IT MUST have seemed so simple at the start. Move a few lanes of traffic, shift a tatty tyre depot, and let Oxford's Transport Strategy roll. That was before the eco-warriors arrived to spoil the party.

The environmental activists presently resident in Oxford's LMS railway building next to the Park End Street junction are gentle, hairy souls.

Literally, they wouldn't hurt a fly.

But the buzzing of these veterans of the direct action movement is giving the city's transport planners a headache.

To put the Oxford Transport Strategy (OTS) in place, the argument runs, the Park End junction needs to be widened.

Before the junction can be widened the LMS building needs to go. But it is now home to between six and 30 squatters who know their rights and could take months to evict.

The protesters come from Oxford's long-established group of green activists and many have taken part in direct action from Newbury to Manchester.

One of them, Edward Pope, said: "This all started with concern about trees and the LMS building was simply useful for direct action.

"But I was very impressed by its historic side and I'm getting to like it more and more.

"Because it was being used as a tyre place I had a view of it as an old shed, but now I've started things like painting the pillars blue and yellow, like the Crystal Palace itself."

He and the other squatters are against the changes to the Park End junction which, they say, will destroy trees as well as creating more space for cars.

They also want to see the historic, and extremely dilapidated, LMS building stay in Oxford rather than be dismantled and rebuilt at Quainton railway centre in Buckinghamshire. They are, according to Oxfordshire County Council, deluded.

Both councillors and officers, who are proud of OTS plans to get cars out of the city centre, cut pollution and improve facilities for buses, cyclists and pedestrians, are put out by the suggestion that they are road-builders in black hats.

Fiona Campbell, the county councillor for west Oxford, has emphasised her previous support for direct action protesters. She and colleagues in the Labour group have justified opposition to the direct action protesters in the LMS building by suggesting these good-hearted people have been misled by the political wiles of the Green Party.

Ms Campbell said: "I have every sympathy with protesters who want to stop motorway building but the protesters at the LMS building have got their facts completely wrong.

"They should turn their energy to protecting the environment where it is really under threat and away from a city which is at the forefront of planning on car reduction."

Roger Williams, Ox- fordshire's chief transport planner, said:

The road is being widened to allow for two segregated bus lanes which will have priority over cars

The plans will not involve felling all eight trees the protesters claim are for the chop

Conditions for pedestrians will improve, with a platform-level footbridge from the railway station to the south side of the junction, and signal-controlled pedestrian crossing at lights will give walkers priority over traffic

Moving the LMS building to Quainton is preferable to leaving it to disintegrate where it is

Oxford University's plans for a £40m Said Business School next to the present LMS building will provide a landscaped 'station square' which will enhance the whole area.

But not every member of the county council agrees with Mr Williams.

Sushila Dhall, leader of the Green group, said she would willingly lie in front of any machinery sent in to take the LMS building apart.

She said: "Most county councillors have never walked there.

"They tend to drive and they are simply saying what Roger Williams tells them to say.

"I would lie in front of a bulldozer sooner than see a six-lane road built."

However, Mr Williams pointed out that the Green Party had offered qualified support for OTS at the recent public inquiry.

He claimed, because the junction changes were a necessary part of OTS, to oppose them now was inconsistent.

He said: "From a green point of view, it's a win, win, win situation.

"The problem is that they are idealists and there is always the danger of the ideal getting in the way of the good."

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.