• Over the Tarmac: the Spring

    If you had to a state a point where the government bid a final farewell to any green credentials, it arguably came with the budgetary autumn review way back in 2011. The 45 road schemes laid out back then have been augmented since by another 150 so that now we seem to be facing a road building programme on a par with the ‘Roads to Prosperity’ schemes of the early nineteen nineties. Those schemes characterised in so many ways the last Conservative government just as the protests against them were symptomatic of wider dissent.

    Of the roads planned today, 42 are pretty much direct revivals of those proposed in the ‘nineties and form part of a picture comprised of 76 bypasses, 48 link roads, 12 ring roads with another 60 more minor projects. The whole programme is being estimated at costing around £30 billion. If the figures for the roads built in the previous decade and a half are anything to go by, we can expect a fairly substantial overrun of these early financial projections.

    Taken together the roads would affect National Parks, the Norfolk Broads, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty and several World Heritage Sites. They also of course represent a dramatic sea change in transport policy from on high with aspirations to curb car use and promote public transport looking more than a little forlorn. And with road transport emissions accounting for well in advance of twenty percent of UK carbon emissions, the policy effectively scuppers one of the more malleable means by which we can effectively rein these in.

    It’s more than a little ironic that vast amounts of cash are being pumped into new infrastructure at a time of austerity so caustic that the upkeep of existing roads is being jeopardized. As a means of funding new roads, the government are looking at schemes such as public-private partnership deals whereby future taxpayers are often lumped with the ‘hidden tolls’ for roads under construction today. But there is still a huge immediate pricetag being picked up by central and local government.

    But resistance to all this is growing, most notably with the groups affiliated with the Campaign For Better Transport’s ‘Roads to Nowhere’ campaign. And particularly vigorous protests have been taking place at Combe Haven Valley in opposition to the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road. Earmarked by the DfT themselves as “one of the worst value for money schemes in Britain,” the road’s route has been the scene of incredible acts of front and tenacity as trees have been occupied, camps set up, the less than proverbial bulldozers stopped in their tracks and work effectively delayed for many weeks.

    At the time of writing, the DfT have not yet confirmed they will fund their allotted share of the scheme – some £56 million out of a total already spiraling above the £100 million mark. East Sussex County Council are forecast to spend a projected £70 million on the road at a time when it is making wider cuts of the same amount that stand to leave adult social care and children’s services particularly badly hit.

    Somehow though, to see the camps spring up, to witness the energy of those making a stand and the sense of release in the process, there seems more in the air than simply a fight against old-school and deviant infrastructure. To go to Combe Haven and see the people in the oaks, to see and hear the pristine valley in the last few days before it’s due to be severed in two, the struggle seems iconic of so many other situations in the wider world. At a time of unprecedented ecological loss, the fact that here in the UK we are loosing our ancient woodland at a rate even faster than that impacting the Amazon, any attacks on existing woodland should be more widely recognised for the carnage they really are. And at a time when the government seems deposed to outdo all previous levels of contempt they seem to hold large segments of the population in, there’s something that feels particularly fitting in people staking a common claim in the ground that’s due for destruction and stating enough is enough.

    The gruelling conditions on site at Hasting over the previous few months are testament that none of this is necessarily easy. But the rewards for those engaged are clearly evident to see, even in the grip of bitter winter; the knowledge that when people act together there’s a very firm hope for turning round situations that might otherwise prove intractable. But just as the protests of the nineties took years to reach their final culmination, Hastings is just the first major manifestation of the kind of outcry that needs to be taken up more widely if the hydra like heads of these hundreds of schemes stand any chance of being properly defeated.

    This article originally appeared in the spring issue of the Transition Free Press.



The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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