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Friday, 12 September 2014

The Battle for Twyford Down: 20 Years On

Twyford Down is an area of chalk downland lying directly to the southeast of Winchester, Hampshire, England. It is situated near the South Downs National Park, next to St. Catherine's Hill. The down has been used as a settlement since pre-Roman times, and has hosted a fort and a chapel, as well as being a popular 17th and 18th century coaching route. When in 1991 the Department of Transport (DoT) announced the scheme to replace the A33 Winchester Bypass with the final section of the M3, there was widespread outrage. The road would destroy two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, two Scheduled Ancient Monuments and an area of outstanding natural beauty.
This was the most protected landscape in southern England, yet in just 2 years it was to change from a beautiful piece of historic land to a motorway.
The scheme was opposed for decades & became the subject of an official European Community environmental complaint. The European Community were ignored by the UK Government, and the complaint was later dropped amidst allegations of back room negotiations. The initial protest was led by the Twyford Down Association, local people who loved the Down, and adopted the conventional campaign tactics of lobbying, rallies, marches and legal appeals. They succeeded in getting the scheme reassessed and reassessed again, but the Government finally went ahead, despite numerous legal and political challenges.
National Friends Of the Earth intervened at the start of construction with non-violent direct action, but were forced to back off by the threat of massive legal costs. But while FoE camped on the threatened water meadows, a group of local young people were living on St. Catherine's Hill in the 'bender' dwellings which originated with the Gypsies, and which had become standard quarters in every protest site. These were the folk who were to become known as the Donga tribe.
Although the protests failed to stop the road being constructed, they succeeded in making the government of the day think twice about similar projects and, 20 years on, continue to serve as an inspiration to all those who value the countryside.


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