road protests (current)   |   movement links

From: "Jo Makepeace" (>)
Subject: SchNEWS 617, Friday 25th January 2008
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2008 21:33:42 -0000


protesters take to the trees in shopping centre nightmare

Mass protests, tree sitting, cat and mouse games with chainsaw-wielding contractors, spurious arrests, tree spiking... no it's not yet another nostalgic piece about the mid-nineties but 2008 in central Oxford.

And the cause of all this unrest? Another screw-the-environment-it's-all-about-the-economy-stupid retail development of course. Despite being already choked by its medieval layout, with its roads gridlocked and groaning from the weight of traffic, since 1999 the council have been trying to accept plans from Capital Shopping Centres to revamp and massively expand the existing Westgate shopping centre.

Widespread opposition and a public inquiry led John Prescott to eventually put the blockers on the deal in 2002 when the decision it was 'called in' (as the quaint governmental parlance puts it) and rejected, leading to a failed appeal in 2003. But you can't keep a good cartel of bigwigs down for long and in 2006 uncannily similar plans were again presented and this time they meant business. Unfazed by their alleged green sentiments and policy commitments to 'sustainability', 'renewable energy' and the like (as most councils usually are when big business cash starts sloshing around), the council have again no problem giving the green light to the monster expansion as part of a more general gentrification scheme for the entire West end of Oxford.

The plan is to triple the size of the current Westgate church of capitalism and turn it into a real retail cathedral, complete with a sorely needed new John Lewis department store. That's along with 90 other new shops and massive car park. All eating into nearby affordable housing and precious bits of surviving green strips of land, including a number of fine mature trees in the area.

Even though completion of the project involves obtaining compulsory purchase (i.e. destruction) orders on Abbey Place, a fairly recent development of council-run residential care homes for the handicapped, the enquiry into that hadn't even finished when the contractors began confidently to cut down nearby trees all ready for construction works to begin. As usual, they assumed that by getting in early, maybe nobody would notice. But direct action has reared its dreadlocked head once again in the esteemed city of academia and learning as outraged locals, students and activists alike attempt to stop the environmental disaster.

Since January 4th, efforts have been stepped up, no doubt inspired by one Giles Chamberlain who took residence in a one hundred-year-old sycamore in Bonn Square, where he managed to stay for over two weeks until effectively starved down by police who stopped all attempts to assist him (see Crap arrest). Jan 9th saw a day of action back at the Westgate site where trees were also being cleared. Work was temporarily stopped and a plane tree occupied for 24 hours. Jan 12th saw over 100 people reclaim Bonn Square in a feisty protest which even saw one of the green local councillors arrested. Over 3500 leaflets were handed out and with support from local shoppers and passers-by, people managed to block the council from fencing off the site and forced work to stop. Giles eventually came down voluntarily on Jan 20th just as an eviction order was granted. Within half and hour of the court judgement, the corporate chainsaw crew were in Bonn Square to demolish the last remaining natural beauty there. Scuffles ensued when one activist climbed onto a wood shredder and then jumped on to the side of the truck carrying the remains of the tree. Activists then wrestled with security thugs trying to drag him off. Police moved in and arrested the stuntman and one of his helpers.

Tuesday 21st saw an invasion of John Lewis' headquarters by activists keen to point out to the retailers the errors of their ways. Also this week, many of the remaining trees in the area have suddenly appeared sporting painted 'S's on their trunks, along with a warning that trees have been spiked. The idea is to make chainsaw operators think twice before attempting to saw through wood which contains metal, which could damage their equipment and dangerously throw the blade off line. And the protests look set to continue as the crazy development develops. Much of the more effective action is eminating from the Oxford Action Resourse centre.

email -
web -

For an explanation of the 'white S' action, see -


Radley Lakes update

In other bad news for the Oxford environment, Jan 14th was the council hearing to reconsider the idea of letting Npower use Radley Lakes as a dumping ground for toxic ash (see SchNEWS 573). Predictably, despite 104 objections raised by the Environment Agency and the Save Radley Lakes campaign, supported by 500 individual objections, the council, er, decided all is well with plan and its go go go! The campaign is now preparing to push for a judical review but we're not exactly holding our breath and the resistance will likely have to get a bit more direct.

road protests (current)   |   movement links