Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Road Protest (Leighton Buzzard style)

I got a call early this morning to say that the contractors were moving in to start work on the Linslade Western By-pass. The message noted that a low-loader had delivered a large digger to Valley Farm and the protestors had managed to halt any further work for the present.

This was one of those occasions when I found myself caught between convictions. I am firmly convinced now, after balancing out the pros and cons, that road building will not solve any of the many problems facing Leighton Buzzard, Britain or the World – such as Congestion, Safe Routes to School or Global Climate Change. I have, therefore, lent support to the campaign through out its long battles with the forces of daftness. However like many people I am not able to drop everything and go with the moment. I am not an eco-warrior. A part-time protestor at best as, like many, my first duty is to get my daughter to eat breakfast and then off to school.

I thought, therefore, that every thing would be done and dusted by the time I arrived at the protest, however, when I got to the entrance of Valley Farm just after nine things were rather quiet (and cold). The protest had moved into a ‘cat and mouse’ phase in which the contractors and the police circled the area (taking pictures and video of anyone who looked like a protestor). However, despite the general sense of this being the calm before the storm everyone was very polite and friendly; the landowner kindly distributing hot mugs of tea to both the protestors and the police.

At about 11.00 am the contractors formed up their vehicles into a convoy and headed into Valley Farm. The protestors were then advised by the landowner that he was granting the contractors access to his land.

The contractor’s vehicles pulled into the first field and stopped. The protestor’s formed an orderly line in front of the first vehicle and everything went quiet again.

The local Friends of The Earth co-ordinator had assembled a large press contingent to cover events. The protest, therefore, moved into an interesting media phase in which it seemed that everyone present was either interviewing, being interviewed or photographing the proceedings. The police also got in on the act as well by videoing and photographing almost everyone present.

At about eleven-thirty the police sergeant in charge of the protest came over and politely warned the assembled protestors that they committing the act of aggravated trespass. After giving the situation careful consideration two of the protestors, Victoria and Becca, ‘chained’ themselves to the digger (as seen in the photograph). The contractors and the protestors were relaxed about all this. They did, however, show a lot of concern for Becca and actually advised her about where to sit so that she would be comfortable and not in danger of hanging herself accidentally. Meanwhile, Victoria continued to use her mobile phone to keep the outside world abreast of events (and offered hot coffee to anyone who was feeling the cold).

It was at this time that I was asked leave by a very polite policeman. I had previously decided that I was not intending to get arrested so it was time for me to leave. One of the contractors produced a map and carefully pointed out the rights-of-way to the assembled group. Another one of the contractors then helped me through the farmyard and back on to the Soulbury Road.

At first I felt deflated by the morning’s events, as I felt like I had been seen-off. However, whilst walking back to Leighton Buzzard I developed the feeling that I had just taken part in some kind of ritual; a calm, carefully thought-out symbolic dance in which the participants re-enacted a confrontation. In a strange way I felt reassured by the calm consideration that everyone involved displayed.


Post a Comment

<< Home