Stoke & Staffordshire

Leek roundabout: Why did protestors try so hard to save it?

Leek roundabout protest
Image caption People in Leek have staged a 17-month campaign to save the roundabout

For the past two-and-a-half weeks protestors have been camped out on a roundabout in the Staffordshire market town of Leek.

They decided to stage their own sit-in protest, unhappy with Staffordshire County Council's £5m plans that would see the roundabout removed and the town's road system changed.

But earlier this week the council won the right to evict them.

The Conservative-led authority was granted a possession order by Stoke-on-Trent County Court, and protestors moved off on Thursday morning.

The ruling not only marked the end of the 17-day occupation of Leek roundabout but effectively the end of an 17-month campaign to save it.

Changes to the road layout were given planning permission by the council in December 2010.

It said the road system had to change to cope with extra traffic created by a Sainsbury's supermarket being built on the edge of town, and that alterations would speed up the traffic flow.

'Work of art'

In February 2011, a referendum was held on the issue. The result of the vote saw people who wanted to see the roundabout stay outnumber those who didn't by four to one.

The council said the vote was "non-binding" and planning permission had already been given.

Protestors argue the roundabout, which is also known as the Nicholson War Memorial Island, has been a symbol for the town since 1930.

Image caption Staffordshire County Council served protesters with a possession order

It was given iconic status by the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society in May 2011 when its photo featured on the organisations calendar and was described as "very special."

Staffordshire historian Angie Stephenson, who is part of the protests to save it, said removing the roundabout would have a "massive impact on Leek's tourism and heritage".

"It's the one thing that people remember from any visit to the town - the war memorial highlighted by the island with its floral displays and Christmas tree in the winter," she said.

"It's a real work of art that you won't be able to replace when it's gone."

In April 2011, hundreds of protestors marched through Leek, waving placards, blowing whistles and banging pots and pans.

Some threatened to chain themselves to the signposts on the roundabout when the bulldozers eventually moved in.

A petition of more than 11,000 signatures, against the council's plans, was presented to Downing Street in December 2011.

'Sad day for democracy'

While its historical significance provided the backdrop for early protests, the campaign later focused on the safety of the new road development.

The major concern is changes being made to pedestrian crossings at Ashbourne Road and Haywood Street.

Campaigner Sarah Gayton said: "We have very, very serious worries about the health and safety of these junctions.

"We've continually asked the questions about how safe they're going to be, particularly for disabled and elderly people, and the council has not given us any answers."

After the occupation of the roundabout began on 11 June, Staffordshire County Council said it was getting complaints from local businesses that takings had suffered as a result and began legal action to get protestors evicted.

The authority won the possession order despite a copy of the site's deeds being produced in court that showed the island was bought by Leek Town charity for £100 in 1827 from the Earl of Macclesfield.

The council produced evidence it was responsible for the maintenance of the roundabout.

One of the campaigners, Roger Warrilow, described it as "a sad day for democracy."

He said: "We stood up for what was right, but it's not the end of the battle, it's just the beginning. We'll keep fighting the council over these plans."

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