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Twyford Down

Twyford Down is a small area of ancient chalk downland lying directly to the southeast of Winchester, Hampshire, England. The down's summit, known as Deacon Hill, is towards the north-eastern edge of the area which is renowned for its dramatic rolling scenery, ecologically rich grassland and as a Site of Special Scientific Interest - SSSI. It is a part of the East Hampshire AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). In 1994 a highly controversial road building project was - despite vigorous objection from many quarters - completed and a new stretch of the M3 motorway was created, running through a significant section of the down which was excavated and removed to create a deep cutting.

The M3 motorway extension

Winchester had been a traffic bottleneck for many years as several major routes passed through the historic city centre, including the A31, A33 and A34, as well as smaller routes like the A272. In the 1930s a by-pass had been built to the east of the city, passing immediately west of St. Catherine's Hill. Construction of this had been controversial as it affected the Itchen Valley and offered only a partial solution to congestion, with some people calling instead for a by-pass to the north and west of Winchester. With increasing traffic the by-pass itself became a bottleneck, particularly at its junction with the A333 Portsmouth Road. Eventually it became the last missing link in the M3 motorway between London and Southampton. The Ministry of Transport (MoT) had trouble purchasing the land required to complete the route past Winchester. The land required, east of the city on Twyford Down, was owned by Winchester College, who refused to sell the land to the government because part was a water meadow. The desired route, however, had been chosen to avoid St. Catherine's Hill, an ancient hill fort. Proposals were made for a tunnel through Twyford Down, but the estimated cost for this was £75 million more than the estimated cost for a cutting, and the government dismissed the plans. The final route chosen ran through important chalk grassland habitat, and of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) were lost. In 1990 a link between Southampton and the southern end of Twyford Down was completed and soon afterwards work began on clearing the route across the down.

Protest

For 20 years a coalition led by local businessman David Croker had been trying to save Tywford Down. Environmental organisations including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, took the by-now renamed Department for Transport to the High Court, stating that the road was against the Government's own environmental protection laws. The case failed, but European Union Commissioner for the Environment, Carlo Ripa de Meana looked into the case and ordered the project be stopped because he found that it did violate British and European laws.

In 1989, the Conservative government published its Roads for Prosperity White Paper detailing 500 road schemes billed as “The biggest road-building programme since the Romans” with a price-tag of £23 billion at 1989 prices (equivalent to about £40 billion today).

In December 1991 Twyford Down became the site of the UK's first road protest camp when environmentalists, including members of Dongas and Earth First! gathered to hinder work. After a year this first camp was evicted on Yellow Wednesday, named after the uniforms of the Group4 security guards who performed the eviction in December 1992.

Resistance to the road intensified and Earth First! set up a new protest camp nearby in Plague Pits Valley, and continued to obstruct the work both on the water meadows and up on the Down itself. In addition to many actions there was a mass trespass when over 5000 people attended the protests and occupations, and six people were sent to prison for some weeks for defying an earlier injunction not to enter the site.

Outcome

The motorway section which was eventually constructed through Twyford Down completed the route of the M3 motorway. Prior to its completion, traffic travelling from nearby Southampton and Portsmouth (major ferry ports) and from farther west to London and the north had to exit the truncated M3 and travel on the heavily congested 1930s Winchester Bypass. Once round this bypass, traffic could either rejoin the M3 in order to proceed toward London or join the A34 road. Completion of the link in 1994 removed the traffic from the existing Winchester Bypass allowing its closure and significantly reduced heavy traffic volumes from the village of Twyford. To redress the loss of of SSSI land, the old route of the A33 road was planted with of species-rich grassland under the supervision and monitoring of The Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.

In 1994 a government committee concluded that building more roads encourages more traffic, and that the way to ease congestion and pollution was to take measures to control car use rather than accommodate more. When Labour came to power in 1997, most of the road schemes were suspended.

2,000 Campaigners mounted legal action to preserve an area of grassland created on the route of the old A33 Winchester bypass in mitigation of the land lost to the motorway which was threatened by a Park and Ride site. The legal action failed and Greens claimed that they had been betrayed for a second time. Land was provided elsewhere in mitigation.

In 2004 Winchester Cathedral received £86,000 from the Highways Agency in compensation for increased traffic noise from the M3. The Rev. Michael Till explained that "the noise comes beaming straight across The Close. It does change life having a perpetual background noise.

Also in 2004 veterans of a Tywford Down protest threatened a new campaign of direct action in response to 200 new road-building proposals in the government's recently unveiled 10 year transport plan and one of them went on to found Road Block in 2005, which became part of the Campaign for Better Transport (UK) in 2007.

References

Further reading

  • Bryant, B; M. Denton-Thompson (1995). Twyford Down: Roads, Campaigning and Environmental Law. Spon Press.

See also

External links

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