A Sussex Swampy!
Down in the southeast of our county, controversy is raging over proposals for a new link road between Hastings and Bexhill. It's become known as the Second Battle of Hastings and it's getting quite acrimonious.
The government and local council voices claim it's vital for trade, tourism and growth. They're supported by a lot of businesses, who would like to see the area regenerated, but strongly opposed by an increasingly large number of local residents, historians and wildlife and ecology campaigners. They say they're not against regeneration - far from it - but they fear this is not the way to achieve it.
It's not just about 'not in my back yard' - the 'Nimby' argument - and celebrities hiding up trees; it goes much deeper than that. Very deep, in fact, as much of the protest has been taking place in tunnels as up the trees that are scheduled for felling. Sussex resident Natalie Hynde, daughter of Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies, found herself up a tree almost from the start, while local man Simon Medhurst - aka Sitting Bull - took up residence underground. Incidentally, he says that while he has met road-protest 'figurehead' Swampy they're not exactly bosom buddies. I must admit I would find living in a tunnel horribly claustrophobic.
Historians are worried that the road would pass dangerously close to the Battle of Hastings site and be likely to destroy a crucial piece of English history in one fell swoop. Clearly, while a battle might take place on one field, it's part of a bigger campaign that would have covered a much wider area. This isn't just a little bit of history, it's the Battle of Hastings itself. 1066 and all that.
Exploratory work with diggers is already believed to have uprooted a colony of great crested newts, which are a protected species. (By the by, I recall being told that the developers of Bolnore Village, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, had to build special tunnels under a new road to accommodate the migration of newts and toads.) Local people fear the pollution and noise, as well as detrimental effects on flora and fauna, and they don't believe the benefits of the road will outweigh the destruction.
The debate isn't over yet. Compromises will have to be made somewhere; I just hope they can find a solution that makes everyone happy. The Sussex countryside will always be beautiful.