Stopping a large-scale development scheme in its tracks is not easy. Nor does it involve a level playing field. The backers of new roads, runways and waste incinerators can marshal significant resources, while groups opposing such plans do so on a minimal budget.
Like all underdogs, community groups need good strategies in order to win. And win they have. Recent years have seen a number of new roads, runways and waste incinerators brought to a halt.
Sometimes victory is clear cut as the scheme is cancelled outright. More often, it involves putting the proposal into a state of limbo - building delay into the process, thereby stopping damaging schemes getting started.
"The victory was no fluke. It wasn’t a question of luck. It was the result of a clear strategy and an utter refusal by the campaigners to believe that we wouldn’t win."
Occasionally, a handful of victories at grass-roots level succeeds in bringing about a shift in national policy. One such tipping point came in the 1990s, when public opposition to new roads at Newbury and Twyford Down forced the then Government to rethink its entire road-building programme.
Another occurred in 2010 when the incoming coalition Government cancelled plans for new runways at Heathrow and Stansted airports. The announcement followed opposition from local groups and marked a break with aviation policy developed under the former Labour Government.
Other tipping points are bridged more stealthily, through changes in the very culture of the planning system. For instance, the UK Without Incineration Network has made headway through challenging the economics of new incinerators. And the Campaign for Better Transport has achieved important changes in how costs and benefits of transport proposals are appraised.
The Manuka Club's ultimate goal is to help community groups create a society where alternatives to road-building, airport expansion and waste incineration become the norm rather than the exception.
Meanwhile, in no particular order, here are some examples where community groups have prevailed over unsustainable development plans.
Motorway expansion – the Midlands, North and London
Plans to widen several hundred lane miles of motorway proved controversial from day one. National environmental groups and local communities united to oppose the widening of the M1, M5, M25 and M62, citing increased pollution and evidence that new road capacity only temporarily relieves congestion. Meanwhile, the sheer costs of the scheme attracted outrage – at £1,000 per inch, the widening of the M6 was dubbed the "world's costliest roadworks".
The £5bn national motorway widening programme was dropped in 2009. Motorists are now allowed to drive along the hard shoulder at certain times instead.
M4 motorway – Monmouthshire
In July 2009 the Welsh Assembly announced it was dropping plans for a 24-kilometre extension to the M4 motorway through the Gwent Levels around Newport. The road, which had been proposed in one form or another since 1990, would have devastated important wildlife sites, including six Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Local group CALM (Campaign Against the Levels Motorway) declared themselves "delighted" to have saved the levels "unique wildlife from the concrete pourers, at least for now."
Westbury bypass – Wiltshire
Planning permission for this bypass was refused in 2009 following long-running opposition from environment and transport groups united as the White Horse Alliance. The alliance spent many years contesting every stage of the planning process, from consultations to technical analysis and public inquiries.
Mottram-Tintwistle bypass – Derbyshire
Local groups Save Swallow's Wood and Friends of the Peak District celebrated in 2009 when this controversial road was rejected for funding. A public inquiry into the scheme was dropped and it seems unlikely that the bypass will be built.
Heathrow runway three – London
Notable for its tenacity, creativity and the size of its popular support, the campaign against the expansion of Heathrow is famous in its own right. Over the years, organisers chipped away at the case for a larger Heathrow, challenging the schemes’ economics, evidencing its health impacts and staging publicity stunts involving celebrities and peaceful protests.
Stansted runway two – Essex
Plans to build a second runway at Stansted were wildly unpopular among local people and local authorities alike. With a membership of more than 6,000, Stop Stansted Expansion mounted a professional and organised campaign that picked apart the case for expanding the airport. SSE was rewarded in 2010, when the coalition Government announced it was dropping the proposal.
Coventry airport – Warwickshire
The Government’s decision to block the expansion of Coventry airport was in every way a victory for common sense. This tiny airfield on the outskirts of the city had been scheduled for development into a major commercial hub servicing chartered holiday flights, despite the fact that Birmingham airport is only 11 miles down the road.
Local group CAECA (Campaign Against the Expansion of Coventry Airport) argued that a larger airport was not wanted and not needed. Eventually, their arguments were heard and this semi-rural area remains unspoilt for now.