M11 link road protest

Anti-link-road posters were a common sight around East London.

The M11 link road protest was a major anti-road protest in east London, United Kingdom, in the early 1990s opposing the construction of the "A12 Hackney to M11 link road", also known as the M11 Link Road. Although the protest was unsuccessful, it demonstrated the level of opposition to the government's road building programme.[1]



Proposals for the route first arose in the 1960s as part of the London Ringways plan, which would have seen four concentric circular motorways built in the city, together with radial routes. This would also have included an extension to the current M11 motorway from Ringway 1, the innermost Ringway, to Ringway 2.

The planned London Ringways.

A section of Ringway 1 known as the East Cross Route was built to motorway standards in the late 1960s and early 1970s and designated as the A102(M). A section of the M11 connecting the North Circular – which had been scheduled to be upgraded to full motorway and form the northern part of Ringway 2 – to the position of the current M25 motorway – was completed in the late 1970s.[2] The "A12 Hackney to M11 link road" was planned to link the bottom of the M11 to Ringway 1.

The Ringways scheme met considerable opposition; there were protests when the Westway was opened in 1970 and the Archway Road public inquiry was repeatedly abandoned during the 1970s as a result of protests. The first Link Road Action Group to resist the M11 link road was formed in 1976, and for the next fifteen years activists fought government plans through a series of public inquiries. Their alternative was to build a road tunnel, leaving the houses untouched, but this was rejected on grounds of cost.[3] The Ringway plan was later abandoned.

By the 1980s, planning blight had affected the area and many of the houses had become home to a community of artists and squatters. Eventually, contractors were appointed to carry out the work and a compulsory purchase of property along the proposed route was undertaken.[3] Drivers traveling between central and southern areas of London and East Anglia continued to face long stretches of single-carriageway roads through the suburbs of Leyton, Leytonstone and Wanstead and serious traffic congestion had become frequent in these areas.

The Roads for Prosperity white paper published in 1989 detailed a major expansion of the road building program and included plans for the M12 motorway between Chelmsford and the M25 as well as many other road schemes.[4] At this time environmentalist groups were resisting many road schemes with many road protests including at Twyford Down in Hampshire.

The protest campaign in East London

Direct action is a theatre, The media like that. A mixture of symbols & decision making – wars & celebrities.

—Allison, anti-link-road campaigner.[5]

By 1990, the majority of the houses along the route of the proposed road had been compulsorily purchased, although the demolition process had not yet begun. This led to many of the houses being let out temporarily to housing associations, while others lay empty. Several original residents, who had in some cases lived in their homes all their lives, refused to sell or move out of their properties. Large numbers of the empty houses were squatted.

Locally-based protest against the link road scheme was taking place, but the availability of free housing along the route attracted large numbers of campaigners from around the UK and beyond. The arrival of these experienced anti-road protest veterans gave impetus to the campaign and introduced skills which would be put into practice in the construction of "defences".

Sophisticated techniques were used to delay the construction of the road. Sit-ins and site invasions were combined with sabotage to temporarily stop construction work. This led to large numbers of police and constant security patrols being employed to protect the construction sites, at great expense — the delays and security escalated the total cost of construction by tens of millions of pounds.

The protesters were successful in publicising the campaign, with most UK newspapers and TV news programmes covering the protests on a regular basis. Desktop publishing, then in its infancy, was used to produce publicity materials for the campaign and send out faxes to the media.[6] A number of "stunts" were carried out, the most notable being rooftop protests on the Palace of Westminster[citation needed] and at the home of John MacGregor, the Minister for Transport at that time,[7]

To counter the campaign, the government began evicting residents along the route and demolishing the empty houses. In response, the protesters set up the so-called "autonomous republics" of "Wanstonia", "Leytonstonia" and "Euphoria" in some groups of the houses, going so far as to issue passports. Extreme methods were used to force the engineers to halt demolition, including underground tunnels with protesters secured within by concrete.

The chestnut tree on George Green

The chestnut tree on George Green, Wanstead became a focal point and a symbol for anti-M11 Link Road protesters.[8]

One section of the M11 extension was due to tunnel under George Green in Wanstead. Residents had believed that this would save their green, and the 250-year-old sweet chestnut tree that grew upon it;[9] because this was a cut and cover tunnel, this would result in the demise of both.[8][9] Still, until late 1993, local opposition to the M11 extension was relatively limited; while this opposition had been going for nearly 10 years, institutional avenues of protest had been exhausted, and local residents were largely resigned to the road being built.;[10] when outside protestors arrived in September 1993, few residents saw their mission as "their campaign".[11]

