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Tuesday, November 17, 1998 Published at 12:24 GMT


Road opening bypasses protest

Workmen, barely discernible in the darkness, unveil signs above the new bypass

The controversial Newbury bypass has opened with minimal ceremony, in an attempt to avoid a follow-up to the protest campaign which overshadowed its construction.

[ image:  ]
The official opening ceremony was kept secret until early on Tuesday morning - three years after plans for the road were first announced.

It took two hours to remove the cones and barriers to allow access to the road, before a lone driver in a Volkswagen was the first to be waved onto the bypass by police.

This motorist was soon followed by the lorry drivers, who will be the main beneficiaries of the route which is part of an arterial link between the Midlands and the south coast.

Huge protests

Work on the 8.5-mile (13.5km) bypass provoked the biggest anti-roads protest ever staged in Britain.

Some 29 camps were set up by campaigners around the site, who built treehouses and dug tunnels in an effort to halt the operation.

Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore: "Opening was kept secret until just two hours beforehand"
Construction continued behind barbed wire fences 10 feet (3m) high.

Since January 1996 thousands of trees have been uprooted and dozens of anti-road campaigners arrested during construction of the 74m road.

Protest was 'enormous success'

[ image: More than 35 protest camps had to be cleared in 1996]
More than 35 protest camps had to be cleared in 1996
Our environment correspondent, Margaret Gilmore, says that while the protesters may have lost a battle in Newbury, they have won a war.

New government research has found that the costs of schemes like the Newbury bypass outweigh the benefits, and transport policy has shifted away from such projects.

Campaigners believe that even though they failed to stop the bypass being built their actions galvanised public opinion against further road building around the country.

Alasdair Stark, of Newbury Friends of the Earth, said: "The protest as a whole was an enormous success and the warmest thing anyone can take from the destruction here was that the Salisbury bypass was stopped on environmental grounds."

Tony Juniper, also of FoE, said Newbury represented "a turning point in transport policies thinking".

Ex-minister defends road

Stephen Norris, who was transport minister in the Conservative government at the time of the protests, said he believed the bypass was "an appropriate response to the particular problems that Newbury faces".

He said this view reflected that of the present government.

"Road building shouldn't be the first reponse to congestion, but it will be on occasion a necessary part of the armoury any government needs when dealing with such a crucial economic and environmental issue," he said.


Councillor Peter Gilmore and anti-roads campaigner Adrian Foster-Fletcher with very different views on the new bypass
Businessman Adrian Foster-Fletcher described the road as a "dinosaur", saying it would bring no benefit to the town.

He said: "We have got an urban motorway on our doorstep and Newbury is now up for grabs as the next Slough. The Thames Valley is under a lot of development pressure and Newbury is the next obvious place to develop."

He also pointed out that traffic from Thatcham and Basingstoke will still pass through central Newbury.

"We'll end up with two corridors of pollution."

Bottleneck relief

Ex-minister Stephen Norris debates the bypass with Friends of the Earth's Tony Juniper
However, the opening was welcomed by the AA, which described Newbury as "one of the worst traffic bottle-necks in the country".

AA spokeswoman Rebecca Rees said: "After decades of public inquiries and stop-start policy on the bypass we are delighted it has opened at long last.

"Now life looks set to become much more pleasant for the people who live in Newbury and for those who have had to drive through it, day in, day out, for what must seem like a lifetime."

Local councillor Peter Gilmore also welcomed the opening: "I've just driven through, and it's the quietest I've ever seen the town in terms of traffic,"

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