Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding

Chapter 7: Know your enemy

The following section describes the main forces that British road protesters can expect to find themselves up against, and summarises their main roles. Suggestions of ways to counter each are included in the "Tactics" section. Most companies and agencies will have a PR or Corporate Communications Department, designed to absorb and deflect all your blows. Don't waste time on them - go straight to the decision-makers and those working directly on the scheme.


At some point, every road will need approval from some layer of Government. In England, trunk roads are built on the orders of the Secretary of State for Transport; in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the relevant Secretary of State gives the go-ahead. Some major routes may be part of the Trans-European Network (TEN); this means that the road will be heavily supported (and possibly partly funded) by the European Union. Other, generally smaller, roads are built under jurisdiction of Local Authorities.

Once the politicians have made their final decision, and the legal order to build the road has been made, the uphill struggle to stop the paper approval becoming grim concrete reality begins - and that's what this guide is about. Remember that there are loads of roads which have passed all political and legal hurdles to construction, but aren't being built. The key to adding your road scheme to this list is to vanquish all political desire to sign the contract and build the road.

Government will, of course, attack anyone who dares to step outside the democratic charade to challenge its power. So expect all the usual lines: you'll be rentamob, outsiders, anti- democratic, scroungers, eco-fascists, etc. Join the club! Repellent as politicians are, it's important to take them on at an early stage, to counter their arguments, to build support, and to knock the case for the road. Unfortunately, this means playing the political game to some extent; use them, but never trust them or rely on them! Politicians are not brave - the more they see resistance mounting and trouble on the horizon, the less tarmac-happy they become. However, they must be able to back down without losing face, so think of political escape routes, such as budget cuts. Be aware that if you raise the stakes inappropriately, or at the wrong time, the harder it may become for politicians to publicly retreat.

Remember that different levels of government often don't agree; if the road is planned by the State, for instance, the support / opposition of local and parish councils will be an important factor. Identify which level of government the pressure is coming from, and concentrate on that. There are numerous books on lobbying politicians see Chapter xx.

Road-Building Agencies

Government always has some agency to which it entrusts the building of roads. For English Trunk Roads, this is the Highways Agency. For Local Authorities, it will usually be the Planning or Highways Department. The agency is made up of professional road-builders, including Civil Engineers and other technical and administrative staff, with no overt political power, but whose career survival depends on building roads. So don't waste time lobbying them, or expect to find common cause with them. The main weakness of these agencies is their bureaucratic nature, often accompanied by low morale. Few agency staff will venture out onto the actual road site, except to drive about to keep an eye on things.


Increasingly, road-building depends on corporate finance to some degree. Private finance can fund roads totally or in part (see DBFO below); developers can also fund a local road as part of a planning deal. Targeting the companies or banks involved is important, especially before construction begins - an energetic campaign might even persuade an already nervous financier to back out. Play up the risk factors of contentious contracts in media work. Start as soon as the identity of investors, actual or potential, is known.


The road-building agency must sign contracts for the road-building, and it's the contractors who actually do the dirty work. Contractors have responsibility to the roadbuilding agency to complete on time and to standard. They may themselves employ any number of subcontractors to help them do this, by taking on some specific task or part of the project - shifting aggregate, or driving piles, for instance. There will be all sorts of people working on the road site, from plant operators to caterers; try and find out as soon as possible who is working for the main contractor, who is a sub- contractor, and who is employed on a separate subsidiary contract. It's a complex business, but knowing who works for whom is the first step in wrecking the whole process.

Consulting Engineers

These are appointed by the roadbuilding agency, whilst the road is still at the early planning stages, to produce a detailed design of the road. The same consultants will usually oversee the actual building of the road, and supervise and check contractors' work. So, they have an obvious interest in the road finally going ahead and may actively lobby their local contacts. The senior staff of the Consulting Engineers will therefore be key staff on site, and co-ordinate all the different contracts until their lovely design is finished. It is crucial to target them as much as possible.


default These technicians make sure the road gets built in the right place. They wear high-visibility clothing and hard hats on worksites, like everyone else, but often discard these when surveying untrashed areas, to be less conspicuous. They work in pairs, threes or fours, and may be accompanied by security guards. They carry theodolite and reflectors, which are very expensive and delicate kit. If this gets broken, the surveyors don't work! Sometimes, they may carry what looks like a metal rucksack with a huge aerial. This is extremely expensive, sensitive satellite positioning apparatus.

Surveyors will work before anything else happens; in fact, surveying is an important part of the road planning process. There will be a burst of surveying activity in the weeks and months leading up to the start of actual work, and this will continue thereafter throughout the construction process. Their work is essential, and must be accurate. For this reason, it is vital and relatively easy to sabotage it. If you stop the surveying, the bulldozers and chainsaws simply don't know where to go (see "Stopping Surveyors" - Chapter 10).