This all changed with the help of Jean, a lollipop lady in Wanstead, who upon learning of the tree's impending destruction, rallied the support of local children (and was later fired from her job for doing so while wearing her uniform[12]), who in turn recruited their parents into the protests.[13] It was then that the non-resident radicals realised that they had significant local support.[14] When local residents gathered for a tree dressing ceremony on 6 November, they found their way barred by security fencing. Together, everyone pulled down the fencing to save the tree; at this point, as one wrote, "any division between activist and resident dissolved".[14]

Protesters continued to delay the destruction of the tree; solicitors for the campaign had even argued (successfully) in court that receipt of a letter addressed to the tree itself gave it the status of a legal dwelling, causing a further delay.[15][16] This was, of course, not to last. In the early morning of 7 December 1993, several hundred police arrived to evict the tree;[17] partly due to a successful "wrenching", it took several more hours for a cherry picker platform to arrive at the scene.[18] The chestnut tree was eventually evicted; an operation that took ten hours to carry out.[19] Protesters made numerous complaints against the police;[20] police, in turn, denied these allegations, attributing any misbehaviour to the protestors.[21] The tree was cut down and smashed up. The protesters' efforts were not completely wasted; media attention mushroomed after the event, with several daily newspapers putting pictures of the tree on their front pages.[14]

Claremont Road

Anti-M11 protesters came together in the condemned Claremont Road, Leytonstone.

By 1994, the resources of the government began to win out over the protesters, and only one small street, Claremont Road, was yet to be evicted. The street was almost completely occupied by protestors; there was but one original resident living on the street who had defied the Department of Transport's order to move — 92-year old Dolly Watson, who was born in number 32 on Claremont Road and had lived there nearly all her life.[22][23][24] By all accounts she had quite endeared herself to the anti-road protestors (who named a watchtower, built 100 feet high from scaffold poles, after her[25]); she, in turn, had some kind words for the protestors:

They’re not dirty hippy squatters; they’re the grandchildren I never had.[24]

A vibrant and harmonious community sprung up on the Road; one that, by one account, won even the begrudging respect of the authorities.[26] The houses were painted with extravagant designs, both internally and externally, and sculptures erected in the road;[27][28][29] the road became an artistic spectacle that one said "had to be seen to be believed".[30] Rave parties were held and bands performed on stages set up in the street. Freak Quency Generator sound system was one of the regulars.

In November 1994 the eviction of Claremont Road took place, bringing an end to the M11 link road resistance as a major physical protest. Several hundred police and bailiffs carried out the eviction over several days; the street was razed to the ground immediately afterwards. In the end, the cost to the taxpayer was over a million pounds in police costs alone.[31]

Towards the end

"Munstonia" as pictured in an Earth First! leaflet

Following the Claremont Road eviction things died down for a little while. Many of the non-resident protesters moved on to places such as Newbury, where other roads protests were taking place, while locals debated what to do. A house on Fillebrook Road, near Leytonstone tube station, was the only house left standing once that street had been knocked down. It was a listed building, and permission had not yet been granted for its demolition, and due to a security blunder it had been left empty. The house was thus occupied and renamed Munstonia (after The Munsters, thanks to its spooky appearance), and the protest was back on.

The eviction of Munstonia

A tower was built out of the roof, similar to one which had existed at Claremont Road, and the usual system of defences and blockades were built, and a core of around thirty protesters ensured that there were always people staying there (a legal requirement for a squatted home, as well as a defence against eviction). Munstonia was finally evicted in June 1995; the eviction itself became the longest ever eviction of any single building in Europe, taking over eight hours to remove all the protesters from the roof and the tower.[citation needed] As usual many were locked into concrete blocks or chained to the tower itself. As at Claremont Road, the building was immediately demolished. Once again the press declared this "The End Of The Road",[cite this quote] and for the most part it was. A camp, christened Greenmania,[32] was established on the fringes of Wanstead Flats, by the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone.[33] This lasted a few months, being eventually evicted in September 1995.[34]

Construction of the road, already under way by this stage, was then free to continue largely unhindered, although systematic sabotage of building sites by local people continued. It was completed in 1999 and given the designation A12; its continuation, the former A102(M), was also given this number as far as the Blackwall Tunnel.

The official opening of the road in October 1999 took place without fanfare, being opened by the Highways Agency Chief Executive rather than a politician, with only journalists with passes being admitted to the ceremony.[35]

Consequences of the protest campaign

The M11 link road protest was ultimately unsuccessful in its major aim: to stop the building of the M11 link road which on completion the link road was designated as the A12 road.

Proposals for the M12 motorway were cancelled in 1994 during the first review of the trunk road program.[36] The planned junctions 1, 2 and 3 of the M11 have never been constructed.

Direct action techniques first employed or refined at the protest have been transferred to numerous other protests around the world. Many veterans of the anti-M11 link road campaign went on to protest the construction of other road schemes such as the A34 Newbury bypass at Newbury in Berkshire; campaigns such as these helped to shift public opinion in the UK away from the unfettered building of new roads. In the years after the campaign, the Conservative administration shelved the plans for a number of proposed road schemes.

