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No.23 Newbury bypass

swampy_01

Construction of the Newbury bypass will forever be recalled as the scheme that changed the way engineers think about the environment.

What ignited the treetop and tunnel protests was a road scheme with the goal of improving traffic flow on the A34, the main route between the Midlands and the south coast ports of Portsmouth and Southampton.

And it did - with the opening of the bypass in November 1998 - the entire route, from the M40 to the M3, became dual carriageway.

But controversy dogged the road both before and after its opening. Environmental campaigners set up 29 camps and built treehouses and tunnels in an effort to halt the felling of over 49ha of mature woodland along the route.

The protest made a celebrity out of eco-warrior Swampy and added millions to the project’s costs.

It became the UK’s largest anti-road protest in which more than 1,000 people were arrested. Campaigners were pulled out of trees and starved out of tunnels. Policing and security costs meant the bypass overran its budget by 50% and took 34 months to complete. The 12.8km long bypass cost of £100M.

Swampy emerged as something of a national hero, even appearing on the BBC’s Have I Got News for You. Not everyone was enamoured, however. A magistrate in Reading told Swampy to stop “living off the back of society”.

Former transport minister John Watts said he would like to see him buried in concrete and T-shirts appeared with the slogan “Sod off, Swampy”.

But the change in attitudes to road building since is clear. Anti-road campaigners have changed the way in which they themselves operate.

Campaign for Better Transport’s Steve Hounsham says the country even owes them a debt of gratitude. “They shaped Labour’s road policy while in opposition, leading to the scrapping of a third of the existing road building programme in 1997,” he says.

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