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Third Battle of Newbury

The Third Battle of Newbury

The Newbury Bypass Campaign: Archive and Timeline

Last updated: 26 April 2011.

This website represents Third Battle of Newbury's attempt to archive as much material as possible about the Newbury bypass campaign and protest for students, historians, and the compulsively curious. It is, itself, an archive document. It is only very occasionally updated and the information it contains may now be out-of-date.

For all the latest news about current anti-road campaigns in the UK, check out the Campaign for Better Transport website.

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Contents

Introduction

The A34 Newbury Bypass was Britain's most controversial road-building project and saw Britain's biggest ever anti-road protest. Local campaigners battled against the road throughout the 1980s, their efforts culminating in a public inquiry in 1988 (with a minor follow-up inquiry in 1992). When the public inquiry found in favour of the road, there followed a spectacular campaign from 1994 to 1998 that took in every form of protest, from mass letter writing and European lobbying to non-violent direct action and criminal damage. The road may now be complete, but campaigners continue to highlight the extra traffic and development it has brought to Newbury.

What this website is... and what it's not

Various websites have covered the later stages of the campaign to stop the Newbury bypass, particularly the spectacular "direct action" protest that saw around 1000 people arrested. But although there is lots of information about Newbury on the Web, it is scattered about in many different places. This low-frills, high-content website (deliberately designed as one black-and-white, easy-to-print page) attempted to collect it all together, explaining just why the Newbury bypass was so contentious, why people fought so hard against it, and what the fight was really all about.

The page is in two parts:

Please remember that this website doesn't aim to be anything other than a partial account of the long (and continuing) history of the Newbury bypass. It is simply designed to be a starting point for students, researchers, and others interested in the Newbury campaigns. There may appear to be a lot of information here; most of it is missing; thankfully, many stories will never be told, except in little gatherings of old friends, with much booze and laughter.

Nine miles: two winters of anti-road protest

This site is an archive

This site was compiled (well, okay, thrown together) by Chris W one day in 1998, largely to answer the many requests for information that the campaign was still receiving from students at that stage. It is no longer being updated, though most of the broken links were fixed (yet again) in September 2004. Following several studies of the effectiveness of the bypass ten years on, some new information was added again in 2006. Some "lost" documents were retrieved from the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) and reinstated here in 2010.

Sorry, but quite a few of the links from this page are now broken, yet again. The Third Battle and FoE press releases still work and you can (probably) still find the Telegraph and Times articles online, but you'll need to go to their websites and search for each story individually (i.e. the links here won't take you straight to the stories). You may still be able to find the other documents too, but if links are broken you'll have to go to Google and look for each one individually. If a link is broken, try copying its URL (i.e. the bit starting "http://www") into the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine and you may get lucky!

What was it like to be at Newbury, up a tree in the snowy winter of 95/96? Take a look at Middle Oak Jim's new book Nine Miles: Two winters of anti-road protest.

Tips for researchers

If you are doing research into the Newbury bypass, the most important thing to remember is that the campaign didn't begin on 9th January 1996 or finish on 2nd April that year. Nothing could be more important in any account of Newbury than the 1996 protest. But that protest was just the filling in a very sizeable sandwich. Local people had been campaigning against the road for many years before that and are still campaigning on bypass-related developments today. Direct action had first taken place in 1994; the first arrest of the campaign also happened that year. Just a handful of examples show the scope of the campaign:

But just as the campaign didn't begin in 1996, not did it end when the final trees were cut down:

And even today, local campaigners continue to fight the money-spinning developments that made Newbury's road not just possible, but absolutely inevitable. Those traffic-generating developments ensure that, however much the Highways Agency argues to the contrary, there can be no ultimate benefit from the Newbury bypass except profit for the developers.

Finding historical information about the Newbury bypass campaign from newspapers

If you're trying to do "definitive" historical research, newspapers are obviously a mixed bag—much of what was written was slipshod (on facts) and wildly inaccurate (even on opinions). Some of the newspapers had accessible online archives, but these seem to come and go with the years, so if you're doing definitive research your best bet is probably to consult hardcopies in libraries.

