[Friends of the Earth]


Is it true that we are spending £101 MILLION OF PUBLIC MONEY on a BYPASS around NEWBURY that will make little difference to most journey times, that will do considerable damage to protected countryside and heritage sites, that goes against the formal recommendations of our official advisors and that we haven't fully investigated cheaper and effective alternatives to the town's traffic problems?


Yes, Minister

In 1988, a Public Inquiry gave the go-ahead for a second bypass around Newbury. The Government's preferred route was the one which its own Landscape Advisory Committee warned would cause "quite unacceptable" damage to an "intimate landscape".


The Inquiry was not allowed to examine the need for the bypass, or alternatives to it. They were missing a lot of other information too. Is this democracy?


A lot has changed since 1988. Look below to discover just how much.

Bypassing official advice

  • The Government's Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Roads Assessment concludes that new roads can generate more traffic in three types of case. The Newbury bypass fits two of them.

  • In 1994, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution reports that the unrelenting growth in traffic represents "possibly the greatest environmental threat facing the UK", and recommends that targets should be set to reduce car use and increase other forms of transport.

  • The National Rivers Authority objects to the design of the road's proposed river crossings.

  • The Government's Highways Agency admits that "For local traffic [in Newbury] the urban area around the A34 is congested and will remain so on completion of the bypass".

  • The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommends that the Government "investigate whether some towns and villages could obtain most of the benefits of a bypass more cost-effectively and with less environmental damage, through traffic management measures".

  • The Highways Agency admits that, if the bypass attracts 20% extra traffic (as is likely), then the benefits of the bypass for most of Newbury would last only five to seven years after the road opens.

  • English Heritage designates the 1st Battle of Newbury (1643) Civil War battlefield site as one of the most important battlefields in the country. The road goes through it.

  • The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommends that all transport policy decisions "be based on the identification and pursuit of the Best Practicable Environmental Option".

    Bypassing Government policy

  • The Government launches its 'Great Transport Debate' to help develop a sustainable transport policy.

  • The Department of the Environment issues Planning Policy Guidance Note 13 (PPG13), which advises local authorities to reduce growth in the length and number of motorised journeys, to encourage alternative means of travel with less environmental impact, and to reduce reliance on the private car.

  • In 1993, the Government cancels the proposed trunk road through Oxleas Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest because it fails to meet the "high environmental standards we [the Department of Transport] now apply to new road schemes".

  • In 1992, John Major signs the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which commits nations to conserve their range of wildlife habitats and species.

  • The European Union's directive on the conservation of wildlife habitats and species enters into force. Species and habitats that need to be protected are found on the route of the bypass.

  • The Government's Sustainable Development Plan emphasises the importance of managing traffic demand, and cutting traffic levels.

  • The Government publishes the report of its Biodiversity Steering Group. The report proposes targets for the conservation of many rare animals and plants. Several are found along the route.

  • A Berkshire County Council transport strategy expresses four main themes: "cycling and walking, public transport, parking policy, and traffic management and constraint". Building new roads is not one.

    Bypassing respected wildlife and heritage organisations

  • The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds opposes the road.

  • The British Council of Archaeology opposes the road.

  • The World Wide Fund for Nature opposes the road.

  • The Wildlife Trust opposes the road.

    Bypassing public opinion

  • The Government responds to 'widespread public concern' and in December 1994 began a one-year-long review of the road. The review was held in total secrecy, with no public participation, and cut short by almost six months. The decision to proceed was announced three hours before Dr Mawhinney left his post as Secretary of State for Transport.

  • In February 1996, over 7000 people join a peaceful protest walk along part of the bypass route. This is the biggest anti-roads rally the UK has ever seen.

  • In 1995, a local questionnaire survey in the Newbury area finds that 70% of local businesses who responded oppose building the road before alternatives are tried.

    Bypassing common sense

  • Independent transport consultants analyse official transport figures and conclude that the road will provide 5-7 years' benefit before traffic rises to the present level.

