Tomorrow evening a whole bunch of smiling politicians and dignitaries will stand on the pristine tarmac of the M74 Northern Extension and announce to whoever is listening that it is finally open for business. They will shake hands, perhaps cut a ribbon and I’m certain some, if not all, of them will climb inside some sort of vehicle and take a trip on Glasgow’s latest motorway. Cars, vans, lorries and trucks etc will then be invited to drive with care along the 5 mile stretch from Carmyle to Tradeston. I will be close to the opening ceremony but I won’t be chaining myself to anything, nor will I be shouting at the decision makers who brought this day about, I won’t be dropping a ‘NO M74’ banner from the bridge, nope I won’t do any of that. Instead I’ll be in my Govanhill flat close to the new motorway feeling a little sick and a little sad and I’ll remember a big fight, a massive fight, a fight we lost, but a fight worth picking.
You see some of us have been keeping an eye on this for a long time, some of us saw it coming and some of us said NO!! - and stood our ground – and when I say “our ground” that’s exactly what I mean.
I was down on the M77 protests in Pollok Park, I had recently found my voice and my courage. I had kinda stumbled on the early days of the protests against the M77 which was about to cut a swathe through the park we played in as children, our bluebell woods, the huge trees we climbed, our big chance to see nature – our bit – where we lived. I had learned whilst on the M77 protest that my parents had not been consulted despite the fact that they lived near the route and that they would be hugely impacted by the roads introduction. My shallow investigations revealed that they had a wee opportunity in the 60’s to respond but only if they had read the right paper at the right time, I think bringing up 5 kids on poverty pay may well have robbed them of the luxury of getting involved in a process that would affect those 5 kids. But there it was, the big democratic deficit. The camp created to oppose the M77 was called Pollok Free State. It was a place of protest but it was also a place where you could be educated. One day, when looking over the maps checking the route of the M77, I did that thing most of us do when looking at a local map, I searched for my house in Govanhill. I found my street but I could see a familiar blue line near my flat. The same blue line I had seen marking the route of the M77 through Pollok. I remember saying “this map’s wrong, there isn’t a motorway there” My friend Colin took the map for a moment and studied it then said “you’re right hen there’s no a motorway there – bad news, hen cos I think there will be wan soon”. I then said “what are we gonna do” Colin came back with “Rosie, what are YOU gonna dae”. Jeezo, I had only just learned about urban motorways and planning and the decision making process – what the hell could anyone do?
However both the M77 and the M74 NE were part of the same Glasgow Roads Network so it was easy to link one protest to the other. Around that time two men in Govanhill had set up a local campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill. I took myself along to one of their meetings, yapped on about my concerns regarding the M74 NE and was relieved and delighted when these two men (the two Rabs) listened and supported.
We chatted a bit, then decided we should take a letter from we three residents to Strathclyde Regional council. Now the council were well used to motorway protesters because of the M77, but we were not yet in that league. We were trusting and genuinely believed that all we had to do was make a wee submission to the council. Looking back I think we thought that, like us, they didn’t know and it wouldn’t be hard not to have known as the M74 NE had first appeared on maps way back in the 50’s and like most things from back then, well, we knew better. Concrete was no longer king, it was now the 90’s and the world was trying to reduce omissions so this would be pointed out and all would be well. Ermm naw !! We arrived at the headquarters of Strathclyde Regional Council all sensible and calm. We asked for Cllr Charlie Gordon, we were asked to wait and within 15 mins the police arrived and we were removed from the building with our letter in its little envelope unopened.I remember chatting to my pals and feeling all cheated and abused. We were gutted, One of the Rabs really, really believed we would get a hearing, be taken seriously…. I think he was particularly stunned.
