Highways England has announced that it intends to consult again on the Arundel bypass options in Spring 2019. It says this: “will give local people a fresh look at all the viable options for upgrading the A27 using the latest available information.”
It goes on to say that: “important new evidence is available which merits putting the plans to the public again. This new information includes a redesign of the western end of the scheme where it re-joins the existing A27, updated traffic modelling results and updated data on and enhancements of the alternative Options 1 and 3.”
To many this seems that Highways England is jumping before it is pushed. It appears to be pre-empting criticism that is likely to arise at the forthcoming judicial review, scheduled for the end of November. Here it is being challenged over the quality and misleading nature of the information it presented in the last round of consultation that led to option 5A being selected as its preferred route: an option that scars the National Park, destroys ancient woodland and other high quality habitats, as well as bisecting Binsted village.
However, there is nothing in this revised approach to suggest that Highways England is doing anything but the minimum that it thinks necessary to force this unpopular and highly damaging road through. Even then it may not succeed as nothing in this announcement appears to address the National Park Authority’s concerns that Highways England has not looked properly at options that would cause no harm to the National Park itself (such as the single carriageway New Purple route).
It is not good enough for Highways England to keep pushing ahead with a slightly tweaked version of what it previously proposed, while ignoring the fundamental concerns with that approach. It should be acting in the public interest and that includes considering the wider and damaging impacts of road building. Any new consultation needs to include a proper and impartial appraisal of all options, including options previously dismissed that do minimal or no harm to the National Park and avoid significant loss of ancient woodland and other important habitats.
Highways England cannot continue to exist in its own little bubble. After all we’ve just had the warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with transport’s carbon emissions seriously off-target (and new roads create new traffic which just add to the problem). This is on top of already well-documented concerns around air pollution and obesity, all linked to excessive car use and costing the NHS billions. UK biodiversity is also under threat.
Never more so than now, Highways England needs to be taking A New Direction and to start coming up with 21st century solutions, rather than continuing with the failed and hugely expensive mistakes from the past. Unfortunately, while this new consultation offers an opportunity to reset its approach, it would appear from what it has said so far that it remains firmly off message.