Roadworks ahead

The government is backing the largest road building programme in 25 years. Andrea Needham reports

December 31, 2012
4 min read

Almost 200 schemes are planned as part of the coalition’s road building programme, including many ‘zombie roads’ that had been declared dead years ago but are now being resuscitated. In response, new anti-roads groups are springing up across the country.

In East Sussex, the Combe Haven Defenders group is working flat out to stop the Bexhill-Hastings link road, the ‘first and the worst’ of the new roads. This is a £100 million white elephant, which will produce the largest increase in carbon emissions of any of the 45 transport schemes funded by the Treasury over the past year. With the rallying cry of ‘Join the Second Battle of Hastings!’ the Defenders aim to get 1,066 people signed up to take direct action to stop the construction of the road, due to start in January 2013.

Why is the government so keen on new roads at a time when we are facing not only climate catastrophe but huge public spending cuts? The answer lies in its belief that large infrastructure projects will stimulate the economy. At the Tory party conference in October 2012, chancellor George Osborne announced that he was going to be ‘a relentless activist [for] building infrastructure, roads and power plants’.

The impetus for new roads is thus coming not from the Department for Transport (DfT) – which appears to recognise that new roads create more traffic and rarely lead to the promised regeneration – but from the Treasury, which has been throwing money at roads long written off as unviable.

In the case of the Bexhill-Hastings link, the DfT had refused to support it on the basis that the road was poor value for money, would lead to a 14 per cent increase in traffic and would cause great environmental damage. But in this year’s budget, Osborne announced that the Treasury had found £56 million of funding, leaving East Sussex County Council to come up with the remaining £44 million. Despite having stated only two years earlier that it could not commit more than £18 million to the road, the council jumped at the chance to complete its longed-for vanity project.

The new road will carry 30,000 vehicles a day through a valley containing a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as ancient woodland, water meadows and the largest reed bed in East Sussex. The valley is home to great crested newts, rare dragonflies, dormice, bats, badgers and barn owls. Despite the council’s attempts to gloss over the certain devastation with talk of mitigation (planting trees along the route), it is clear that, if built, it will be an environmental disaster.

The council claims the new road will create 3,000 jobs (DfT analyses suggest the actual figure is fewer than 1,000). The council leader, ex-stockbroker Peter Jones, recently accused opponents of the road of wanting to ‘take away people’s homes and jobs’. When asked, he refused to say how many jobs would be taken away by the £70 million cuts the county council is proposing, including £34 million in adult social care and £14 million in children’s services.

We’ve been here before, of course. Many of the planned schemes were first proposed in the 1989 white paper ‘Roads for Prosperity’, which led to what Margaret Thatcher described as the biggest road building programme since the Romans. The Conservative government wanted to encourage car ownership, and made plans for 600 roads projects. This led to a huge wave of protests around the country, including the very high-profile road camps at Newbury and Twyford Down.

While those particular roads were ultimately built, the scale of the protests led to the abandonment of the policy, and when Labour came to power in 1997, most of the planned schemes were suspended. Now we’re back where we were all those years ago, and the need to mobilise against the road schemes is more urgent than ever.

The new mania for roads has produced the biggest upsurge in anti-roads groups since the 1990s. The Campaign for Better Transport’s website lists dozens of campaigns all over the country. In East Sussex, the Combe Haven Defenders have organised a camp on the route of the road, vigils and protests in Hastings and London, and a speak-out in a council meeting that caused all the Tories to walk out. Much more is planned, including, if necessary, massive nonviolent resistance.

Get involved with Combe Haven Defenders’ campaign to stop ‘the first and the worst’ of the government’s new road schemes at combehavendefenders.wordpress.com


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace


30