The A27: Our journey continues

West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith. Picture by Kate Shemilt. ks170955-10
West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith. Picture by Kate Shemilt. ks170955-10

The history of the A27 across West Sussex is longer than the road itself.

There have been many false dawns promising investment, only to evaporate, leaving shelved plans to gather dust and only referred to again with the next new dawn.

So as we see out 2018 where are we now?

The Lancing and Worthing scheme is on pause, another consultation on options for the Arundel bypass is due next spring and then there’s Chichester.

When I moved to Chichester over 30 years ago there was talk of dissatisfaction with the A27 southern bypass – and 30 years on, with much increased traffic, the level of dissatisfaction has grown.

This time three years ago we were anticipating the start of the consultation on the Chichester section of the A27.

There had been considerable work done by the Department for Transport, Mott McDonald and regular briefings had taken place with the district council, county council and the Harbour Conservancy.

In January 2016, all parties had preview of the options in the consultation prior to the full public consultation in March. There were six options prepared and ready to be consulted on. What could possibly go wrong?

Just less than two weeks before the consultation was due to start it was dramatically pulled by Highways England.

The tight-lipped representatives came down to the county council office to advise us that the consultation would not go ahead as planned as the two northern options were withdrawn.

It was a bombshell for everyone who had hoped to be able to have their say on all the possible options for the A27.

After weeks of silence we were advised the new date for the consultation would be at the end of July 2016. It was originally planned to be open for six weeks but after representation from West Sussex County Council it was extended to ten weeks.

For some time after the consultation there was no announcement but considerable speculation.

We all wanted to know the results and finally in December we learnt that 47 per cent of respondents didn’t want any of the options.

When the full results were published in June 2017 it transpired that 56 per cent of people who took part wanted to be consulted on the northern option.

You may wonder why I am going over old ground.

It is important because from that badly flawed consultation we are now in the position we are today. At the end of 2016 and early 2017 both West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council reasonably asked for another consultation and were told on the 28th February 2017 that the Secretary of State had cancelled the scheme – it was yet another blow.

One of the points made by the Secretary of State was that there lacked a local consensus on a preferred option. So in response to that point the county council agreed to launch the Build a Better A27 (BABA27) group supported by the district council which had its first meeting on the 22nd March 2017. In the meantime we were advised that although the scheme was cancelled, the money set aside to build one of the options in the original consultation (option 2), had not been re-allocated. We worked through a series of workshops to look at a range of mitigations and options for the A27.

In September, a BABA27 meeting was convened and it was a crucial one.

Having been told the money was still available we had to make a decision: Did we go for the money and choose Option 2 in the flawed consultation with some promised environmental mitigations, or did we continue to look to bid for further investment in the second round of the government’s Road Investment Strategy.

There was a big debate of the pros and cons.

In the end a vote was taken by all the representatives. It was courageous and it made a clear statement of the need to find a good solution for this historic place we all love.

Working with our consultants Systra and the BABA27 group, two outline options were drawn up; a mitigated Northern Option and a revised Southern Option taking into account the environmental impact.

The mitigated Northern Option, although not universally liked, was agreed by both councils, with a fully worked Southern Option as a reasonable alternative.

Highways England, who had been kept informed throughout the process, supported the work of BABA27 as a good way of involving the community and agreed to look at the options.

So where does that leave us now?

At a meeting with Highways England on the 13th December they advised us that an evaluation had been concluded and that neither option presented by the BABA27 group was workable or affordable.

We expect to receive a formal response from Highways England in the new year and as soon as we get it, we will publish their detailed feedback to the BABA27 group and to the wider community.

I have asked Gillian Keegan to call an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, to discuss the issue further and this request was supported by Chichester District Council. Mr Grayling said he cancelled the scheme because the councils and community did not agree. Since then, working through BABA27, both councils have clearly set out their jointly agreed support for the mitigated Northern option.

We all know and appreciate that Government has a very big issue at the moment but this matter is extremely important to everyone living and working in the area, as well as further afield.

I hope we can have a meeting with Mr Grayling to reassure him of our joint agreed position.

Am I clutching at straws? Some will say yes. Many will say Chichester is worth it and it’s because of that sentiment that I have made the request to the MP.

The Observer has asked Highways England for a comment and will publish it on our website once received.

Read the Observer comment here

See also: People’s A27 vision is rejected: Urgent meeting sought with Transport Secretary