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

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Britain's Top Anti-Roads Activist

No it's not Swampy.

Nor is it Jim Hindle, who managed to save his tree at Newbury - the only person who did - and whose trousers now reside in a museum,  a claim to fame he shares with Nelson.

Nor is it Rebeca Lush, who's probably put in more legwork than anyone else, nor Tania de St Croix of Solsbury Hill, nor Balin of Granny Ash, nor any of those heroes of the 1990s.

Neither is it the polite person who had a quite word with the minister in 1959 and diverted the M1 away from Leicester's Bradgate Park.

Nor, despite a very strong case, is it the late Sir Martin Doughty, who, as well as a long career in charge of the Peak District National Park Authority and Natural England, was probably the only elected Councillor to close a major road.

This happened after Mam Tor in the Peak District had one of its regular land slides and took out A625. The district council wanted a multimillion pound bypass, but he just closed it and created a lorry free zone. Respect.

c. Ralph Stephenson
No, instead I give the award to the late John Tyme, polytechnic lecturer and seventies anti-road activist.

The extent of opposition to roads in the decade-that-fashion-forget had largely been forgotten itself by the time my generation took to the trees. Not many people know, for example, that the first Reclaim the Streets was held on Oxford Street in 1971.

This was the Decade of the Environment, and opposition to roads had started to move away from NIMBYism and into real issues of sustainability.

As Tyme himself wrote:  

None of our national enemies have so mutilated our cities, undermined the long-term economic movement of people and goods, destroyed our industrial base, diminished our ability to plan our community life and reduced our capacity to feed ourselves.

Tyme lectured on Planning at what is now Sheffield Hallamshire University and was also the Conservation Society's West Midlands transport campaigner.

c. Ralph Stephenson
The Conservation Society were a fairly conservative lot with something of an obsession with population, but Tyme spoke for more than just this narrow group of people. One of his skills was to be able to link the concerns of local campaigners with the issues of the growing environment movement, and to connect the more radical Hippy-inspired groups to the more staid campaigners.

The mid-seventies found him acting as a consultant activist touring the country helping out local groups opposing road schemes. Like the groups operating twenty years later he believed in Direct Action, but his target was very different.

Tyme believed that once a Public Enquiry was underway the road was effectively built. His standard modus operandi then was to attend an Enquiry and start to speak about global issues of sustainability and wider environmental impact. The inquiry inspector would rule his objections out of order and his supporters would then disrupt the meeting with slow hand-claps until ejected by police and security.

c. Ralph Stephenson (and yes that is a young Ken Livingston!)
In Shipley, Yorkshire, they barred the doors to keep him out but his supporters, led by a local pig farmer, broke them down to get in. At the inquiry into the plan to widen the Archway Road as part of a London inner orbital motorway, protesters provided music and dancing to enliven proceedings. Eventually a three deep line of police guarded the inspector but he's had enough. A four week adjournment was ordered, but the inspector was never seen again. In 1990 the scheme was finally canned.

Some of Tyme's other victories proved rather more temporary. He bought 15 years grace on the extension of the M3 at Winchester, but it eventually reemerged and devoured Twyford Down.

Tyme's legacy though probably extended to the 1990s road protests. As I said, he built bridges and so perhaps it was thanks to him that when the bulldozers eventually came for Twyford Down they were opposed not only by Travellers and Earth First!, but by a Conservative Councillor and the grandson of an Earl.

The man himself eventually retired to Stroud and died in 2008. In print he was satirized by Tom Sharpe in Blott on the Landscape, but really he deserves a better epitaph than that.

He doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page.

The Secret life of Motorways, BBC4
Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement by Derek Wall
(Thanks to Ralph Stephenson for the pictures.)

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