The Guardian April 19, 2000


Call for Australian support to protect English countryside

Hot on the heels of recent mining disasters in Romania and Papua New 
Guinea involving Australian companies, comes another story of Australian 
corporations getting up to no good.

Macquarie Bank are at the heart of a private motorway plan that would rip 
through 27 miles (43km) of protected Green Belt in the English countryside 
around Birmingham and damage two nationally important nature sites.

They have bought half of Midland Expressway Limited (MEL), a joint venture 
company with Italy's Autostrade, created to build and manage the Birmingham 
Northern Relief Road (BNRR).

Ironically the L700m (around A$1.8 billion) motorway scheme, the first toll 
road in Britain for 200 years, does nothing to reduce congestion on 
motorways around Birmingham, and, according to MEL's own analysis, it makes 
congestion on some motorways worse, because it encourages more people to 
travel by car.

For that reason the Labor Party said in opposition they would never give 
the project the go-ahead. Unfortunately in power they u-turned on their 
promise and Midland Expressway now have permission to build the motorway.

The BNRR has already been delayed by at least eight years because of work 
by Friends of the Earth (FoE), the Alliance Against the BNRR and direct 
action protest.

Over 10,000 people formally objected to the proposals, forcing a public 
inquiry, which became the longest road inquiry in British history.

The Alliance Against the BNRR also took the Government to court but had to 
pull out because of mounting costs. At the same time there have been direct 
action protests in houses, trees and tunnels along the route.

As a result the building contract for the motorway lapsed and MEL now have 
to find a new building contractor, as well as bankers to fund the scheme.

No British construction company has been prepared to bid for the road, 
describing it as too risky and controversial. They all remember the Newbury 
By-pass, which caused furor when it was built and that was a third of the 
size of BNRR.

There was an enormous campaign of non-violent direct action against the 
Newbury By-pass, which marked a turning point in the campaigns against 
major road projects.

The social and political climate has changed dramatically since Newbury, 
and MEL are virtually begging other companies to come on board.

One company who has shown an interest, despite this bleak prospect, is 
Australia's construction giant, Leighton.

While the construction industry is hesitant, the financial institutions are 
increasingly concerned that the motorway won't pay for itself.

On a similar toll motorway managed by Autostrade in the USA, the Dulles 
Greenway, the cost to build was twice as much as predicted and only a third 
of the expected traffic turned up.

After three years the company hadn't paid back a single interest payment, 
so it now owes the banks US$50 million and could hardly even pay its 
workers.

Macquarie's would have to find a significant pot of money themselves for 
BNRR and could lose a lot as a result.

Friends of the Earth in England are asking people across Australia, and 
especially shareholders, to write:

* to Macquarie's to ask why they are destroying the English countryside and 
why they are risking losing Australians' savings money in the process; and

* to Leighton to ask why they are considering plans to build a motorway in 
England which is so risky no English company will touch it.

Leighton Contractors Pty Limited: 472 Pacific Highway, St Leonards, NSW, 
2065. Phone (02) 9925 6666, Fax: (03) 9228 3000

Macquarie Bank: 101 Collins St, Melbourne, 3000. Phone: 1800 808 001
Email: invest@macqaurie.com.au For more information check the BNRR web site on http://ds.dial.pipex.com/beep/ Gerald Kells, FoE West Midland Transport Campaign, +44 +1922 636601,
Email: gerald.kells@talk21.com

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