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Newbury bypass protests in 1996

Jackie Markham

Reporter:

Jackie Markham

20 years ago objections to the new road were gathering momentum

Twenty years ago this month the usually quiet town of Newbury featured almost daily in the national press and tv news. The A34 bypass western route had been approved, and construction was underway.  Protestors gathered in force to object to the new road and the consequent destruction  of woodland at Snelsmore Common and Pen Wood.

A huge demonstration was held at Snelsmore  Common on 15 February 1996, which attracted thousands of people from all over the country, including quite a few famous faces.

Some of the younger protestors set up camps in the woods, and even dug an elaborate system of tunnels to hamper the use of heavy machinery.  Local protestor Daniel Hooper earned the nickname of “Swampy” for his apparent ability to live underground, badger-like. When the main tunnel was discovered by the police in March, expert tuneller Pete Faulding, the man tasked with ensuring no-one was still in it, was highly impressed by its technical standard.  He declared “It’s a great tunnel they have built and it has been a challenge exploring it. It’s like something out of the Second World War”. 

Some of the protestors set up camp in the tree-tops, making it a challenge for the tree-cutters to cut down the trees. Druids asserted their ancient rights.  A pantomime cow appeared at Newbury Police Station, charged with aggravated trespass. Liquids were thrown and insults traded. Police were deployed in numbers, private security guards were recruited, and a game of cat and mouse played out in the nation’s press and on their tv screens.

The new road was built eventually; it opened in the summer of 1998 . But not without a fight.

Opinions vary as to how much it improved West Berkshire’s overall traffic situation in general, and Newbury in particular. What do you think?

Click through our gallery of photographs. Maybe you were there? Share your memories with us.

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Article comments

  • CanAmSteve

    08/05/2016 - 18:06

    Much of Newbury's town centre traffic is commercial vehicles from the south (Hampshire) connecting to the A34 and the M4. For reasons unknown, no connection to the A34 from the A339 was made south of Newbury, with all traffic directed directly through the middle of this now-strangled town. Newbury has no "bypass" if you approach from the south-east. It has one major road crossing the barriers of the railway tracks and river/canal. One minor accident and the whole thing grinds to a halt, with no alternative route. There needs to be a connection to the A339 from Newtown to the the A34 south of Newbury to relieve this pressure. Then there are the roundabouts that aren't. Roundabouts with signals are just poorly executed junctions. Newbury reminds me of the old Yogi Berra joke "Nobody goes there any more - it's too crowded."

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  • NewburyLad

    25/02/2016 - 15:03

    Obviously the by-pass was needed, but, not totally unexpected, traffic levels in town now are just as bad as they were back then, because although the bypass traffic moved away, the empty space left was a magnet to attract new additional traffic. Happens every time you build a new road - new traffic which would have gone by other means (walk bus train cycle etc) now jumps into their cars because it is easier. Then train fares go up, bus routes get slashed and less people walk or cycle. But then they moan that the roads are now full again (of themselves)! And so the cycle continues. More effort needs to go into reducing the need to travel or make the existing infrastructure carry more people.

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