Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding

Chapter 6: Getting information

To fight a road, you need as much information as possible, including from "the other side". Ideally, you'd put bugs, hidden cameras, and infiltrators in the offices of all the roadbuilders' senior staff - do it if you have the money and knowledge! Fortunately, you can find out a lot with simple means. Don't be intimidated by the chasm between the intense surveillance powers of the state and the rumour-factory of your campaign. Be aware of and try to frustrate their surveillance (see Chapter 13 and "targetting the evidence gatherers on site" in chapter 10); meanwhile collate your own information on them. For dirt on specific companies, or for ideas on how to dig it yourself, contact Corporate Watch (see Chapter 16).


Local libraries, both public and those attached to colleges and universities, hold a wealth of free info. As well as newspapers and periodicals, they may have phone directories, maps, press archives, electoral rolls, trade directories, "Who's Who", government documents, company information, law reports, and all sorts of useful reference materials. The list of land and properties subject to Compulsory Purchase Ordes to make way for the road, plus the owner's names, should also be there. Libraries also often have photocopiers, microfiche readers, and teletext.

Local Newspapers

Visit offices of local papers, which may have an archive of information about the scheme. If not, libraries usually hold copies of past newspapers. In the Public Notices section, papers may announce temporary road and footpath closure notices. If roads are due to close on route, this may indicate where and when work will occur. Some companies, particularly security guard companies, may place job advertisements in local papers.

Local Newspapers

Well-informed hacks may well know more about what's going on than most so cultivate them. Giving journalists "exclusive" stories should earn you a favour. Sympathetic journalists may dig out information for you, or even let you pose as a colleague! The construction press can be especially useful for the latest news on contracts. The main UK titles are Construction News and Contract Journal, published weekly, and available in good public libraries. Also useful are New Civil Engineer (specialist libraries or subscription), Building, Surveyor (both in libraries), and Local Transport Today (subscription only). Get used to reading these regularly. Construction journalists will generally have all the gossip on companies and contracts, so if you can make friends with one you may learn a lot. However, remember that trade journalists remain loyal to the industry, and they aren't environmentalists.

Council Offices

Planning applications are held on file in the planning department of District Council offices. These documents are open for public inspection and may contain useful information about the scale of new developments. Exposing applications for new out-of-town shopping centres or housing estates could galvanise local opposition to the road. Applications to extract gravel and sand for use on the route of a new road often greatly increase the area under threat. Details may be held in the planning library. Maps and details can be photocopied for a fee.


Accurate large-scale maps will prove invaluable for route monitoring, planning events and siting camps. Maps for road proposals are available to local people from the roadbuilding agency. Be persistent when chasing them. Phone the agency and get the name of the person in charge of the scheme's administration. Follow up your request with a letter.

Environmental Information Regulations:

When asking for information from government departments and agencies, you could try using the Environmental Information Regulations 1992. These are based on the European Directive on Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment. When making a formal request for information from a public body, remind them that these Regulations require them to give it to you.

Post, Phone & Fax

The good thing about these communication systems is that you can pretend to be who the hell you like! So, you can contact the roadbuilders directly, claiming to be a journalist, local landowner, rival contractor etc, and fish for information. In Britain, remember to dial 141 before the main number, to conceal your own number.

Computers enable you to produce extremely convincing letterheads, business cards and so on. Decide what you want to know, work out who to ask, and use your imagination! Confidence and good acting skills are needed; have an "identity" and story prepared thoroughly before you pick up the phone. At Newbury in 1996, for instance, protesters knew that eviction of Reddings Copse camp would need the biggest cherry-picker crane available; so someone rang the relevant crane firm claiming to be a Cathedral Clerk of Works, asking to hire the big crane to inspect the spire! After faxing a forged letter to confirm, he was told that it was available every day for weeks, except one... which was indeed when Reddings Copse was finally evicted. Be bold and devious!

You can get on various mailing lists, such as the DoT press release list, by phoning and pretending to be a journalist. You may be asked to fax a letter, so be creative on a computer. When you fax it, remember to reset the fax machine so the campaign's name isn't on the top, and use an address unconnected to the campaign.

Company Searches

These yield lots of information on a specific company, including its history, recent Annual Reports and accounts, Articles of Association (ie. the company's "constitution"), and names and home addresses of directors. You can do a search by visiting Companies House (see Chapter 16), or applying to them by post (there is a small fee). The search is supplied on microfiche. You will need to get the name of the company exactly right to get the right information, as civil engineering firms, for instance, are often part of a much larger group with a different name.

Under Section 356 of the Companies Act 1985, anyone can inspect a company's Register of Members, which is a list of all their shareholders or members. There is a small fee, unless you are a shareholder yourself. Apply in writing to the Company Secretary. There is more on company law in "Basic Law for Road Protestors" - see Chapter17.

World Wide Web

This is an increasingly useful research tool, especially for scientific and environmental information, and for digging dirt on corporations..

Contractors' offices

The most accurate information regarding work schedules and fine details of the plans are likely to be held in contractors' offices, particularly those of consulting engineers. Office occupations in the past have proved a useful method of getting information such as maps, lists of other offices and telephone numbers. Useful documents thrown out of the window and collected later may avoid arrest. (High-risk method - see office occupations in Chapter10 first!)

Inside Sources

There will usually be people on the wrong side who sympathise enough with your cause to leak bits of information. They may work for the security company or a contractor, or be local people with privileged info. Listen to and record every bit of info that comes into the campaign, but be aware that you may be fed deliberate misinformation. Remember that "Chinese whispers" can massively distort the original info; go back to the person who first received the information. If you get any valuable information, it is essential to protect your sources. That means not letting anyone know where the information comes from, or making the source obvious.


This is difficult, but incredibly useful. If protesters can get jobs on the road site, so much can be learnt - the location of depots, offices and pick-up points, for instance, or the start-dates of contracts. Infiltration of the security guards at Newbury was crucial in anticipating the start of the clearance contract, and hence kicking the direct action campaign off to a brilliant start. Security companies and contractors have vetting procedures, so you'll need to be convincing, cool-headed, and may need references, to have a chance. Look out for ads in job centres, agencies and papers. You can gauge the company's attitude to protesters, and find out when they are planning to start using large numbers.

Infiltrating conferences and meetings is easier; press credentials help. Activists have blagged press passes to 750-a-head government conferences with one fax and three phone calls. Either invent a publication (and letterhead), or get a friend who edits a minor, but legitimate, magazine to vouch for you as their "transport correspondent".

Observation, Photography & Tailing

There is a lot you can discover by simple snooping. By following vehicles, for instance, the location of off-route compounds and security guard coach depots can be discovered at an early stage. Smart, fast cars help, and working in pairs, preferably linked by mobile phones, is especially effective. Be persistent, inconspicuous, and record details accurately. Observation on foot or on pushbikes is also very useful on and around the road route, for recording and photographing vehicle registration numbers, company names on lorries, etc (see also"route monitoring" in Chapter 8).

Using The Info

Collecting info is just the first stage; if it is not used then the effort will have been futile. It must all be recorded and collated to build up an overall picture, and to enable easy retrieval of information. Setting up files is a good way to do this, but they will need regular updating and checking. It's really important to persuade people to do this - knowledge not shared is usually wasted. Of course, some info will need to remain relatively secret, but at least a few people must have an overview of all the tip-offs, rumours etc.

This book is now out of print. You might be able to get a copy from a UK library by ordering on the inter-library loans scheme.

Road Alert!