On the 23rd January, 1993, with John Major as Prime Minister and ‘Innuendo’ by Queen at number 1 in the charts, community groups came together at the first national anti-roads conference in the UK. Organised by ALARM UK, groups opposing road schemes met in Birmingham to build opposition and support one another.
This conference kicked off the growth of the national anti-roads movement in the 1990s which stopped the £23 billion ‘Roads to Prosperity’ programme. Announced by Margaret Thatcher in 1989, this was to be “the largest road building programme since the Romans”. By 1997, most of the schemes had been scrapped, with the remainder swept away by the incoming Labour Government. This was a phenomenally successful movement, and much can be learned from its tactics and strategy. Crucial to its success was groups uniting in their opposition, rather than opposing schemes in isolation.
John Stewart chaired ALARM UK in the 1990s. He is now Vice President of European Union Against Aircraft Nuisance, and Chair of Campaign for Better Transport and the UK Noise Association. He says the key to ALARM UK’s success was that it “brought together a diverse range of people, each with their own beliefs, style and culture, but all with the same overriding aim: to stop the road building programme.”
Rebecca Lush, TAN’s roads and climate campaigner, was living on protest camps during the 1990s and co-founded Road Alert, a national organisation which promoted the direct action protests and worked closely with ALARM UK. Working across political boundaries she says was crucial for building a broad movement. “The 1990s roads protests movement was incredibly broad, spanning from young, idealistic people like myself standing in front of bulldozers, to Conservative councillors, ordinary working people in community groups, professional green organisations and academics. We were impossible to pigeonhole, and relentlessly focused on winning.”
Thirty years on, community groups from Cornwall to Cumbria are still supporting each other both virtually and in person, with TAN often bringing them together. At our first national conference, held in 2022, also in Birmingham, almost 100 people from across the country connected to discuss their work and campaigns. Together we learnt more about how the Welsh Government is approaching things (spoiler alert: very differently to the UK Government!) and considered approaches to traffic reduction.
Laura from the Thames Crossing Action Group, campaigning against the Lower Thames Crossing, said: “We shouldn’t have to be fighting to protect our homes, lives, communities, environment and so much more, but that is the position we and many others find ourselves in at this time. Thames Crossing Action Group believe that ‘Together we are Stronger’ and the fantastic network of people we are now part of through TAN has proven this time and time again. The ability to exchange knowledge and experience with others, and to support each other is priceless.”
TAN provides telephone and email support for local communities, and hosts a fortnightly meeting for local campaigners to share tips and inspiration. In 2022, TAN supported over 500 people and groups in England and Wales.
Stu Bennett, who is opposing the A5036 Port of Liverpool Access Road with the Save Rimrose Valley group said: “TAN’s support has been invaluable to our campaign work. They have helped us to understand the key issues, formulate our strategy and offered practical advice on the various activities associated with running an effective campaign. They are our first port of call if ever we’re unsure how to respond to a particular development. They have also connected us with other campaign groups which has been great for sharing knowledge and experiences.”
We’ll Keep On Trying
As the lyrics of Innuendo goes:
While the sun hangs in the sky and the desert has sand
While the waves crash in the sea and meet the land
While there’s a wind and the stars and the rainbow
‘Til the mountains crumble into the plain
Oh, yes, we’ll keep on tryin’
Tread that fine line
Oh, we’ll keep on tryin’, yeah
We certainly will keep on trying to change the direction of travel and stop roads from being prioritised over public transport and active travel. In 2023, we have three significant opportunities to make some in-roads: the consultations on RIS3 (the next roads programme) and the National Networks National Policy Statement and the requirement for councils to produce new local transport plans.
As the last three decades has shown, coming together we can overcome the challenges and work towards further victories against unnecessary road schemes.
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