Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
Truck protest triggers motorway misery
Hundreds of lorry drivers set off from two service stations
A demonstration by hundreds of truckers has brought the the UK's busiest road to a near standstill.
The chaos began after about 150 lorries moved off from the South Mimms service station in Hertfordshire at noon, while about the same number left the Clacket Lane service area in Surrey.
The truckers are holding the two-day demonstration to protest about the costs of diesel and road tax announced in this year's Budget.
The South Mimms' protesters drove anti-clockwise around the 119-mile route, taking up two lanes of the motorway and trying to occupy three lanes on the four-lane stretches.
The situation was made worse by an earlier accident at junction eight at Reigate in Surrey, which blocked two lanes in the clockwise direction.
An AA spokesman said that southern and western stretches of the motorway were "chock-a-block".
And the new Transport Minister, Helen Liddell, criticised the demonstration.
"I think it is unfortunate that truckers are causing disruption," she said.
"The government is very keen to establish dialogue. I don't think it helps anyone and disrupts the lives of ordinary people trying to go about their daily business."
'Not a blockade'
The protesters say the action is not a blockade, but police have warned motorists to avoid the M25 if possible.
Kent-based haulier Frank Stears, the organiser of the lorry drivers' protest group, Transaction, which is taking part in the protest, said: "We are doing this to save our livelihoods."
One of the protesters who moved off from South Mimms was Gary Donaldson, 54, who runs a small haulage business in Finedon, near Wellingborough in Northamptonshire.
He said: "The protest has had the desired effect. I know the public will be inconvenienced, but how else can we get our argument across?"
A spokesman for Kent Police said: "The people conducting these protests have so far shown no desire to break the law and we are expecting to keep a low profile unless there is any law-breaking."
Fury over fuel costs
Hauliers are furious over recent fuel price increases and some fear they could go out of business.
Others have threatened to base their businesses abroad to take advantage of less stringent tax regimes.
In a bid to appease their anger, the government set up a road haulage industry forum to deal with truckers' grievances.
But a number of hauliers have dismissed it as a mere "talking shop".
An NOP poll last week revealed 79% of the public supported the truckers' protests, but a quarter of those questioned were strongly against blockades.
Green support for price rises
Transport 2000, Friends of the Earth and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, welcome the rise in lorry fuel costs and vehicle taxes.
Stephen Joseph, Director of Transport 2000 said: "Taxation is part of the solution to transport problems.
"Transport has to be priced properly and the moves made by this and previous governments are in the right direction.
"But taxation is only one aspect of a sustainable transport policy. Freight policy should include measures to tax foreign lorries fully in the UK and promote alternatives such as rail freight."
Roger Higman, of Friends of the Earth said: "Cutting duties on diesel will only encourage more companies to send their goods by road, causing more heavy lorries to thunder through the backstreets and country lanes of Britain.
"If Mr Blair is worried about business costs, he should invest in better rail freight facilities rather than cutting fuel duties."
Lilli Matson, for CPRE said: "Country lanes in villages are plagued by heavy lorries thundering down them.
"Financial incentives which encourage more freight onto rail and cut the distance travelled, are urgently needed to reduce the environmental damage caused by heavy goods vehicles."