February 11, 2013 : Destroy! Burn! Fell! Obliterate!

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As the Tory-led government attempts to resuscitate and expand on the Tory road building scheme from the 1990s, we have decided to publish online for the first time Corporate Watch's first ever publication from 1995 - Destroy! Burn! Fell! Obliterate! - A guide to the companies involved in a part of “road privatisation” in the UK: the firms bidding to design, build, finance and operate “shadow-tolled” roads.

Destroy! Burn! Fell! Obliterate!The title of the report is a play on the Department for Transport's new road programme at the time, which was called “Design, Build, Fund and Operate”, whereby companies put forward thirty year plans where they design and build the roads and pay for them up front, and are paid back by the government over the lifetime of the contract according to the rate of traffic flow along the road. “Shadow toll” roads are roads where there is a toll in operation, but the government (the taxpayer) pays the toll rather than the drivers.

The DBFO road schemes were part of the government's Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which involved the key concepts of 'value for money' and 'transfer of risk', so companies tended to put in higher bids to cover potential risks, meaning more money from the private sector would go towards road building. There is more detail on this in the report, as well as details of all the road schemes and all the companies involved, which serves as a useful reference. This road privatisation is being reignited today.

There are some companies that were involved in the road schemes in the 1990s which are still involved today. For example, Hochtief is one of the main companies involved in the Bexhill-Hastings link road (see the company profile here) and was also active in the 1990s around the flagship PFI road scheme, the £3bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Hochief also bid for the M1/A1 link road, but pulled out due to their commitment to the channel tunnel job.

It's useful to have access to this 1995 report, because we can learn from past examples, such as the Newbury Bypass, which had similar circumstances to the Bexhill-Hastings road, as the road was to be built over an historic battlefield and sites of special scientific interest. Background on key protests and how successful the resistance was in the 1990s can be found here and here, and in general the protests did manage to halt the road programme as a whole and shift government policy, even if some roads, like the Newbury bypass, were built.

There is some overlap between the people involved in resistance back then and now, with many lessons being passed on. The first motorway in Britain was opened in 1958 and road building has been met with wide resistance ever since. In 1992 there were direct action protests at Twyford Down, which sparked the M11 link road protest in 1993, Solsbury Hill in 1994 and many others.

Today the protests camps in Bexhill-Hastings are reigniting the protests of the 1990s and will hopefully lead to some successes. Defender Patrick Nicholson said: “In the 1990s peaceful protest successfully de-railed Margaret Thatcher’s multi-billion pound road-building programme in a remarkably short space of time. We intend to learn from that experience and believe that together we can still stop this environmentally-devastating waste of public money.”