Good news reports appeared regularly in the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian (this has an excellent recent Web archive, but the many articles by John Vidal and others written before 1998 are not available online), The Times and Sunday Times, The Financial Times (good occasional pieces about the near collapse of Costain etc), The Evening Standard (provided comprehensive but generally very biased) coverage of the protest, and The Independent and Independent on Sunday.

The most comprehensive press archive of the campaign is buried in the pages of Newbury's local paper, The Newbury Weekly News. Newbury Library used to carry (and probably still does) back copies of all editions of the paper on microfilm. There are bypass-related news stories going back to the 1980s (and probably beyond). The Letters page was always a lively source of local debate about the bypass and would be well worth reading if you're going through the back numbers.

Also well worth a look is SchNEWS, the radical Brighton-based environmental and social justice newspaper, which ran Newbury stories in many issues from July 1995 onwards. Do or Die, a thought-provoking book/magazine written by Earth First! activists in the UK, covered Newbury in issues six and seven.

The issues

General

Environment

Ecology

Archaeology

Pollution

Transport

Accidents

Politics

Protest

Europe

Legal issues, criminal justice, and policing

Miscellaneous

The campaign - told in press cuttings and press releases

The Newbury bypass attracted worldwide press coverage in early 1996, and there are hundreds of relevant articles. We've listed as many as we could find here. Some of the articles we list predate newspaper website archives, but you should be able to track them down in good public libraries (most reference libraries take the Clover newspaper index, which is the best place to start). FoE's press releases are also included, as are most of Third Battle's press releases from mid 1996 to mid 1997. Together, they give an outline chronology of the events from 1994 to 1998. But many events that happened during that time -- especially in the frenetic 12 months between July 1995 and July 1996 -- were never reported.

Note: In the chronology below, the commentary in italics comes from FoE's Newbury bypass year review (1996-1997)

The campaign: 1994-1999

The 1994 campaign

Brian Mawhinney puts the road on hold: 19 December 1994

Brian Mawhinney gives the road the go-ahead: 5 July 1995

Campaigners step up preparations for direct action: 6 July 1995 - 8 Jan 1996

The main protest: 9 January 1996 - 2 April 1996

Also well worth checking out: PP3 Piet's log of the protest, which covers the direct action period from January to April 1996 in three parts:

Aftermath: April 1996 - August 1996

The snail: May-June 1996

Note: Although the rare ice-age snail Vertigo moulinsiana (Desmoulin's whorl snail) became a hot issue only in 1996, English Nature had known of its existence since at least May 1995 (and local campaigners had known about it since 1994). English Nature's neglect of the snail became the basis of the court case (application for judicial review) attempted by FoE and local campaigners in 1996.

And a sad postscript to the snail saga ten years on in this BBC news story:

Costain win the contract to build the road: 3 June 1996

Construction starts: 6 Aug 1996

First anniversary "reunion rampage" ("The Barbecue"): 11 Jan 1997

Early 1997 events

Winners and losers in the General Election: May 1997

Mid-late 1997 events

Vindication?

The road opens: 17 Nov 1998...

... and closes again: 10 Jan 1999.

Bypass declared a 'failure' and 'cracks up: 1999

The bypass opens, acts as a magnet for through traffic and development plans (a massive new housing estate at Sandleford and a new corporate HQ for Vodafone just off the old A34, to name but two...), and results in numerous accidents (some fatal). Perhaps it's the stress of all this that causes the "revolutionary", noise-reducing, porous asphalt surface to 'crack up'. During the autumn of 1999, the entire road surface has to be replaced.


Aftermath: 2000-

Ten years on: 2006

Effectiveness of the bypass

January 2006: Bypass has generated traffic

On the tenth anniversary of the protest (January 2006), shocking new figures revealed the bypass was much less effective than many had claimed it would be...

West Berkshire District Council's Newbury Movement Study (published 2005) contains some information about the ever-diminishing returns of the Newbury bypass. Whatever "benefits" the bypass brought are disappearing more quickly than the Highways Agency forecast in 1995. The old and new bypasses together allowed total traffic through Newbury to rise by over 50% between 1999 and 2003. As a direct result of the bypass and the extra traffic it has "induced" to travel through Newbury, traffic levels are rising rapidly on the A339 (the old A34 through the town) and other local roads and congestion is still common. Here's an extract from the Newbury Movement Study's baseline data report:

"3.30 In November 1998, the A34 bypass opened and diverted traffic away from the Newbury Town Centre onto a new 13.5 km dual carriageway to the west of the town centre relieving the existing corridor (the renamed A339 from the north, through Newbury, and the B4640 further south towards Tot Hill).

