Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Saving Swallows Wood: The Indirect Approach


I've tried to avoid putting up trivia about my life on this blog, but as a certain amount of useless personal tit tat is almost compulsory in the blogosphere I would like to mention that last night I had a very pleasant evening in the Bulls Head in Tintwistle with our local anti-road activists, The Campaign to Save Swallows Wood.

Possibly this will be the last festive gathering of this fine body of people as they seem to have done what very few such campaigners have managed and actually won. After a two year public enquiry it seems that there is no money for the road and if any bypass is ever built it will be somewhat reduced in size and will go nowhere near the titular forest. Bravo and all that.

When I first considered moving to Glossop nearly ten years ago it had a number of points going for it: work, Kinder Scout on the doorstep, live music, a haunted valley, and most importantly it wasn't in Yorkshire. It also offered the possibility of a real live road protest right on my doorstep. No more burning up fossil fuels running up and down the country to lie down in front of bulldozers, when they come to build the A57/A628 bypass I would be able to D-lock myself to a JCB and still be home for tea.

Alas it wasn't to be. Thanks in small part to the campaigners the money has been spent on something less controversial and Swallows Wood appears safe. How a disparate, and frequently feuding, group of campaigners stopped a road that had the support of the Department of Transport, Tameside Council and the local MP, not to mention overwhelming, in the beginning at least, local support is an interesting study.

They lobbied and protested, wrote letters and made Freedom of Information requests. They received help from the Campaign to Preserve Rural England, who took time out from opposing wind farms to actually do something useful. However possibly the most important thing they did was adopt, unknowingly, what the military strategist Basil Liddell Hart called The Indirect Approach.

Liddell Hart had studied the slaughter of the First World War to see if there were better ways to do things. He had also read the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu and his conclusion was|

"In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance."

Unfortunately for Liddell Hart the only people who read his work were the Germans, who used his ideas to bypass the Maginot Line and knock France out of the Second World War.

The Campaign to Save Swallows Wood didn't have any tanks, but they did have considerable lobbying power and following Basil's strategy they briefly turned their fire away from the DoT and its backers and, like Romell sending his tanks to attack neutral Belgium, they set upon the previously uncommitted Peak District National Park Authority.

The National Park weren't in favour of the road, but they'd agreed not to oppose it when the DoT promised in return to drop other plans for road building elsewhere in the Peak District. However faced by some vigorous lobbying form the campaigners they were forced to shake off their neutrality and step in to oppose a road that would mostly be built through open country in the National Park and which would increase lorry traffic.

The result was that when the Public Enquiry opened, the Department of Transport wasn't just faced by a bunch of amateur activists, but by a fully constituted legal body in full war cry. We'll never know exactly which way the chairman of the enquiry was really leaning, but in the bits of the enquiry I personally endured he certainly seemed to be taking the National Park seriously.

All campaigns are different, and like Generals constantly re-fighting the last war it doesn't pay to copy previous successes too faithfully, but any campaigners out their tackiling a seemingly invincible foe could do worse than try to find their own way of following Liddell Hart's doctrine.

Just keep your tanks out of Belgium.

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