A MILD-MANNERED scientist from Winchester approaching 50, Chris Gillam was probably not the sort of person that springs to mind when you think of road protesters.

But he was one of scores of local people who took part in the fight against the M3 development at Twyford Down.

What started for him as a lobbying process moved onto direct action as he and his fellow protesters tried to stop what they felt was an environmental disaster – both in terms of destroying the natural environment and encouraging further car use by building more roads.

And his protests saw him getting involved in physical confrontations with security workers, crawl under razor wire, prevent work from taking place and being taken to the High Court.

Now aged 69 as he prepared for Saturday’s rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the campaign against the road, he reflected on the campaign and what he feels it achieved.

He still fights against new roads, though today he favours less direct action than he took part in in 1992, lobbying local councils instead.

He first got involved in opposing the M3 extension in 1975, when he came to Winchester.

He believes that a protest he was involved in during an enquiry in 1976 into the purchase of land to build the road helped prevent what he felt would have been a worse scheme than the one we have today that would have put the road through the middle of water meadows.

“By then I was firmly of the view that road-building was generally a bad thing,” he said.

“It simply encourages habits that make even greater demand for roads. Roads generate traffic.

“I was of the opinion that if they were going to build a road they should put it in a tunnel.

They said they couldn’t, then did just that at Hindhead. I felt that might be partly as a consequence of the protests over Twyford Down. When the works started at the beginning of 1992 everybody still believed that the road could be stopped,” he continued.

“There was a complaint being pursued by the European Commission and the Government seemed to be wavering a bit.”

There was also a protest campaign being organised by the Twyford Down Association, which relied on publicity, marches, lobbying and other legal forms of protest.

But right from the beginning of the road work, some protesters began taking direct action. This included attempting to prevent some old railway bridges from being demolished.

A group of new age travellers, who came to be known as Dongas, moved onto the land.

On an infamous day in December 1992 security guards moved in to break up the camp.

It came to be known as ‘Yellow Wednesday’ after the jackets the security workers wore.

“When I got to the site it had been surrounded by razor wire and we made attempts to get in,”

said Chris of the day.

“There was a woman who had been at the Greenham Common protests and she showed me how to crawl through it.

“I was grabbed with one person on each limb while at the same time a fifth person was poking my eyes with their fingers.

“That was the scariest thing because they were deliberately trying to hurt me.”

Chris was also one of a small group of people who had an injunction taken out against them which meant they were liable to be sued for the entire cost of the delay to the work, following action such as occupying a bridge and standing in front of excavators.

After some costly legal fees and trips to the High Court the case was eventually dropped.

So does Chris regret getting involved in direct action?

“My wife certainly felt I had gone too far,” he said.

“I regret that I missed some of the later events because I’d agreed to abide by the injunction [to stay off the land].”

Eventually the new section of the M3 was completed in 1994.

Thousands of people had taken part in the protests against it, hundreds were arrested and some were jailed.

The protests delayed the road but didn’t stop it.

However, it became a cause around which environmentalists could gather and when the new Labour Government dropped the Conservative road-building programme, Twyford Down was hailed as a key factor.

A new cost of environmental action would have to be considered in the future.

Chris believes the action has been instrumental in stopping other roads from being built.

“After Twyford Down we created some new anti-road building groups.

“One was South Coast Against Road Building, where a whole series of bypasses was planned that effectively created a motorway by stealth. That group won almost all of its battles.

“The major legacy of the Twyford Down protests was that the major road-building programme, Roads for Prosperity, fizzled out.

“Government started talking about reducing the need to travel but now it’s back onto roads for growth which is very disappointing.

“I think if we hadn’t done it, there would have been a lot more roads built already and we would be even more oil-dependent than we already are. The main purpose, I think, when you’re up against a huge machine is to delay things. If you delay them long enough some of them end up not happening.

“I think it was quite inspirational for other campaigners. Now we need to regenerate that enthusiasm. All the protesters seem to be in their 40s and 50s now.

“Originally it was intended that Satyrday’s event [a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Twyford Down protests] would be nostalgic, marking the anniversary of a party held on the Down.

“But then it seemed it would be foolish to let this thing go by without making some sort of protest about what it happening now.

“Roads are relatively easy to inspire people about – here’s the countryside that’s going to be destroyed.

“Now the main problem is climate change and it’s very difficult to inspire people about that.”