Security Guards

A private security company may be appointed to keep "trespassers" off construction sites; different contracts may use different security firms. They act as agents of the contractors, with responsibility for up to 24-hour protection of the works. They are therefore the people you will encounter most directly when you venture onto a construction site. Don't treat individual guards as the enemy. Security guards have occasionally changed sides, and every one is a potential protester.

The higher the profile of your scheme, the higher the level of security organisation you will face. Companies like Reliance and Group 4 (used extensively on British road protests) have a rigid hierarchy, indicated by differences in uniform, often by hat colour. All guards should wear high-visibility jackets and hard hats. Some firms make their guards wear identity numbers; if they don't, demand that they do. They are usually divided into teams of about 15-20, led by a team leader. There will often be specialist teams, most notably "rapid response" units, who roam about in Land Rovers until they get called to deal with "trouble". There will be other layers of "management" above the teams.

Guards will be mostly male, with most of the bottom level coming straight from the dole, being paid peanuts and treated badly by their "superiors". Many may not like the job, but are victims of financial necessity. This is the level most likely to walk out, turn a blind eye to holes in security fences etc, or to leak information to protesters. Hence, they are trusted with minimal responsibility; work on sowing discontent! There will of course be a sprinkling of psychos, rambo fantasists, and people turned down by the army or police for being too aggressive, especially at the team leader level (see end of Chapter 10 for ideas on dealing with violence). The most senior guards are most likely to be army lieutenant types, and will generally avoid getting their hands dirty.

It's worth developing a relatively peaceful (if untrusting) co-existence with security, as you'll be seeing a lot of them, and they have every opportunity to put the boot in, steal your gear, trash camps, etc, if hostility rises. Of course, some may do these things anyway. Guards can be a source of tip-offs if you cultivate them, especially as they have little loyalty to anyone but their pay-packets. Remind them that they have an interest in seeing protests continue for as long as possible - if the campaign dies down, the ones at the bottom quickly get laid off. They will probably be brainwashed to believe that you intend to do hideous things to them, and their matey-macho culture reinforces this.

Although they're there to do what they're told, earn money, and get the road built, they will be affected by what they see, and by how you relate to them. Strike the balance between undermining their working efficiency at every opportunity and not making them want to batter you. Make them hate their bosses much more than they hate you, and try and make them understand what you're doing and why you're there.

Legally, security guards are empowered to use "minimum reasonable force" to remove trespassers from private land, and are supposed to ask you to leave before touching you. In practice, they'll grab you as soon as they catch you on a work site, and chuck you off. Don't expect the police to protect you from "unreasonable" force. Guards have no more legal power than anyone else when they venture off the private land they are protecting (eg. onto the public highway) - use this to your advantage.

Private Detectives

default The DoT has used private detectives to photograph, spy on, serve legal papers on, film, and generally harass activists since the protests at Twyford Down in 1992. One firm, Bray's of Southampton, has cornered the market in this sad and shady speciality. It is highly likely that you will face some similar type of snooping, which will be separate from the police's evidence gathering - although pooling of information is almost guaranteed.

They're not doing this for your benefit - the information they collate can do nothing but harm you, sooner or later, and you will have no control or knowledge of what is done with it. We suggest you make life as difficult and unpleasant as possible for them at every opportunity.

Tree Surgeons & Chainsaw Operators

Tree-felling specialists will be involved at an early stage, as they try to obliterate everything living from the route of the road. They generally work in pairs; one to operate the saw, plus a mate to carry spare petrol and pull vegetation out of the way, etc.

In evictions, a tree "surgeon" will go up in trees to lop branches, either climbing with spiked boots, or riding in a cherry-picker. Their job theoretically doesn't include pulling protesters from trees, but they often do. Most chainsaw operators will be based relatively locally. They wear hard hats and protective trousers, boots and visors.

Bailiffs and Sheriff's Officers

These characters only crawl out into the sunlight when they arrive to evict you from your camp, treehouse or squat. They are court servants usually working for the Undersheriff, who has legal responsibility for enforcing the court order. As the Undersheriff is invariably a smug fat solicitor who boosts his career and earns extra fees by evicting the underclass from their miserable homes, he needs minions to actually do the dirty work. Bailiffs must be "sworn in" as court officers to be legally empowered to evict. They should ask you to leave first, and then may use "reasonable force" to remove you when you refuse. The bailiffs you are likely to meet will be very clued up about protester tactics, lock-ons etc. Once you have been removed from the site by bailiffs, their legal power over you ends. On site, they generally wear boiler suits and riot-cop style helmets.


As tree defence has become more sophisticated, trained specialist climbing bailiffs have been recruited to gain access to the trees and walkways, and belay you out of them. In Britain, they have all been employed by the same firm - RTA of Chesterfield (see Chapter 16) - and carved out a cosy little niche for themselves in this despicable and lucrative work. Once sworn in, their legal powers are the same as those of bailiffs, and they are even less popular. They are unmistakable with their rock helmets, anoraks and climbing gear.