Many ex-M11 protesters went on to join other pro-environment, anti-globalisation and direct action campaigns, such as Reclaim the Streets.[37][38] In the words of one former Claremont Road protestor, other ex-residents of the Claremont Road protest site went on to join the ranks of London's homeless as they had nowhere else to go after the eviction of the street. Like so many other veterans of other anti-road protest camps such as Newbury.

Several of the protesters who were imprisoned for refusing to be bound over to keep the Queen's Peace challenged the UK Government's breach of the peace legislation at the European Court of Justice.[39]

In 2002, in response to a major new road building program and expansion of aviation,[40] a delegation of road protest veterans visited the Department for Transport to warn of renewed direct action in response, delivering a D-lock as a symbol of the past protests.[41] Rebecca went on to found Road Block to support road protesters and challenge the government. In 2007, Road Block became a project within the Campaign for Better Transport[42]

No sign, relic or trace of Claremont Road remains. We always knew that one day all this would be rubble, and this awareness of impermanence gave us immense strength—-the impossibility of failure—-the strength to move this Temporary Autonomous Zone on to somewhere else. Our festival of resistance could never be evicted. We would continue to transgress the distinction between art and everyday life. We would continue to make every political act a moment of poetry. If we could no longer reclaim Claremont Road, we would reclaim the streets of London.[37]

As such, the aftereffects of the M11 link road protests are still being felt today.

For Leytonstone, the consequences were mixed. Supporters say the road helped end the years of planning blight that had affected Leytonstone, but critics would suggest that the economic upswing and housing boom would have had the same effect. The road is still unpopular with many local people[citation needed] and divides the communities of Leyton and Leytonstone in half[citation needed]. Many residents have complained that their streets became rat runs for commuters trying to get ahead of queues[43] or that they did not received the compensation that they were promised or that they believe that they deserve.

On the other hand, according to a local council report, since the opening of the road there has been a significant reduction in traffic and air pollution in key roads in the Leytonstone area.[44] At least one aim of the road was achieved: it is now much quicker for non-residents and goods traffic to get through East London.

