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Roads to Nowhere

Taking on the 1990s road lobby

John Stewart's picture
John Stewart

John Stewart talks about the positive lessons and tactics we can learn from ALARM UK’s work in the 1990s.

In the early 1990s we were facing what a government minister proudly called ‘the biggest road building programme since the Romans’.

ALARM Bells kept campaigners in touchSix hundred road schemes were proposed across the country. But by 1997 only 150 were left and most of the rest were then withdrawn by the new government. Although one or two high-profile schemes went ahead, the campaigners had seen off the infamous report 'Roads for Prosperity' and its road building plans.

Here’s how we did it:

  • We formed a broad coalition. 250 local groups came together under the umbrella of ALARM UK. We received support from national organisations like  Campaign for Better Transport (then Transport 2000) and Friends of the Earth.
  • We focused on pro-active campaigning – eye-catching local and national stunts and demonstrations – to put the other side on the defensive. We didn’t put all our faith in public consultations and public inquiries.
  • We linked up with the direct action activists who emerged at Twyford Down. Everybody in ALARM UK did not take direct action but these links between local people and young activists frightened the authorities.
  • We worked with groups like Campaign for Better Transport to put forward non-road-based solutions.
  • We undermined the economic and transport arguments for road building by showing that, in a mature economy like the UK, more roads were not critical to economic success. Indeed, new roads simply generated more traffic.

The Economist in 1994 said: “Protesting about new roads has become that rarest of British phenomena, a truly populist movement drawing supporters from all walks of life.”

We had taken on the Government and the roads lobby and won.

John Stewart was involved in ALARM UK in the 1990s and is a Trustee of Campaign for Better Transport. John now coordinates the campaign against a 3rd runway at Heathrow: www.hacan.org.uk

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The short book 'Roadblock' is full of stories about the 1990s road campaigns and how ALARM UK evolved.

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