CAMPAIGNERS from around the country have joined a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of a Hampshire protest which changed the landscape of Government road-building policy for a generation.

The fight to save Twyford Down, near Winchester , from the diggers in the 1990s was a watershed moment for campaigners battling against road expansion by the then Conservative administration.

Today protesters warned that the country faces a major new programme of nationwide road-building.

About 100 people took part in the reunion where a 98ft banner was unfurled on top of the down which read: “Twenty years since Twyford Down. Don't go backwards, no new roads.”

Dr Chris Gillam, who returned to the site where he protested 20 years ago, said of the proposals for new roads: “Plans for these roads have already been fought and defeated.

“But, like zombies, they keep coming back. Their impacts haven't changed and local opposition will be just as strong.

“This weekend's event at Twyford Down will let people know what's coming.

“It will embolden and connect those who do not wish to see local environments destroyed and their towns and cities made even more car-dependent.

“And it will remind people that collectively taking action can change things.”

The Campaign for Better Transport has identified 70 projects across the country and expects hundreds more to emerge from local authority and Local Enterprise Partnership plans.

Chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “Government has forgotten the lessons they were taught at places like Twyford Down.

“Major road-building is slow, expensive and disastrous for the environment .

“By allowing a programme of road-building by stealth to develop, the Government is setting itself up for long and vociferous fights up and down the country.

“We need to deal with the real transport problems being faced by local communities.

“This means fixing potholes in existing roads, investing in decent public transport services and getting freight off road and on to rail.”

The Twyford Down campaign by grassroots environmentalists like the Dongas Tribe, Road Alert and Earth First, and aided by organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, was joined by local people who wanted to keep the ancient down and it went nationwide.

Work to cut a 40ft wide and 100ft deep, two-mile cutting through the chalk face of the down for the M3 extension started in 1992 and led to bitter fights, with several protesters eventually being jailed.

Campaigners occupied the site in tunnels and chained themselves to diggers in an attempt to stop the extension after years of legal challenges to the work failed.

It was the UK's first road protest camp but soon it was a tactic familiar across the country in the years to come in places like Newbury in Berkshire.

The extension was completed in 1994, but at a high cost, and the countrywide opposition forced the Government to rethink.

It initially cut an ugly white chalk scar into the landscape around Winchester but, in later years, it has grown over and become less of an eyesore.

The Government pressed ahead with Twyford Down because it had instigated an ambitious expansion of roads in the UK after a controversial White Paper in 1989 called Roads To Prosperity signalled a multibillion-pound spend on 500 road-building schemes.

But by 1994, research found more roads led only to more cars and alternative ideas to limit car use started to be considered, with the Labour government then scrapping the expansion.

Twyford Down caused such emotion because it had been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, was recognised as a gathering place for ancient tribes and was criss-crossed by “Dongas” - a network of ancient pathways.

But the existing road network around Winchester had also become a bottleneck, with major roads like the A34, A31 and A33 meeting in the city.

A bypass, built in the 1930s, helped but, by the 1990s, that represented the missing link in the M3 from London to Southampton with traffic queuing for miles at the infamous Hockley traffic lights just outside the city.