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.

In Pictures: The World Transformed
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram


30