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Remembering Alastair Hanton

Photo: Alastair at a climate march

Campaign for Better Transport's Chair of Trustees, John Stewart, remembers our long-time friend and Trustee, the inspiring transport campaigner Alastair Hanton. 

Unique is an over-used word. But it perfectly describes Alastair Hanton. It will take a book to do justice to this remarkable man who died, aged 94, in May this year. In this piece I can only scratch the surface.

Alastair had two careers. In both he left a lasting legacy. His first career was in industry and finance. While working at Unilever in 1964, he was the mastermind behind introducing the idea of Direct Debit in the UK. He went on to work in the City where he became the Deputy Managing Director of Girobank.

He was an early advocate of ethical investment. He chaired and was a director of the Fairtrade Foundation. He received an OBE for his work on ethical investments and fair trade.

His second 'career' started over 30 years ago when he retired. He continued to be involved with organizations such as Christian Aid but it is perhaps for his work in promoting sustainable transport that he will be best remembered.

He pioneered the concept of cycle 'quietways'. He remained active on cycling matters at both a local and London-wide level until the very end of his life. He was also on the Board of Living Streets and worked closely with RoadPeace, the road victim charity. And, of course, we remember him for his long association with Campaign for Better Transport and its predecessor body, Transport 2000. 

Alastair HantonFor many years he was our Treasurer but he was much more than that. Alastair was never one for just turning up for meetings. It got actively involved with all the organisations he was associated with. He was a driving force behind Transport 2000's successful campaign to get rid of the tax exemptions for company cars.

And Alastair was not afraid of new radical organisations. In fact, he embraced them. He was an active supporter of the 'anti-roads' movement. He gave money to Plane Stupid, the direct action network opposed to airport expansion. 

Few people will know of Alastair's achievements. This modest man never talked about them. I remember holding a public meeting on transport in Herne Hill Methodist Church which Alastair attended. I was struggling to find the light switch. 'Don't worry', said Alastair. 'I know the place inside out. I've been the caretaker here for 50 years.'

To the end, he was campaigning. Just two weeks before his death, he was discussing matters about the Foundation for Integrated Transport, which he helped set up and of which he was Secretary.

His achievements have been many but what a lot of us will miss is his words of wisdom, his gentleness, his encouragement of young campaigners and his sheer delight in seeing them do well.

A unique life; modestly lived.