An undertone of violence

Glastonbury Oracle, January 2019)

There’s an aspect of the campaign to have the heavy traffic through Glastonbury re-routed that needs talking about openly: the undercurrent of violence that comes with those in favour of bigger, shinier HGVs – the pro-roads, pro-Hinkley-Point, pro-more-economic-development-and-never-mind-the- environmental-damage lobby.

It started with the mannikins that were leaning peacefully on the railings beside the road in Chilkwell Street. They didn’t just disappear. The night before the second one vanished she had been deliberately smashed in the face. Another one, further up the hill in Coursing Batch, had her head wrenched off and she was thrown over a hedge.

When the slow crossings began on the zebra crossing in Bere Lane, a lot of discussion appeared on Friends of the Earth’s facebook page. This was prompted largely by truck drivers, objecting to the protest with abusive and sometimes threatening language. Since then, the slow crossers themselves have been threatened by drivers (mostly in vans), pushing their way dangerously over the crossing.

No-one has been hurt, and the worst of the abusers on facebook have been blocked. Some of the others were able to engage in constructive dialogue. But the general tone has been confrontational and divisive, including many of the responses from people who are in favour of making a protest. The question has to be asked – is that inevitable with this kind of political action?

At the same time, I am acutely aware of the injustice and oppression created by the vastly excessive traffic that rolls past our front doors. If we are subjected to an ever-increasing barrage of noise, pollution and damage to our property, with trucks increasing in both numbers and size, and if the County Council’s highways department consistently takes no notice of requests and resolutions from our elected representatives, then what can we do about it? Are we not entitled to make as loud a fuss as possible?

The issue has been badly handled by our MP, who can afford to risk losing some support in a small part of the constituency like Glastonbury. His input has raised unrealistic expectations concerning a bypass, and has re-opened old wounds in our community, potentially splitting the town right down the middle. The problem is that we shall not find a resolution without the whole town coming together.

I have been writing these articles for more than six months and this has been the most difficult one to write. I cannot provide a simple answer and – impossible as it seems – I want to avoid taking sides. Last April I wrote that there is a danger of renewed division between traditional Glastonians and incomers who have arrived since the early seventies, the new wave of ‘Avalonians’. This danger is growing.

The two groups have different values. One regards economic development and economic growth as the hallmarks of success, whilst the other wants to maintain the essentially spiritual value of a landscape rich in history, heritage and legend. “How we can resolve this,” I wrote at the time, “is now our pressing challenge”. It still is, and reactions to recent direct action have made it more so. If anyone would like to get in touch to discuss this further I would be very interested in hearing from you – please email me: bruce@glastonbury.co.uk .