3.31 The historical traffic count data available over the last 8 years enables some comparisons to be undertaken of the traffic volumes prior to the opening of the bypass in 1998 and subsequent changes based on Annual Average Weekday Traffic (AAWT) flows (Figure 3.7). This shows that whilst traffic levels of the A339 section, north of Newbury, initially fell from 43,900 vehicles / day to 21,000 vehicles / day (ie a reduction of over 50% between 1997 and 1999), they have since increased by around 10% to 23,000 vehicles / day (2003). Traffic has also grown on the A34 bypass by 13% between 1999 and 2003, increasing daily flows to around 42,000 vehicles / day: However, across both roads, the overall traffic has dramatically risen from 43,900 (1999) to 65,000 (2003), a rise of just under 50% in four years.

3.32 Traffic along the A339 corridor through Newbury town centre initially fell from 53,100 in 1997 to 39,100 in 1999 but has since increased to 42,000 vehicles / day (2003), a rise of some 7%. Traffic volumes on the A339 near Headley have also risen much more sharply with a growth of 26% recorded from 15,600 vehicles / day (1999) to 19,600 (2003). This suggests that the introduction of the bypass removed through movements on the old A34. Further information will be provided from the subsequent analysis of the Roadside Interview Surveys.

3.33 The Highways Agency has commissioned Atkins to undertake a "Post Implementation Evaluation Study" (PIES) to investigate the impact of major highway schemes and this includes the A34 bypass. Atkins is not scheduled to report until 2005."

Related news stories:

July 2006: Bypass has generated traffic

In July 2006, a study into the impact of the Newbury Bypass showed the road had failed within a few years of opening by creating enormous amounts of traffic, with levels exceeding those before the road was built, and traffic reaching the level forecast for 2010 by 2003. This echoes a similar study by WS Atkins for West Berkshire Council in 2005. The national alliance against roadbuilding, Road Block, said this shows that roadbuilders routinely underestimate traffic forecasts for road schemes in order to get them approved, and called for the scrapping of the £13 billion road programme.

The study was published by the government's Countryside Agency, and the charity CPRE, Campaign to Protect Rural England. It examined three recent road schemes to see the impacts on traffic levels, development around the roads and the impact on protected landscapes. For all three road schemes the researchers found that traffic levels were considerably more than was forecast when the schemes were originally planned and justified.

The Newbury Bypass was opened in 1998. However in 1995, before construction, the Highways Agency forecast for the A34 Newbury Bypass, was 30,000 to 36,000 vehicles per day (averaged throughout the year) by 2010. The actual level measured in 2004 was 43,800. Meanwhile peak-time congestion within the town is now back to original levels.

Road Block Coordinator Rebecca Lush said:

"This is the second vindication for the thousands of people who protested about the tragic and wasteful destruction at Newbury. We said at the time that any relief would be short term. This road scheme has clearly failed, with Newbury gridlocked once more, but minus its stunning countryside. However instead of learning lessons from failed road schemes, the government is instead wasting £13 billion on a new massive roadbuilding programme. They are committing themselves to making the same mistakes over again, whilst wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers money doing so. With road transport contributing 21% of total UK CO2 emissions it is essential we stop fuelling traffic growth with more roadbuilding. We must learn from mistakes, and analyse why road schemes are routinely producing more traffic than was predicted. Road Block believes that roadbuilders routinely underestimate the impacts of projects, whilst exaggerating the benefits. This are very costly and irreversible mistakes. We must end roadbuilding that fuels traffic growth."

Ironically just last week the government gave the green light to much needed rail gauge enhancements from Southampton to the Midlands, which was what the protesters were arguing for at Newbury 10 years ago [5]. This will remove much of the heavy freight from the road network and onto the railways. Road Block argues this should have been done over 10 years ago.

