At six o' clock one morning in March 2008, Judith Hough received the phone call she'd been waiting for. Judith and her neighbours had spent years campaigning against plans to build a seven-lane super-highway through their North Wales village, and at long last the plans had been scrapped. So what did the news mean to Judith? "It meant that we could take a holiday for the first time in three years!"
The campaign may have taken over Judith's life, but the alternative was unthinkable: the Welsh Assembly Government wanted to widen the A494 through Aston to seven lanes and raise the speed limit from 50 to 70mph. "The road would have decimated the area," she says. "Fifty-plus homes would have been lost."
After a long fight and a public inquiry, the planning inspector recommended that the plans should be scrapped and the Wales Transport Minister obliged. Judith and her fellow villagers were instrumental in this decision.
Campaigning isn't just for city folk
"You can tell we're out in the sticks," Judith laughs, describing a successful fundraiser where villagers rolled pound coins as close as possible to a bottle of brandy. But a close-knit rural community can be a great strength in campaigning.
News of the campaign spread quickly, thanks to villagers walking their dogs together. At first, three campaigning committees sprung up along the road, but they soon joined forces to form the Aston Hill Says No coalition: "We decided to pool our resources to make the best use of everyone's skills".
Meeting in a local community centre, the coalition launched an impassioned campaign. "We're a good group," Judith says. "We knock on pretty well. Which isn't to say we agree on everything! You need a bit of dissent – it helps with brainstorming."
Judith has no doubts as to why the campaign succeeded: "It was down to people power". And the sense of community certainly made for a good party when the road was finally scrapped. "We had a social evening in the church hall and really let our hair down, with live music, a disco and people doing turns."
"Remember: we pay our councillors and our MPs and Assembly Members – they work for us!"
Hold an alternative exhibition
The Government ran a local exhibition where the public could see the plans for the road scheme. Determined to open people's eyes to the true impact of the scheme, the Aston Hill Says No coalition set up its own, alternative exhibition. "We had to mobilise people to see things without a rosy haze," Judith says. "We got as many visitors in 24 hours as the official exhibition got in three days!
"We had maps, charts and photos everywhere, and a TV documentary about the road running on a loop. People who came in were knocked breathless – they hadn't realised the extent of the damage."
Crucially, Judith and friends made sure these strong feelings translated into action. They had a stack of objection forms that visitors to the exhibition could sign, and they sent these to Transport Wales. In the end there were just under 2,500 objections to the scheme, and three-quarters of these came from the exhibition!
Get to know the players
Judith advises finding out as much as possible about the people involved in all sides of your campaign: "Start by looking for profiles of them on the internet."
The coalition built relationships with the local press and politicians, many of whom were helpful and supportive. But it's not only sympathetic people who can help your campaign. "We stumbled upon a vital fact – that a road scheme only needs one objection to force a public inquiry – when the chief promoter of the scheme let it slip one day. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer; let them prattle on and they'll put their feet in it!"
Research the health impacts
Judith was particularly concerned about the health impacts of the road, and these became central to the coalition's campaign. "Noise pollution worried me personally," she says, citing Professor Deepak Prasher, adviser to the World Health Organisation. "His research shows that noise pollution causes distress and disruption to life, sleep deprivation, poor work performance, cardiac problems, poor driving and difficulties in relationships. We used the research as part of our armoury."
Another concern was the PM10 particles emitted by cars. "We found out that there isno safe level of exposure to this pollutant. At five receptors in the area PM10 already exceeded the advised levels for Scotland – and people in Wales are no different!" So the coalition asked a contact who was an expert in toxicology to give evidence at the public inquiry.
The coalition was shocked to learn that despite these concerns, no Health Impact Assessment had been done for the scheme. They raised the issue with politicians and through the media, and set up a Downing Street petition. And thanks to their campaigning, the law has now changed so that Health Impact Assessments are compulsory for all schemes like this one.
Harness the power of the internet – for free!
"The internet is an incredible invention," Judith says. The coalition set up a simple website using Google Sites; Google also hosted the site for free.
On the coalition's website is a box where you can enter your postcode to find the contact details of your MP, Welsh Assembly Member or local councillor – great for engaging the public in a campaign. This box was also free, from a website called WriteToThem.
Remember: politicians work for you
Judith's final words of advice are simple: "Campaigning is tiring, but don't give up. We were told by the scheme's promoters that we would just have to put up with it, that we were of little consequence. But don't let them walk all over you. Remember: we pay our councillors and our MPs and Assembly Members – they work for us!"