See also


  1. ^ "Anti-road protests 'boosted cost'". BBC News. 15 April 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4911468.stm. Retrieved 27 May 2007. "Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the campaign against the M11 extension contributed to a 100% increase in costs." 
  2. ^ "The Motorway Archive". http://www.iht.org/motorway/m11loncam.htm. Retrieved 7 September 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "M11 Protest". 20th Century London. http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/server.php?show=conInformationRecord.136. Retrieved 27 December 2009. 
  4. ^ Roads for Prosperity. Department for Transport. 1989. 
  5. ^ "M11 Link Road". Protest Culture History. http://www.protestculture.org/m11.html. 
  6. ^ "kriptick" (2004). "Tenth anniversary of Operation Roadblock against the M11 link road". UK Indymedia. http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/london/2004/03/287260.html. Retrieved 15 June 2007. . Tells of the "skipped 286 computers running Windows 3.1", and the "creaky" computers pounding out press releases and leaflets.
  7. ^ "kriptick" 2004.
  8. ^ a b McKay, George (1996). Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance. Verso. pp. 149. ISBN 1-859-849-083. "A chestnut tree (later capitalized and given a definite article) suddenly became the focus for protestors and increasing numbers of locals[...]The protection of the Chestnut Tree came quickly to symbolize what was under threat from the road[.]" 
  9. ^ a b Wall, Derek (1999). Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement: Radical Environmentalism and Comparative Social Movements. Routledge. pp. 76. "Local people believed that the M11 would tunnel under George Green, and the tree, said to have been 250 years old, would be saved." 
  10. ^ Doherty, Brian (2002). Ideas and Actions in the Green Movement. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-174-015 pages = p. 200. 
  11. ^ Doherty 2002, p. 201.
  12. ^ Mckay 1996, p. 150.
  13. ^ Wall 1999, p. 75.
  14. ^ a b c Wall 1999, p. 76.
  15. ^ Wall, p. 76.
  16. ^ McKay, p. 149.
  17. ^ "Activists lose battle over chestnut tree". BBC News: ON THIS DAY. 7 December 1993. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/december/7/newsid_2536000/2536089.stm. Retrieved 29 May 2007.  This gives the figure as two hundred; Wall 1999 p. 76 gives the figure as four hundred.
  18. ^ Wall 1999, p. 76. According to the quoted writer, the delay between the arrival of police and that of the cherry picker was in finding another platform after one had fallen apart and another had been sabotaged. As it is pointed out, "Cherry pickers are rather sparse in East London, especially for companies who have a reputation for 'not looking after hired machinery'."
  19. ^ According to the BBC News article; Wall 1999, p. 76 gives a figure of nine hours.
  20. ^ Rowell, Andrew (1996). Green Backlash: Global Subversion of the Environment Movement. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-128-277. "The police were accused of widespread brutality in evicting the protesters. Forty-nine complaints against police were recorded by protesters[.]"  Note that Drury & Reicher 2000 gives a figure of fifty-seven.
  21. ^ BBC News: ON THIS DAY quotes then-Chief Superintendent Stuart Giblin as saying "My officers acted professionally despite some of the comments and behaviour of the protesters."
  22. ^ Shepard, Benjamin; Hayduk, Ronald; Rofes, Eric (2002). From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization. Verso. pp. 218. ISBN 1-859-843-565. "In place of the usual petitions and marches to save the street, protestors simply moved in—occupying every house on the block (save one house owned and occupied by a feisty 92-year-old woman, who refused the Department of Transport's order to move.)" 
  23. ^ Duncombe, Stephen (2002). Cultural Resistance Reader. Verso. pp. 349. ISBN 1-859-843-794. 
  24. ^ a b Geffen, Roger. "Claremont Road – At This Juncture". http://www.schnews.org.uk/sotw/claremont-rd.htm. Retrieved 27 April 2007. 
  25. ^ Duncombe 2002, p. 351.
  26. ^ Bordern, Iain; Kerr, Joe; Rendell, Jane (2001). The Unknown City: Contesting Architecture and Social Space. MIT Press. pp. 231. ISBN 0-262-523-353. 
  27. ^ Mckay 1996, p. 151.
  28. ^ Bordern, Kerr & Rendell 2001, p. 229.
  29. ^ Measure, Maureen. "Claremont Road and the M11 Link Road". Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society. http://www.leytonhistorysociety.org.uk/art_claremont.html. Retrieved 27 May 2007. 
  30. ^ "M11 Latest News" (PDF). SchNEWS: p. 1. 7 December 1994. http://www.schnews.org.uk/archive/pdf/news003.pdf. Retrieved 27 May 2007. 
  31. ^ Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 9 December 1994, column 379.. Quoting David Maclean, "I understand from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that the cost of policing the protest in order to allow bailiffs to take possession of the premises in Claremont road was £1,014,060."
  32. ^ Or, alternatively, Green Mania.
  33. ^ "Green Mania, Leytonstone". http://londoninflames.blogspot.com/2006/03/green-mania-leytonstone.html. Retrieved 26 May 2007. 
  34. ^ "8th September 1995". SchNEWS. 8 September 2005. http://www.schnews.org.uk/archive/news39.htm. Retrieved 26 May 2007. 
  35. ^ "A12 – M11 Link Road Official Opening 6 October". http://www.wussu.com/roads/r99/r9910041.htm. Retrieved 28 December 2009. 
  36. ^ "Trunk Roads (Review)". Hansard. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199394/cmhansrd/1994-03-30/Debate-1.html. 
  37. ^ a b Duncombe 2002, p. 352.
  38. ^ Shephard, Hayduk & Rofes 2002, p. 218. "This coalition, armed with the action model pioneered on Claremont Road, fueled the rebirth of Reclaim the Streets."
  39. ^ "CASE OF STEEL AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM" (PDF). Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. 23 September 1998. http://graduateinstitute.ch/faculty/clapham/hrdoc/docs/echrsteel.pdf. Retrieved 21 January 2008. 
  40. ^ "Do we have to set England alight again?". New Statesman. 30 June 2003. http://www.newstatesman.com/200306300008. Retrieved 16 January 2008. 
  41. ^ "Direct action road protest veterans delegation to Dept for Transport". indymedia. http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/westcountry/2004/07/295124.html. Retrieved 13 January 2008. 
  42. ^ "Rebecca Lush Blum – Profile". The Guardian (London). http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/rebecca_lush_blum/profile.html. Retrieved 22 January 2008. 
  43. ^ Summary of Rat Running around Well Street Common (Word document), Homerton Neighbourhood meeting minutes, 8 December 2004. Accessed 27 May 2007.
  44. ^ Agenda and Minutes of the Overview and Scrutiny Commission of Waltham Forest, Appendix B (discussing traffic flows) and Appendix E (discussing air pollution). Appendix A notes that this reduction has taken place since the council applied traffic control within Leytonstone and that such measures have diverted traffic on to the link road; it is not clear whether such measures could have succeeded in reducing traffic on the road by themselves if the link road was not built.


  • Aufheben, The Politics of Anti-Road Struggle and the Struggles of Anti-Road Politics: The Case of the No M11 Link Road Campaign. In DIY Culture, ed. George McKay. 100-28. London: Verso, 1998.
  • Andy Letcher, The Scouring of the Shire: Fairies, Trolls and Pixies in Eco-Protest Culture (2001) [1]

External links

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