The key findings of the report:

Read more:

September 2006: Bypass has increased accidents

In a press release issued on 25th September 2006, CPRE revealed that the Newbury bypass has caused a significant increase in accidents, just as campaigners against the road argued. Indeed, Newbury police drew attention to this very problem back in 1990 (see A34 Newbury Bypass: Response to the Highways Agency Study: July 1995). Here is the CPRE press release in full:

Far from saving lives, the Newbury bypass – among the most controversial road schemes ever built in Britain – has killed more people and witnessed a sharp increase in serious accidents, according to a Government-commissioned report.[1] When the £105 million road [2] was being planned, the Department for Transport predicted there would be a 47 per cent long term cut in road deaths along the route through the West Berkshire town. But instead there was a 67 per cent increase in fatalities in the five years following the opening of the bypass in November 1998.

Deaths on the ‘A34 corridor’ running north to south through Newbury [3] rose from six in the five years before the road opened to 10 in the half-decade afterwards. Eight of these deaths were on the new road and two on the old, bypassed road. The total number of serious or fatal accidents - which either killed or badly injured people – rose from 30 in 1994-1998 to 45 in 1999-2003.

And whilst there were no deaths in 2004 or 2005, there were six serious accidents – including one in which six people were severely injured. So, looking at the entire period since the bypass opened, the number of serious or fatal accidents averaged six per year in the A34 corridor from 1994 to 1998 and 7.3 per year in the years 1999 to 2005, an increase of more than 20 per cent. [4]

CPRE [5] Chief Executive Shaun Spiers said: ‘This is very heavy price to pay for saving between four and 11 minutes in journey times. "We strongly opposed the bypass because we knew it would generate extra traffic and cause increased sprawl. This belatedly published official evaluation shows it has done both of those, but it has also proved more dangerous."

The post-opening evaluation of the eight-mile long, dual carriageway bypass, published by the Government’s Highways Agency, exposes serious problems not only for the road itself and Government transport policy but also in the way Government decides whether major schemes should be built. This evaluation has been analysed by transport consultant Ian Taylor for CPRE. [6]

Traffic flow statistics reveal a massive surge in traffic along the route post-opening, far in excess of what had been predicted. The Highways Agency had predicted that between 30,000 and 36,000 vehicles per day would use the bypass by 2010. Those figures had already been exceeded in 2004, six years early, when 43,800 vehicles used the bypass every day (and rose to 45,900 in 2005).

Meanwhile, morning peak hour traffic on the old road is reaching the same level as it was before the bypass opened. Reducing rush-hour congestion was a key justification for the road given at the Public Inquiry – but for anyone driving to work in Newbury the experience is now as bad as it was before the bypass opened.

Traffic continues to rise across the nation, but the evaluation shows it has grown much faster in the Newbury A34 corridor – which consists of the bypass plus the old route – since the former opened. Road traffic here has grown 44 per cent faster than across Berkshire as a whole, whilst traffic on the bypass alone has grown twice as quickly.

This is largely because the opening of the bypass has led to additional journeys by cars and lorries. This is the well-established phenomenon of ‘traffic induction’ which lies at the heart of the environmentalist critique of road building as a ‘road to nowhere’ policy.

The Highways Agency’s evaluation accepts that the bypass has generated some extra journeys, but claims much of the growth comes from traffic diverting off minor local roads and other major roads – some of them as much as 35 miles away.

CPRE and our expert advisers dispute this. Our analysis sets out our detailed reasons for dismissing the Highways Agency’s conclusion that the ‘extra’ growth is mostly due to traffic diverting from other roads. Indeed, one nearby A road – the A339 to Basingstoke – has experienced a surge in traffic following the opening of the bypass, because the new road made it a more convenient route for many drivers.

The Highways Agency’s evaluation says new developments built in the area after the new road opened have contributed to the surge in traffic in the A34 corridor and town centre. It says there were 14 substantial developments in the five years since 1998.

CPRE and others have long argued that new roads through the countryside lead to development on greenfield sites, spreading car-dependent sprawl and increasing traffic. The Newbury bypass has become yet another example of this.

