NICK HERBERT: Folly to pursue a fantasy option

Road users will continue to face appalling congestion (Picture: Eddie Mitchell)
Road users will continue to face appalling congestion (Picture: Eddie Mitchell)

It was bad news last week when we heard that the A27 Chichester improvement scheme has been cancelled. Frankly this is nothing less than a massive own goal for West Sussex.

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, wrote to the Chief Executive of Highways England to say that he was cancelling the scheme ‘after the withdrawal of support by the local councils for the shortlisted options and significant local campaigns’.

In January I warned that opponents of the southern bypass upgrade who were lobbying for a unfeasible northern bypass risked losing A27 improvements altogether, and I am dismayed that this happened.

It is important to note that Chris Grayling said that Highways England had ‘quite rightly’ been taking forward a scheme to upgrade the existing route south of Chichester.

Those lobbying for an unfeasible northern bypass, and undermining Highways England’s process, have effectively lost £200million of infrastructure investment in the area, while road users will continue to face appalling congestion around Chichester.

Some have expressed surprise that the Transport Secretary took this decision. They shouldn’t be. The Government has applications for roads schemes from all around the country where local authorities are fully aligned behind the schemes.

West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council chose not to do so, and this has been the result.

West Sussex MPs worked extremely hard to secure very substantial and much needed roads investment into the county, and to see one huge chunk of it thrown away like this is – to put it mildly – deeply disappointing.

The A27 upgrade at Chichester was always intended to be online, on the existing southern route, and never a more expensive new road which was unfunded. It was folly to pursue a fantasy option against all advice.

There was one important consolation this week. The Transport Secretary also said that ‘the delivery of the A27 Arundel Bypass should proceed as planned’.

In fact, Highways England have restored the start date to ‘by the end of March 2020’ after it had at one point slipped to 2021, with the bypass opening in 2022. It is essential that it goes ahead.

I will do my best to support my colleague Andrew Tyrie MP in lobbying for the Government to restore the Chichester scheme in future, but I’m afraid that we have learned the hard way that negative political manoeuvring has a serious cost.

If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or email me at nick@nickherbert.com

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