  • Friends of the Earth use the threat of legal action to force the Highways Agency to release figures that "justify" the road. The figures reveal that the bypass will save off-peak vehicles (the majority of drivers) only 2 minutes on a north-south trip via Newbury.

  • Highways Agency figures reveal that 70% of the traffic on the existing A34 in Newbury is local traffic. The bypass will not relieve the congestion caused by it.

  • Friends of the Earth commissions independent transport consultants (who have also advised the Government) to work out alternatives. Proposals have been drawn up to relieve Newbury's congestion. These could be implemented at a fraction of the cost of the road, and with no damage to protected countryside.

  • It emerges that the Midlands to Southampton railway line can be upgraded to take many of the freight vehicles that drive through Newbury for £30-50 million. A convenient service can be introduced in the time it would take to build the bypass.

  • Government research shows that levels of low-level ozone, the pollutant most linked to asthma, are often higher away from major roads. The population of Newbury cannot expect relief from this pollutant as a result of the bypass.

    Bypassing legal controls?

  • Complaints are made to the European Commission over the British Government's failure to properly assess the environmental impacts of the road in accordance with European law.

  • The European Commission's Ombudsman decides to admit a complaint that could lead to formal proceedings against the Government for breaches of environmental directives.

    But the road does not bypass the nation's heritage

  • In 1995, the River Lambourn is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The road goes over the SSSI and will obliterate adjacent marshland nature reserve and flood plain habitats under embankments nearly 200 metres wide.

  • In 1995, the River Kennet is recognised as the most biologically diverse river in lowland England and is duly designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The road goes over the SSSI and obliterates adjacent floodplain habitats under embankments nearly 200 metres wide. Further habitat is lost to gravel pits dug to build the road.

  • The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds recommends that Snelsmore Common Site of Special Scientific Interest be protected under the European Union's 'birds directive' because of the nightjars that live there.

  • New research demonstrates that traffic noise prevents songbirds from breeding up to one kilometre from main roads.

  • Because there is no proper biological survey, colonies of dormice living on the route of the bypass are not found until six years after the decision to build the road is taken. Dormice are now rare, and are protected under British and European conservation laws.

  • A rare snail (Vertigo moulinsiana), is found in large numbers near the route in what could be its British stronghold. The snails are protected under European conservation law, but could be affected by changes to their marshland habitat if the road is built.

  • Badgers and their setts are protected from disturbance by the law. Despite earlier surveys by the contractors working for the Highways Agency, badgers and their setts are found on the route during initial clearance work.

  • Despite protection under European law, bat roosting sites are removed by contractors.

  • 12 sites of archeological significance have been discovered in the path of the road. One in the Lambourn valley with mesolithic remains, is believed to be of national importance.

    There is still time for common sense to prevail

    There is still time to stop the Newbury Bypass being built

    The main contract to build the road has not yet been awarded.

    There is still time to stop this madness. There are alternatives. They can relieve the congestion. They are much cheaper. They will not damage irreplaceable wildlife, countryside or historic sites.They could reduce pollution, not increase it.

    We believe the Government should listen to reason, follow official advice and implement its own policies. We believe the Government should halt the road. We believe the alternatives should be tried first.

    If you think like we do, please do something now. Please ask your MP to take up this urgent matter. Ask them to press for a suspension of work, and for a proper environmental impact assessment to be carried out whilst alternative transport solutions are implemented.

    Please write also to Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, Department of Transport, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 3EB, and urge him to invest in the effective alternatives. And save tens of millions of pounds of public money, and the nation's precious heritage. You can write to your MP at the House of Commons, London SW1A OAA. If you are unsure who your MP is, then call the House of Commons on 0171 219 3000.

    Providing information and materials to keep people informed of the facts behind the Newbury Bypass is very costly. Please send your donations in support of this campaign to:

    Friends of the Earth,
    26-28 Underwood Street,
    London N1 7JQ

    or telephone 01582 482 297

    [Back to Newbury bypass factfile]