Other serious flaws which emerge in the Highways Agency’s evaluation of the bypass are:

The way that the evaluation treats traffic growth and accident statistics gives particular cause for concern. The consultants hired by the Highways Agency have emphasised favourable figures and neglected damaging ones in order to portray the new road in the best possible light. Evaluations need to be more objective and more independent.

Consultant Ian Taylor said: ‘I was surprised to find that during our investigation the Highways Agency staff were unable to supply to us documents as fundamental as the Inspector's Report of Inquiry or the damning assessments of the route by the Landscape Advisory Committee. Fortunately the local people who had campaigned against the road proved to have a better archiving system – a box in the corner of the attic.’

NOTES FOR EDITORS
  1. A34 Newbury Bypass ‘Five Years After’ Evaluation (1998-2003), written by consultants Atkins and published by the Highways Agency (see http://www.highways.gov.uk/roads/documents/Newbury_Bypass_Five_Years_After_1.pdf)
  2. The road cost 40 per cent more than had been predicted, mainly because of £36 million unexpected extras incurred as a result of mass protest action. However, the evaluation report claims the outturn economic benefits of the new road will be much higher than predicted over a 30 year period. This is because of extra savings in journey time, brought about because traffic on the bypass is proving to be much higher than forecast. But accident savings are now put at a much lower level than had been predicted.
  3. The corridor, running just over six miles north to south as the crow flies, includes the new bypass, the old bypass and the principal roads linking them. These are the A34 from just south of junction 13 with the M4 to the B4640 Tot Hill services turnoff, all of the B4640, the A339 from the A34 junction north of Newbury to its junction with the B4640, the A343 between the A34 and the A339 and the A4 from its junction with the minor road south of Stockcross to its junction with the B3421.
  4. CPRE has obtained more recent accident statistics for the A34 corridor for 2004 and 2005 from West Berkshire District Council and Hampshire County Council. There were six serious accidents in those two years, giving a total of 51 serious or fatal accidents in the seven years 1999 to 2005 compared to 30 in the five years 1994 to 1998. The Highways Agency evaluation points out that the number of slight accidents, and the number of people slightly injured, fell by more than 30% in 1999 to 2003 compared to 1994 to 1998. However, a coach crash on the new bypass in 2004 left 47 people with minor injuries – putting a large dent in the downward trend in minor injuries.
  5. CPRE, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, is a charity which promotes the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England. We advocate positive solutions for the long-term future of the countryside. Founded in 1926, we have 60,000 supporters and a branch in every county. President: Sir Max Hastings. Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.
  6. An analysis of the ‘Five-Years After’ Post-Opening Project Evaluation from the A34 Newbury Bypass by Ian Taylor, John Elliott, Lynn Sloman and Lilli Matson. The analysis is a supplement to a report by the same authors published by CPRE and the Countryside Agency in 2006, Beyond Transport Infrastructure: Lessons for the future from recent road projects. Both documents are available from CPRE’s website, www.cpre.org.uk and our press office.

December 2006: Bypassed road is "third worst in country"

For the fourth time this year, a news story reveals that the people of Newbury were conned: the Newbury bypass has not delivered traffic relief to the town. In December, the Trafficmaster company announced that the A339 (the original A34 bypass in Newbury, which was replaced by the new A34 bypass) is one of the most congested roads in Britain. According to this story in the Newbury Weekly News, the road is "one of the top three most congested roads in Britain during term time. A survey by Trafficmaster revealed that journey times on the route are made 131% worse during rush hour when parents are driving their children to school."

Lessons learned

More information

Books

The Newbury bypass protest is covered or mentioned in the following books:

Photos

Lots of fine photographers took memorable pics at Newbury and bore silent witness to the greater drama that unfolded during the protest in 1996. If you're looking for photos, here are some excellent people who might be able to help you:

More photos:

Films/Videos

Music

Links to other sites

Thanks

This web page is dedicated to everyone who was involved in the fight to stop the Newbury bypass. Whatever you did, whenever you did it, and however long you did it for, you were part of something very important and very special. Thank you!

Big thanks to Andrew Wood for supplying the TBON press releases (and writing many of them in the first place).

Copyright © Third Battle of Newbury 1998, 2010.

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