Campaigners in Oxfordshire have won a 27-year fight to stop the Cogges Link Road from being built through precious farm land and a country park, obliterating a children's play area and roaring across the river Windrush. Campaigner Alex Kinchesh shares the story.
"For anti-road campaigners who need some inspiration, let me lift your spirits with a tale from the market town of Witney in Oxfordshire. The Cogges Link Road (CLR) is a saga that has run for some 27 years, so never give up hope.
The most recent part of this story began when Oxford County Council (OCC) gave itself planning permission for the CLR in 2009, in spite of the fact that in 2005 a West Oxfordshire Local Plan Inspector had not recommended it. OCC refused to listen to any public opposition, but that did not stop the fight. Campaigners made sure they knew who the consultees were and properly lobbied them. In Witney’s case, campaigners contacted the Environment Agency as early as possible, let them know the strength of opposition to the road scheme and kept up the pressure.
In 2010 campaigners lost a bid to protect Witney Meadows with Town Green status, which would have stopped the road crossing the Country Park. A distinctive poster campaign was born and residents were encouraged to display posters in windows of homes and cars.
A compulsory purchase order (CPO) for land required by the CLR was necessary as the landowners were totally against this road scheme and in 2011 a Public Inquiry opened. Campaigners tramped the streets of Witney for weeks beforehand explaining to people why the CLR scheme was not a good idea (cost and environmental devastation). People were asked to sign a petition against the CLR and in favour of the less destructive Shores Green Slip Road (SGSR) scheme. Over 4,000 signatures were collected.
"Above all, never give up the struggle. Good luck, think positive and keep pushing forward"
Then OCC arranged to have the CPO Inquiry at a small, out of town location in an attempt to deter objectors from turning up. Fortunately, the people of Witney turned up in their droves for day one and the Inquiry had to be postponed and relocated to a town centre location. This enabled many more objectors to take part and every day the Inspector saw the strength of opposition. We also presented him with the anti-CLR Petition.
Campaigners scrutinised any evidence/data that the council presented to the Inquiry. Much of the Council data presented was utter nonsense, hence a long drawn out Public Inquiry with shambolic Council evidence.
In March 2012 OCC started building work on the CLR. This was unlawful as they had not properly cleared outstanding conditions which were part of the 2009 planning permission. Campaigners organized a peaceful protest at the building site with press coverage to publicise and shame the Councils actions.
Then, luckily, there was a local election and campaigners took the opportunity to personally poll all the candidates for their opinion on the CLR scheme. This information was published on the campaign website. The people of Witney took note and two councillors lost their seats to anti-CLR candidates.
OCC applied for a 2 year extension to the CLR planning permission and campaigners produced a comprehensive objection to the entire Environmental Statement accompanying this application. It was sent to OCC and published on the campaign website for all to see.
Finally, in June 2012 the Government rejected the compulsory purchase bid and the CLR scheme was rejected. A victory for common sense! This story is just the tip of the iceberg. CLR may be dead but now we fight to bury it forever.
"Turn up to every planning meeting where the scheme will be mentioned and if you cannot speak, have a silent protest with posters"
So, to other road campaigners, here are some key tips to follow:
- Any anti-road fight needs a core group of campaigners with tenacity, determination, focus, strategy and no social life!
- Keep a small group of like-minded, dedicated objectors. This enables the group to make decisions quickly
- Be totally factual, scrutinise all information, understand it and properly criticise it
- Create a local website and a Facebook group to publicise information and enable feedback from others
- Collect as many objectors' email addresses as possible and keep people informed of actions and progress
- Turn up to every planning meeting where the scheme will be mentioned and if you cannot speak, have a silent protest with posters
- Engage with the public by knocking on doors and petitioning on the streets
- Organise peaceful protests and invite the press
- Use local reporters and press to full effect
- Use opportunities wisely to draw attention to the campaign, such as local elections
- Above all, never give up the struggle. Good luck, think positive and keep pushing forward"
The Witney First group led the fight against the road
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