Stop the Motorway! (OK Slow Down the Motorway)

Daniel (Wearing Fido) and Anna

People in Common member Daniel Wimberley was an imposing figure. Over 6ft tall with long hair and beard – classic 1970’s hippy look – and invariably clad in a calf length tweed greatcoat, named Fido. He was a founder member of PIC credited in group mythology with ‘discovering’ Burnley. When I joined he was immersed in campaigning against the construction of the M65 motorway. As secretary of the North East Lancashire Transport Action Group, NELTAG, he was a key figure in drawing together submissions for a forthcoming public inquiry.

The M65 motorway proposal had had a somewhat tortuous history up to this point and would limp on in fits and starts for years after as well. Way back in 1949 when the grand post war ‘Road Plan for Lancashire’ was first drawn up, by Sir James (Motorway) Drake, there was no mention of a motorway along the Calder Valley linking the towns of NE Lancs. It wouldn’t be until the late 1960’s when the County Council, worried what impact the proposed Central Lancashire New Town being planned around Preston would have on the belt of already declining industrial towns to the east, came up with the plan for what would end up being dubbed the ‘Road to Nowhere’

THE ROAD TO NOWHERE The M65 – first two stages Blackburn to Colne

There followed a series of reports and an initial Public Inquiry in 1974 that had confirmed the outline route and left the details of the scheme to be thrashed out at a further inquiry – the one Daniel was now preparing for. The 1970’s saw a blitz of motorway building across the country with the M65 being one of the last to get permission and be built. Opposition to this expansion of the road network had come from a variety of quarters led in many cases at public inquiries by a well dressed middle aged academic from Sheffield.

… John Tyme, a Sheffield Polytechnic lecturer in planning, took a leading role in formulating tactics of direct action against inquiries. Tyme was the Conservation Society’s west Midlands transport campaigner.The Society, founded in 1966, stressed wildlife loss and resource shortages, and was almost obsessively concerned with population growth. Although ideologically on the right, it placed environmental problems in a political context and perhaps for the first time stressed the increasingly global nature of ecological concern. The society acted as a particularly significant bridge between middle-class conservation groups such as the civic societies and more radical green campaigners…

…. His supporters physically disrupted a number of inquiries which refused to consider such questions of need and wider environmental impact.Typically,Tyme would try to speak, the inquiry inspector would refuse to hear his objection, and Tyme’s supporters would then drown out the inspector with slow hand-claps. Finally police and private security guards would attempt to eject protesters. The result was generally chaos….

… Tyme was successful, in part, because he could link the language of local campaigners like the civic societies with the global environmental concerns increasingly voiced during the 1970s by more politicised greens. In contrast to earlier campaigners, he delivered a message of anti-motor car fundamentalism: 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.

Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement derek wall

There had already been a couple of successes chalked up by anti-motorway campaigners led by John Tyme. Perhaps most notably in stopping the M650 Aire Valley route that had been proposed to run from Bradford through the Yorkshire Dales to join the M6 in Cumbria. The public inquiry into this scheme was abandoned after the public were banned from it after the hall had been besieged and occupied by objectors.

From the start it did seem obvious that at this late stage in the whole saga of getting the M65 built that the result of the inquiry to be held in Accrington Town Hall was a foregone conclusion and that both the road lobby and objectors were simply going through the motions in a somewhat farcical sham of democracy. And as it unfolded the plot of the inquiry became more and more like some sort of very English court room farce; complete with model train sets and children playing in the hall (There was no creche provided!), I was escorted out by police for trying to video the proceedings (No other record was being made.) and coach loads of police officers hiding behind the scenes on the day that John Tyme came to speak.

John Tyme came to Burnley for the inquiry into the stretch of the M65 going through the valley as far as Colne. He was here several days. The high point for me was when he cross-examined one of the top officers at the Lancs. County Council for maybe an entire day. He was either the top transport engineer or the top planner. It must certainly have felt like a whole day for the hapless individual.

Tyme had managed to separate him from his comfort zone of an array of be-suited colleagues seated to one side of the Inspector, and engineered things so he was sat alone on a chair in the middle of the hall. He then proceeded to roast him good and proper. Highlight was when he got this man to admit that if the Motorway was not built then the Planning Department had no Plan B.

Daniel Wimberley
Accrington Town Hall

At the point when the inspector ruled the case presented by John Tyme out of order and inadmissible – on an agreed signal a whole bunch of us rushed and occupied the stage where the inspector sat – to be followed seconds later by a keystone cops moment as the dozens of police officers who had been hiding at the back of the stage ran into the room single file through one small doorway. We were all removed from the hall and unceremoniously dumped on the pavement outside.

Pete, who had taken the day off work – telling his employer he was sick. – was caught by a photographer half way down the Town Hall steps with a police officer either side of him just managing to stick his trademark woolly hat into his pocket. So he wouldn’t be recognised when the picture appeared on the front page of the local paper later in the week.

Adding insult to injury a few weeks after the inquiry closed a signboard went up on the way into Burnley announcing that the motorway would be built – long before the inspectors report was going to be out. One night emboldened by a glass or two of homebrew Alan announced that he was going to go and graffiti the sign to let the town know what he thought about the whole sham of democracy. I gave him a lift across town on my motorbike. Unfortunately half way through the task of daubing Stop The Motorway on the sign we were spotted by a police car. While Alan finished spraying his slogan I led the police car on a rather sedate ‘chase’ along roads around Gannow top where all the houses had already been demolished to make way for the Motorway. Before we were both arrested. There is a photo somewhere of Alan and John B the following day stood in front of the graffitied sign fists raised in a token act of defiance. We both ended up in front of the magistrates – I got fined £40 for ‘driving with undue care and attention’. (I never did understand why I wasn’t breathalyzed?) – Alan was told if he didn’t mention the motorway he would get off with a small fine for damage to property – in the event he made a speech condemning the whole charade of the public inquiry and got fined £200.

M65 Gannow top – Just before it was opened

I remember later when the road was being built a conversation with another anti-motorway campaigner about how futile if felt grappling with the bureaucracy of public inquiries and he suggested that the way in the future to stop roads would be to increase the costs to the point where the authorities would think twice before proposing a road scheme and that we should carry out subtle sabotage of schemes during construction to push the costs up.

The most serious bit of civil engineering that was required to get the M65 through Burnley was the excavation of a huge cutting through Gannow Top. Including over the top of a canal tunnel and then under the canal by a new aqueduct. This was achieved by starting to excavate and lay the road simultaneously from either side of the hill. One evening on my way home from working at The Mill I crept on to the construction site on the eastern side of the hill and hammered the surveyors levels into the ground along a 50 yard stretch of the excavation. When the road was opened a story circulated that when the two sides of the Gannow cutting met there was a 6 inch step between the levels of the roads on either side and a whole section of the motorway had to be relaid. Now I find it hard to believe that it might have been my doing rather than some other construction error – but you never know.

The M65 wouldn’t be complete for another decade by which time a whole new generation of road protesters had changed tactics and taken to the trees to oppose road schemes.

Daniel and Anna left PIC in 1978 lived in Norwich for a while, and got involved in the Green Party. Before returning to Jersey where they ran a cycle hire business on the island. Daniel was elected as a senator to the Jersey State Assembly. More recently they moved to the Peak District.

Daniel Wimberley standing for the Green Party in the 2019 European Elections.

Note: John Tyme attended both the 1974 and the later public inquiry into the M65 – this has led to some slightly confused memories of the events – he did stay at PIC briefly when he came for the second inquiry.

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