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Issue number 23 Sunday the 22nd of June 1997

Oxford Road
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The eviction from the Second Runway site came to an end on Tuesday when the last protester, Matt Benson, a former NHS worker, was helped to a police van after being pulled out of the "Cake Hole" tunnel. The last few hours of the eviction process were dramatic, however, as part of the tunnel caved in, trapping both rescuer and protester. They were successfully brought out from under the ground after a five hour wait. Under-Sheriff of Cheshire, Randall Hibbert was angry however, and accused the protesters of putting both their own lives at risk, as well as the lives of the people rescuing them. He said he hoped that a lesson had been learnt.

But at almost the same time as a smiling Matt Benson was being escorted from the site, a plane lifted off from the present runway taking three Anti-Runway 2 representatives to Brussels, where their case will be given to the European Commission for consideration. The action is being brought by Mobberley Parish Council, who suspect that Manchester Airport used 200 million of local authority money to subsidise airport fees, thus attracting airlines away from rival airports. Local authority money such as this is supposed to be spent on infrastructure or other projects benefiting ratepayers, not for business ventures. The Airport say they are confident that the money has been used completely in accordance with regulations.

The Runway 2 protesters were featured in Granada TV's World In Action programme, which is made in Manchester. The last three eco-activists to be removed from the site were featured in the programme, along with the Mobberley housewife who gave them food and support. Also featured was Graham Stringer MP, Chairman of Manchester Airport, who said he wished the protesters would "go away". He said they didn't understand the issues, gave out wrong information, were violent and were in the pedigree of Hitler and Mussolini. A fly poster appeared on city centre lamp posts last weekend, setting out the views of the Anti-Runway two protesters, and using language equally as extreme as that used by Graham Stringer. The ideological war looks set to continue.

Deansgate trafficA good example of a well-intentioned but totally ineffective eco-assault on the car-driving public was "National Car Free Day" which took place on Tuesday. Like "National No Smoking" day, the reaction among four wheeled addicts was to go out and do exactly the opposite of what they were being urged to do. Traffic on Tuesday all over the country was apparently heavier than on a normal day, which ought to indicate a different strategy is needed. Perhaps continued investment in excellent public transport systems such as the Metrolink might be more effective, as well as cheaper fares. The 5 weekly ticket issued by Stagecoach and valid on all their buses in south Manchester is about to be replaced by a new one with validity extended to Stagecoach Ribble services in Lancashire. It won't make any difference to most south Manchester commuters, who don't go further than the city centre, but the price is bound to go up, my prediction is 8.50.

Deansgate traffic The Labour government has ordered a review of all road schemes with immediate effect. This means that all new roads that haven't been started will be suspended until further notice. This will affect part of the eastern section of the Manchester orbital motorway, already several years behind schedule. The anti-roads lobby would like to see the plan scrapped, along with every other road-building scheme in the country. Many local residents and business people however are eager for the motorway to be completed. At present, someone driving from Leeds to Stockport has to do a wide swing on the M62 and M63 around the western side of Manchester, adding to congestion around the Worsley junction. The completion of the eastern section would open up a path between Audenshaw and Middleton, connecting Stockport directly with the M62, easing congestion on local roads, and attracting new industries, retail parks and other job creating developments. As I witnessed on a recent trip out in that direction, regeneration in east Manchester is desperately needed.

That part of the city was in the news all this week in the bizarre case of Jamie Lavis, the eight year old boy missing for over six weeks now. His last recorded movements were at Ashton bus station - the police issued security video camera pictures of him walking along one of the bus stands. Detectives believe the boy was abducted after riding on a bus driven by bus driver Darren Vickers. Vickers' account of what happened is roughly as follows: Jamie got on his bus, he spoke to the boy, who then stayed on the vehicle for five hours. After that Vickers said he dropped the boy off from the bus. After that, the boy went missing. Two weeks later, however, Vickers changed his statement, and told police he had in fact given him a lift in his car at the end of his shift. He said he hadn't told the truth initially for fear of what the police might think.

He has constantly denied any wrongdoing, but the police are apparently regarding him as a suspect. He told reporters early in the week that police had asked him if he had killed Jamie, to which he replied he hadn't, and later in the week, they searched his house while interviewing him at the police station. Despite police suspicions, Darren Vickers has become very friendly with the parents of the missing boy, and is supporting them as they wait for news about their son. The common-law wife of Darren Vickers, Faye Stafford, said he "would not hurt a fly". Watch this space as this real-life and tragic "whodunnit" unfolds.

The Woodford Air Show took place yesterday in highly unfavourable weather conditions. Fine drizzle fell from thick clouds hanging low over the Cheshire airfield, now owned by British Aerospace. The show celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United States Air Force, which was formed in 1947. Tornadoes, Harrier jump jets, Hawks and Lynx helicopters were some of the attractions, along with team displays by the Army Air Corp helicopters and the Irish Air Corp Silver Swallows aerobatics team. Unfortunately I couldn't make it, but there's still the Barton Air Show, due to be held later in the summer.

Oxford Road in rainYes, this is the weather they warned me about before I returned to Manchester - leaden skies, unending drizzle, with occasional heavier bouts of rain, and midsummer temperatures of 16 degrees celsius, 61 degrees fahrenheit. But it's not just Manchester that's "washed out", the whole of Britain, including Wimbledon, is feeling drenched at the moment, due to a large area of low pressure centred around the Midlands. For Gulf veterans like me though, this is the antidote to endless sun-scorched days of toil, so I'm not complaining.

Text and photos by Aidan O'Rourke


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