Farmer says his slow drive down the A1 will spark ‘global’ change

A County Durham farmer thinks his plan to drive slowly down the A1 towards Newcastle city centre could send shockwaves around the globe. Veteran fuel campaigner Andrew Spence says his go-slow driving protest, calling on the Government to cap the price of fuel, has captured attention as far away as the USA. Mr Spence, 54, from County Durham, led petrol price protests in the 2000s and now plans to revive his campaigning career with a 5mph drive from Gateshead into Newcastle on Saturday.

: Fuel protest LIVE: County Durham farmer takes 5mph slow drive down the A1 into Newcastle The farmer hopes hundreds of vehicles will join his drive towards the Redheugh Bridge, through the city centre and back over the Tyne Bridge towards the Angel of the North. He insists there’s “no reason” for fuel to be as expensive as it is, and says his protest has attracted global interest because so many people are “hurting”.

He told Chronicle Live: “I’ve had a guy on the phone from America today, from CNN, saying ‘you know the eyes of the world are on you?’, I’ve had a guy on the phone from France, people from Spain, Holland, Germany. “We’re not asking for a 50% reduction in the price of fuel, we’re just asking for it to be more economically available for members of the public and businesses in their daily lives. We want a cap that’s set for six months and for the Government to say ‘if the price of oil goes up, we cut tax, if costs go down, the tax stays up.’

Andrew says people across the world are “hurting” over fuel prices

“We all need to budget, but at the moment, say I send a wagon away tomorrow morning and I’m putting diesel in at GBP1.42, by Wednesday it will be GBP1.48 and by next Friday it’s GBP1.52.

“It’s heartbreaking, some of the stories I’m hearing. A young lad phoned me who is living in Kielder, he’s a single parent and he’s having to choose whether to pay for oil to heat the house, fuel to take the kids to school, or food.” Compared to fuel protests he’s organised in the past, Mr Spence says social media has made it much easier to reach people today, and he’s expecting a big turnout on Saturday.

He said: “I’ve never backed down from anything in my life. I’m going to see what happens tomorrow and then re-group. “I honestly think, and I’m not just saying this, the eyes of the world are on Newcastle tomorrow and that’s because if this road protest comes off as we expect it will be like lighting a taper on a firework.

This is not just a North East or a UK problem anymore, this is going to be a global issue.” Meanwhile, his tactics are dividing opinion in the North East.

Farmer says his slow drive down the A1 will spark 'global' changeAndrew Spence in 2004

Commenting on the Chronicle Live story on the protest, some praised Mr Spence’s use of “direct action”. One person said: “Good luck to this guy.

Maybe a vote of no confidence should be organised against this goverment maybe then they would wake up and honour their promises.” But some objected to his tactics. One person wrote: “Driving at 5mph down a major A-road is going p**s off a lot of people and use more fuel than necessary, causing him to need more thus increasing demand, and guess what happens to finite resources when demand for them goes up.”

While another said: “[Protesters] could still hold up an ambulance. Ambulances [could] get stuck in a queue behind him, have to take another route etc. Also no matter if he has police escort or not then he is inconveniencing the working man and woman.

“Why doesn’t he take his protest to Number 10 Downing Street?” Mr Spence says that, as a farmer, he’s an “environmentalist”, but argues there’s currently no viable alternative to petrol and diesel cars for most people. Tay Pitman, of the North East Green Party, said instead of cutting prices on fuel, the Government should focus its energy on making more sustainable transport more viable.

She said: “We understand the impact that rising fuel prices are having on people’s travel and home energy costs, especially at a time when people have been struggling so much with the Covid pandemic. “The current situation could have been avoided, or at least its impact greatly reduced, had the Government invested money into sustainable transport, green energy and alternative solutions for haulage, sooner. They’ve known about the climate crisis for decades and they pulled the plug on subsidies for wind power and the feed-in tariff years back.

“They could have invested meaningful sums of money into public transport years ago, so that now we’d have reliable, cheaper buses, metro, trains and trams across the country, so people wouldn’t be so reliant on their cars and held hostage to rising fuel prices.

The same goes for establishing plentiful, safe cycle routes so that people can travel safely, locally, by bike. Higher fuel prices wouldn’t be so detrimental to people if they didn’t need to make so many journeys by car.” The Government has responded to Mr Spence’s protest by insisting it is supporting those hit by rising prices.

A spokesperson said: “Fuel prices are increasing in countries across the world and this is not an issue unique to the UK. “We’ve provided GBP4.2 billion of support to help people with the cost of living, including effectively cutting taxes for workers on Universal Credit, providing GBP500m of targeted support for the most vulnerable families and freezing fuel duty for the twelfth year in a row.” And in Newcastle, police are preparing to manage the event, at which participants have pledged to ensure emergency services vehicles won’t be blocked.

A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “We are aware of a planned protest in Gateshead and Newcastle this weekend. “The safety of everyone, including those participating in the protest, other members of the public and our officers will always be our utmost priority. “The right to lawful protest is a key part of any democracy, which the police uphold.”

The protest will begin at 11am at Team Valley, moving along the A1, to the A184, crossing the Tyne at Redheugh Bridge, travelling through Newcastle city centre around 11.40am, before heading through Low Fell and ending at the Angel of the North.

Newcastle City Council has advised locals to avoid the route of the protest once it is moving and set off early if they need to travel on Saturday.

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