If you dig tunnels, you may encounter potholing specialists, employed by the Sheriff to evict underground protesters. They dress in black, and wear balaclavas and helmets. Little is currently known about these publicity-shy characters.


No matter what your previous views on the British police, after being involved in a direct action campaign you will realise that their function there is to protect the interests of big business and the State. The friendly bobby who told you the time when you were a child suddenly becomes a sadistic nutter who will punch you if you dare get in the way. The reason why they were friendly before? Because asking the time doesn't threaten the State! When you step over that line from being passive and obedient to actually challenging things, you see the real side of the police. Their essential and historic role is to ensure that nothing changes.

As a campaign, you'll have to think about how to deal with the police as they will turn up at everything you do - like a bad smell. You may consider doing some "liaison" with them. But remember that behind every smiling face of the "nice cop" is a whole army of the real police - Special Branch, M15 and friends - tapping campaign phones and writing reports. Basically, they exist to screw up your plans! Always have a cynical attitude to the police, and never trust them.

This may all sound very negative, and some would argue that all cops are individuals and should be treated as such. The trouble is that when working they are not individuals. They are part of an army and follow the orders of people who you don't get a chance to reason with. They always do follow orders.

The police have a strict hierarchy and there will be a cop in charge on the ground at all times. If you need to speak to the police, make sure you speak to the most senior one, not to someone who has no command or control. All police should have identification (numbers or symbols) on their shoulders and from this you can work out their rank.


Local Road Supporters

There will be a whole host of local rogues who, for various reasons, actively support the construction of the road, although they aren't directly involved in building it. They include:

Residents Lobby Groups

Active pro-road campaign groups are becoming more prevalent. They are generally underpinned by people who have something definite to gain if the road is built (e.g. they live on a road which will be "relieved" by the new road). They are often mobilised or supported by professional pro-road lobbyists like the British Road Federation, and will use the "local people want the road - that's democracy" line to the maximum. Groups like this are at their busiest when the road seems most likely to be cut.


Cartels such as the local Chamber of Commerce will often support a road because it smells lots of tasty deals on the horizon. These groups often have serious local influence.


Those who stand to make money from development opportunities as a spin-off from the road will support it. Again, they often wield considerable local clout.

We could go on for ages, of course, and mention local media, magistrates, pub landlords, vigilantes, and the numerous other local factions who will do their best to make your life difficult. However, the most important thing to be aware of is how all the local pro-roadies link up to present a web of influence. This may be done by forming a formal group, along with local politicians. The Newbury Bypass Forum, for instance, manipulated local opinion effectively in 1995, presenting a vociferous political lobby to pressurise national government to approve the Newbury Bypass. The most important links will be behind the scenes - local businesses, landowners and politicians all have their hands in each others' pockets. Expose the vested interests!

Contract Award Procedures

Firstly, the contract will usually be advertised by the roadbuilding agency in the trade press, inviting contractors to "pre-qualify" for the contract. This means demonstrating their ability and credentials to successfully complete the contract. This stage is sometimes omitted for preliminary contracts.

The roadbuilding agency will then select a shortlist of contractors (often six) who will be invited to submit bids. These contractors will prepare a detailed price estimate of their costs in completing the contract. This represents a significant investment of time and money by each contractor, who must submit their bid (or "tender") by a certain date stated by the roadbuilding agency. The agency will then work through the bids, eliminating them until it awards the contract - often to the lowest bidder.

The construction press will have the latest news on contracts, including which contractors have been shortlisted, and rumours about who is most likely to win. The roadbuilding agency will make an official announcement when it's ready, but the contract will have been sewn up before then. Once a main contract has been signed, stopping the road becomes very much harder. We suggest putting a lot of energy and thought into sabotaging the contract award procedures (see ideas within Chapter 10).

A Note About Dbfo & Private Finance

New publicly-funded trunk roads are currently rare in Britain, and private finance is becoming more important. In many other parts of the world, it is the usual means of funding infrastructure. We mention it here because private finance procedures may vary from those described above. In particular, the UK system of DBFO (Design, Build, Finance, Operate) is very different; bidders must form a consortium, comprising civil engineers, consulting engineers, financiers, traffic consultants, and legal advisers, to bid for a contract.

The contract involves some new scheme planning and construction, but also maintenance of a stretch of highway for some years, all at the consortium's own cost. At the end of this time, the consortium will be reimbursed by the Treasury according to a number of factors, including traffic levels - a reward for generated traffic! The main difference with a DBFO contract is its greater scope and complexity, and a higher burden of risk on contractors. If the road you're fighting is DBFO or private finance, we suggest exploiting all the extra issues raised. For background info on DBFOs contact Transport 2000 or ALARM UK (see Chapter 16).

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!