I suppose that’s when it started. The two Rabs and me started telling folk – yes, just telling folk. We went round the doors of Govanhill, Toryglen, Gorbals and talked about the road. We found out that no one really knew it was coming, even those who would literally be living under it had no clue. We found householders and small local businesses who were to be served compulsory purchase notices in the future yet they had idea at this point.Time passed and our wee movement grew, we had meetings with five folk there but eventually we were filling halls up and down the route. We were also taking direct action and drawing media attention to the route all of which was growing the campaign. The first time I was ever arrested was when I chained myself to the reception desk of the Chambers Of Commerce because I was livid with them for coming out in favour of the road. And so it went on. There were road changes in Govanhill with the introduction of a one way system. Many residents had no idea this was happening either. We just got up one day and the traffic was traveling in one direction. The kids were confused, they looked right – then left and near got run over. Parents were raging and a swift meeting took place in Daisy Street Neighbourhood centre. Near 200 folk turned up and the next morning we blocked Calder Street. However, before we got there the local fire brigade had taken the traffic lights clean out of the pavement with their turntable ladder because they had not be fully consulted or alerted to these changes either. The reason I digress to the one way system is to show the lack of consultation when major changes take place, but I also want to show a community that really wants to know, really wants to get involved and would appreciate a say. Perhaps our local folk would have agreed with the introduction of the one way system. Maybe we would have had good ideas to enhance the system or maybe we would have opposed it in the blink of an eye. We will never know because we were never asked.
So, back to the M74 NE, the movement continued to grow thanks to the one way system. Back then the price tag on the M74 was below £200 million which would come from various councils and the Scottish office, if I remember correctly. The anti M74 campaign blocked Eglington Toll, we were charged by police on horseback, a big horse stepped on my foot leaving a horse shoeprint. Then it came to our attention that business people and politicians had been invited along to a display in the planning department at Glasgow City Council. Residents had again been excluded and we were not pleased. We went along anyway. The display was massive and very impressive. Videos, thousands of folders full of drawings and projections in the centre of the room - there was a massive scale-model of the entire extension. For the first time it was evident how huge this road would be. The model was beautiful. It showed a long white road gracefully weaving through a cream coloured landscape. Again I went searching for my house WOW! My street was amazing…. No grubby buildings, no neglected dump across the road, no cars and the tenement was a lovely magnolia colour. This was fantasy, this did not reflect our community. We lived in the then Shettleston Constituency known as the ‘sick old man of Britain’ due to our poor health record, poverty and mortality rates which meant I’d be lucky to see 60.We all worked hard and we learned our craft. We found out that Thatcher had commissioned reports to prove the anti-roads movement wrong and even the Iron Lady had to accept SACTRA’s (Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) findings. The first said that new motorways do indeed create new traffic the second stated that urban motorways negatively affect the local economy. Thatcher actually cancelled several motorways through England but the Scottish Office and local councils would not take a second look at the M74 NE.
He years flew by; meetings, groups, protests then more meeting, more protests and more groups. The struggle against the M74 NE is well documented and was hard fought.In 2003 when I was elected to the Scottish Parliament the M74 was high on the agenda. The cost of the road was now £500 million and rising. Some of the funding would be private money under the Private Finance Initiative. Things were moving fast. Those opposed to the road were demanding a moratorium. We wanted space and time to prove the environmental, social and economic arguments against the extension. We needed time to get the entire community involved, we wanted to challenge every aspect of the M74 – we wanted environmental justice,
A Public Local Inquiry was called by the Scottish Executive. This kicked off on December 1st 2003 and ended on 3rd March 2004. The Labour-Liberal Exec sent in their top team. The PLI report concluded that the M74 NE should not proceed. The Scottish Executive who called the Public Local Inquiry tore it up in minutes and in March 2005 Transport Minister Nicol Stephen told our parliament that the M74 NE would go ahead.
This looks like a long story but I can assure you I have cut it very short and have not really done this huge struggle justice.
The M74 NE is set to cost over £700 million; there will be a chunk of private finance in there too meaning my children and my wee grandson will be paying posh HP to whoever for 30 years.
The M74 Northern Extension is five miles long; it is neither graceful nor kind. It intrudes with it’s eight lanes into our community, ironically it straddles a railway line for much of its journey. It’s a complicated road and it will carry 100,000 car journeys per day through built-up Glasgow.
For me this road is vandalism, it’s an unwanted intrusion, it will suck away our local economy and all roads will lead to some huge shopping outlet or another. We will live with the noise and the pollution and it will be invisible. We may also choke on the fact that we were never trusted as residents to get involved. We were never given access to the big picture, we needed tools to make sense of what was on offer – and we were denied these. It’s not just our struggling communities that have come under attack, no its worse than that - democracy and social inclusion were brushed aside like rubbish lying in the way of someone else’s idea of progress.