemeteries - we have little influence over the areas surrounding them - but our office in Ypres has a close watching brief on the plans and is making official representation to the government there.

"While we want our cemeteries to remain the places of peace and reflection they were designed to be, we recognise the world does go on and progress is inevitable. Many of our cemeteries are now in extremely built-up places.

"We will, though, do all we can to keep the cemeteries themselves protected."

Lord Faulkner is eventually hoping the area can be classified a World Heritage Site so "this important battlefield can be left untouched".

See also:

14 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Belgium
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