14 January 2013: Tom Druitt from Brighton tells us why he is protesting to save the Combe Haven valley near Hastings from a damaging new road.
A week or so before Christmas I heard through Twitter that contractors had started work removing trees from the proposed site of the Bexhill – Hastings Link Road (BHLR), not even two weeks after the chancellor announced a new road-building project in his Autumn Statement. I had been aware of the BHLR for some years, as this controversial scheme has been the subject of a prolonged campaign by the Hastings Alliance (a loose coalition of environmental groups opposed to the road) and the fight has gone all the way to the High Court. Why is it so controversial? Mainly because Combe Haven, the area which it goes through, is:
"probably the finest medium-sized valley in East Sussex, outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is set within a high-quality landscape of historic and wildlife interest and contains peaceful and remote countryside."
(Report on BHLR for East Sussex County Council Cabinet meeting 8 June 2004)
My particular interest in this road, however, goes further than that. We need new roads in this country like a hole in the head. Our traffic is already at levels that go far beyond what is sustainable, from every perspective: economic, social, health, environmental, or in terms of natural resources and climate change. Moreover, it is evident from every new road that has ever been built that ultimately traffic levels on the old roads exceed pre-new road levels anyway.
So, early one very wet morning I got the train to Hastings, met up with ‘Andrew’ and together we headed for an area which we had been told was likely to be the centre of attention that day. We got there before dawn, found a tree that looked suitably ‘in the way’ and climbed it. Soon after a dozen tree surgeons arrived with 20 or so security guards and bailiffs in tow, and a Police Land Rover.
We continued setting up camp in the tree and the chainsaws started working. While most of the security guards huddled under a bridge nearby to keep out of the rain, one that must have drawn the short straw huddled under our tree in the rain for five hours, asking periodically if we wanted to come down. Odd question , I thought… why would we want to do that?!
Meanwhile the chainsaws worked hard, felling trees all around us. But at the end of the day ours, and the four or five around us, were still there.
Three weeks later those trees, and many more in the firing line, are still there thanks to protestors simply putting themselves in the way, often subjecting themselves to prolonged periods of discomfort and the risk of arrest in the process. We have built many camps along the route of the road, with some treehouses having their own water-capture and heating systems so they can be occupied for long periods of time.
All we need now is more people to occupy these trees to stop the contractors completing their work by March. If we can do this, the start of the breeding season will halt work on the road until next year, giving more time to challenge the road by other means to save the beautiful Combe Haven valley.
Follow Tom @tomdruitt
Recent newspaper articles:
The new weapon in the battle for Hastings - the 'granny tree' - Daily Telegraph
More information from the local campaigns against the road: