Author Archives: SCATE

Appetite for destruction – the Arundel options revealed

Arun Valley near where a new dual carriageway bypass is likely to go if approved

Well the day we all feared is upon us: the day that Highways England reveals its options for the A27 around Arundel.

Not unexpectedly, the South Downs National Park takes a huge hit whichever option is chosen, although option 1 is marginally better in that development within the National Park is along the existing alignment of the A27.  Ancient woodland is also for the chop, as though this and other important features matter little.

It would seem that there is no room for compromise when it comes to attempting to move more and more people by car and little consideration of the consequences of pursuing such a policy.  World Heritage Sites (Stonehenge), National Parks, AONBs, ancient woodland, important wildlife sites – none of them matter more than the requirement to shave a few seconds of someone’s journey.

It perhaps wouldn’t be so bad if there was real evidence of the benefits of such an approach, but there aren’t.  In fact all it is likely to lead to is more traffic, leading to congestion just moving somewhere else on the network.  Indeed as the A27 is expanded along its length, more long distance traffic will start using it, further clogging it up again.

The insanity of our current transport policies are clear to be seen by the solutions being proffered here.  If we have a valuable asset such as the National Park, why, if the road is so important, is it not being built in a tunnel for at least part of its length?  The reason being that the benefits of the road are not that great and with the warped logic applied by the Department for Transport that means that it is not cost effective to build a tunnel.

So were the road of massive economic importance we would get a tunnel, but because it isn’t we have to suffer the destruction of a swathe of ancient woodland and huge damage to the National Park.  It’s utter madness!  If we were in The Netherlands, while they like their roads they also build them much more sympathetically.  The A4 north of Rotterdam towards Delft has been placed in a tunnel in the urban area and then sunk below ground level through a wet landscape important for its recreational opportunities, significantly reducing its impact on the surrounding area.  Whereas we have to be grateful for a noise barrier and some tree planting.

We would urge people to reject all three options and support a low impact variant of option 1 as put forward by local people: the new ‘single purple’ route.  This bypasses the key bottlenecks but does so without the harm caused by option 1.  Make sure you have your say and vote for a solution that not only works for today but also for future generations.

A New Road to Devastation?

Arundel-insert

CPRE Sussex is supporting local residents in their fight to get a sane transport solution for Arundel and the surrounding communities.  It highlights recent research by CPRE nationally which shows that new roads often don’t bring the traffic, congestion and economic benefits claimed.  In fact in the longer term, they can actually make things worse.

CPRE Sussex is encouraging local people to have their say when the consultation on the A27 at Arundel begins sometime this summer, although with the General Election having been called, this may have slipped to the Autumn.  It produced this insert for its last newsletter – the picture on the front showing the view that potentially could be damaged by the type of road Highways England has indicated it wants to build.

Anyone wanting to find out more is encouraged to come on the guided walk along the lone of the old ‘pink-blue’ route on Sunday, 18 June.  Meet 10:30am at Dalloway Road, Arundel or contact arundelscate@gmail.com for more information.

The A27 conundrum

Graffiti on a bridge over Twyford Down

The shock announcement by Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, abandoning the A27 upgrade at Chichester shows the A27 isn’t nationally important.  If it was, the Government would have gone ahead anyway, regardless of local opinion.  However, it also highlights an even bigger issue: while people want a bigger road, in the belief that it will make it easier to get around, they aren’t always prepared to accept the huge social and environmental costs that often come with new roads.

That is why improvements mooted at Worthing do not include a bypass through or under the South Downs National Park as such a road would cause massive damage and huge opposition. Yet like at Chichester, Worthing residents don’t necessarily want the traffic to stay where it is, let alone want more of it.

So where does that leave Arundel?  In between Chichester and Worthing, it nestles on the banks of the River Arun at the foot of the South Downs.  Hardly anyone disagrees that some form of road improvement is required here, but at what cost?

Highways England’s favoured solution of a dual carriageway bypass would rip up ancient woodland on Tortington Common and scar the National Park.  It would increase noise pollution and sever Arundel from Binsted Woods.  The tranquillity of the Arun Valley would be lost forever.

If Highways England pursues this option there will be a lot of opposition.  Instead they need to work with local people who want to improve the A27, but not at the expense of destroying what they value most about the area.

Locals have identified a wide single carriageway solution that bypasses the station and the other bottlenecks.  It doesn’t cause the severance or damage that a high speed dual carriageway would and is receiving widespread backing.  Highways England needs to seriously consider this option or it could find itself with a revolt at Arundel, as it did at Chichester.

Ultimately though, until the Department of Transport start pursuing transport solutions based on evidence, rather than ideology, we are going to continue to be stuck in traffic on the Sussex Coast with few alternatives.  Even an expanded A27 will only bring short-term relief before it rapidly fills up again, clogging our towns and villages up with even more traffic.

There is a reason why the A27 hasn’t been expanded previously and that is because of the problems in doing so. All that has happened is that we’ve wasted the last 15-20 years while local authorities and MPs have largely ignored safer, cleaner, less damaging and often cheaper solutions, while pressing for a bigger A27.

Do we want to waste the next 20 years arguing over the A27 or is it time for a different, less damaging approach?

No Direction

This could be outcome of the recent Highways England consultation on making changes to the A27 around Chichester.  With many people opting to vote for none of the above, Highways England could be left in a difficult situation.  If none of its 5 options receive much support and indeed most people vote against any option, where does it go from here?

We suspect that it will just plough ahead doing what it wants to do, as it usually does.  However, if the outcome is that most people are unhappy with the choice before them it would make sense to halt the process and take stock.  Particularly as the proposals are so divisive.

The problem is that Highways England and many politicians look at issues in a one-dimension way, in complete isolation to other factors.  Yet we have some serious issues to face up to such as:

  • climate change and the need for transport to cut its carbon emissions
  • high levels of air pollution in our towns and cities
  • an obesity epidemic, which costs the NHS in Sussex nearly £500 million a year
  • and in 2035, 10% of the population in Sussex are likely to suffer from diabetes

New roads generally, add to all the above problems, while at the same time consuming vast amounts of public resource.  It seems crazy that we are not investing our money into reducing these impacts and the huge cost to the NHS.  Invest to save, not spend to waste should be the aim and should be the guiding principles for future investment in our transport network.

 

Summer consultation looms

After much rancour and debate, Highways England will be finally consulting on its options for increasing traffic flow along the A27 around Chichester.  These options will not include an A27 northern bypass after Highways England was firmly put in its place by the Department for Transport and told to get on and deliver what it had been tasked with doing.

Highways England has increased the consultation from the 6 weeks previously offered in the spring (and then extended to 7 weeks after much political pressure), to 10 weeks this time round.  However, given that the consultation is taking place over the summer months, when many people are away, this is no great concession.  It should be giving the public at least 12 weeks to respond.

Exactly what is in the consultation we shall have to wait and see, but most likely they will be the same or similar southerly options that were previously leaked to the press. For SCATE members, these plans represent both a threat and an opportunity.  Removing the bottlenecks at the junctions will improve traffic flow and that in itself will encourage more people to drive. So quite how long before congestion creeps back again is anyone’s guess, but it may not take long unless Brexit leads to an economic slowdown. Increased traffic levels also risk adding to pressure at Arundel and Worthing for bigger and faster roads.

Finally, HIghways England needs to grasp this opportunity to address the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders and remove the barrier that the A27 has become for people wanting to cross the bypass.  It has an opportunity to show how it is placing cycling and other environmental issues at the heart of its decision making and construction processes. These cannot be dealt with as bolt on afterthoughts but need to be central to the new design.

 

Air pollution hearing fast-tracked

ClientEarth action

ClientEarth, the group of environmental lawyers who have successfully challenged the Government to date about its sloth like action on tackling air pollution, are set to be back in court on 18 and 19th of October.  A High Court Judge recently approved their request for the process to be speeded up.

Last year they were successful in getting the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce an Air Quality Action Plan by the end of 2015.  The Government met this target but as expected produced an action plan that was underwhelming it is ambition and would fail to improve air quality “as quickly as possible”.  The plan was also based in some instances on dodgy data as it claimed air pollution in Brighton was already under legal limits when in reality it is still well above them, if improving.

Nevertheless, even though the process has been speeded up, it is likely that waiting for 4 months before holding the hearing will result in a further 13,000 premature deaths occurring in that period due to air pollution.  So even this speeded up process is costing lives and proceeding far too slowly.

Every Breath We Take

Too-many-cars-Clock-Tower-Btn-1

One of the most polluted places in Sussex: Queens Road, Brighton, not far from The Clock Tower

“Every breath you take, every step you take, I’ll be watching you…” is a famous lyric from 1980s pop band The Police, whose lead singer was Sting.  Whilst this song is about love, this extract from the lyrics summarises the current Government position on air pollution very well: it knows full well the impact air pollution is having on people but is doing very little to tackle the problem; it’s doing little more than watching.

That is why this new report, ‘Every Breath We Take: the lifelong impact of air pollution‘, from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is a welcome reminder that air pollution is not just killing people or ruining their lives, it is also costing the UK economy around £20 billion a year, or 16% of the current NHS budget.  While this Government doesn’t seem to get the environment or indeed health, in the true sense of the word, it does get economics.  When the NHS is under immense strain financially and overwhelmed by demand, this report gives a clear signal to Government that it needs to act urgently on air pollution. Doing so could help ease the pressure on the NHS on both these levels as well as improving the economy and people’s quality of life.

The report highlights that around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK are due to outdoor air pollution (which is mostly down to traffic) with more due to indoor pollution.  It states that this pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia which affect millions.  It also believes that the current pollution limits set by Government and the World Health Organisation are not safe as they leave certain groups vulnerable to harmful impacts.

To reduce air pollution one of the top suggestions in the report is for people to alter the way they travel and to try alternatives to the car, preferably taking the active option of a bus, train, walking or cycling.  This though is against a background of big cuts to supported bus services and still pitiful levels of funding for walking and cycling.  Only road and rail infrastructure are getting any significant investment at present and then the investment in road building is likely to increase air pollution and undermine active travel.

The report’s authors want people to be better informed of air pollution in their locality and for there to be more effective monitoring, the results of which should be communicated to the public in a clear and meaningful way.  In contrast there have been significant budget cuts in monitoring both nationally and locally and a lack of political will to take air pollution seriously.

Another recommendation is that local authorities must have the power to close roads or reduce traffic levels when air pollution levels are high, particularly near schools.  This is probably a power that local authorities would be keen to have, but without the investment in adequate monitoring, it would be meaningless and do little to avoid harmful exposure to air pollution.

Whilst the VW scandal has undoubtedly raised awareness of air pollution, the incentive to do something about it seems to be falling away.  Much like the banker’s scandal when the bankers were villified for what they had done to the economy, years later hardly anyone has been held to account and the rules are being relaxed again.

It is also somewhat ironic that the current debate around the EU centres on bringing power back to this country, yet on air pollution we have all the powers we need to take effective action. Given that the Government seems content on doing very little to safeguard our health (and our economy) for both current and future generations, maybe we should be “sending out an SOS”.

 

All out in the open

The cat is well and truly out of the bag since Spirit FMChichester Observer and the Worthing Herald went ahead and published maps showing the 7 possible options for expanding the capacity of the A27 around Chichester.  These can also be seen on the A27 Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee’s website and show that a northern bypass would indeed intrude on the South Downs National Park.

The publication of these maps at last allows the public to see for themselves, what Highways England is considering around Chichester.  While Highways England has apparently branded the publication of these maps irresponsible, it has been showing various people and organisations these maps for quite some time.  In that situation it can hardly claim they were secret or that the public shouldn’t see them.

People are perfectly capable of understanding that these are only indicative options and that the details may well change.  However, to treat the public with such disdain is unacceptable and undermines democracy.  At least with the maps out in the open, this will allow a full and frank debate of all the various options even before the start of the official six week consultation some time in the Spring.

In the meantime local campaign group Chichester Deserves Better has already attracted well over 3,000 signatures to its petition opposing a northern bypass.

Chichester’s future on the line

A northern bypass would cut through this countryside

A northern bypass would cut through this countryside

The last few weeks has seen a flurry of activity in Chichester as it becomes increasingly clear that Highways England has ambitions for a Chichester northern bypass.  This has come as rather a shock to many as it has long been thought of as accepted and agreed that the way forward to tackling the congestion (although that’s a bit like chasing the holy grail) was to upgrade the existing junctions with flyovers.

Quite where this has come from remains to be seen, but it would appear to be driven by a number of factors:

  1. Cost – apparently it would be cheaper (financially) than upgrading the existing road although that does not include the true cost of the damage it would cause.
  2. Ease of construction – it would be less disruptive to the existing A27 to build a new road offline.
  3. Local politics – perhaps the deciding factor here in encouraging Highways England towards this path. It would seem that somewhere within Chichester District and West Sussex County Councils there has been a strong push for a northern bypass.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people are unhappy, particularly those in the north of Chichester and Lavant and other local communities who will be impacted by the road.  It would bring a lot of fast moving traffic very close to and at one point into the South Downs National Park, causing significant harm, as well as cutting off the city from its countryside setting.  It could also have serious implications for the future of the Rolls Royce factory and the Goodwood Estate.

Another effect is that it could lead to infill development between the city and the new road. However, a bigger impact is that with the removal of traffic from the existing road there is likely to be a rash of new out of town car based developments around the south of the city. This would further undermine the city centre and lead to the existing A27, which would be de-trunked and renamed, rapidly filling up with traffic again.

However, the good burghers of Chichester are not taking this lying down and already there has been a local group established to oppose this madness. Chichester Deserves Better which says it all really, already has a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts and is urging people to sign its petition calling on Andrew Tyrie MP and local councillors to oppose a northern bypass.

New directions in LEPland?

It’s all change at the top of the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) in Sussex.  In the South East LEP, there appears to be some bad blood between the Board and Peter Jones (former leader of East Sussex County Council and supporter of the Bexhill Hastings Link Road and various associated roads and failed business parks).  In the summer, he reported to Government that he had been sacked after the South East LEP failed to reappoint him as chair.

To some extent this might be linked to the proposal to split the South East LEP into smaller and more manageable areas.  However, it would seem that there is more to it than that.  Local campaigners are hopeful that the ‘sacking’ of  Peter Jones will lead to the LEP appointing a chair with more vision who can deliver better public transport alongside real and sustainable jobs in East Sussex.

Less dramatically, Coast to Capital has just announced that Jonathan Sharrock will succeed Ron Crank as its new chief executive in January 2016, when Ron Crank is due to retire.  Jonathan Sharrock comes from the Department for Transport where he has spent the last three years developing the HS2 high speed rail project.

Previously responsible he was responsible for overseeing Government transport interests for the 2012 Olympics and also has significant experience working with the aviation industry. Whether he has the experience and knowledge to understand that large scale road building isn’t the answer to issues on the south coast and that instead we need integrated transport solutions remains to be seen.

LEPs are important as they are increasingly taking responsibility for spending public money on local infrastructure, much of that being transport and roads.  While they contain some council representation, they are dominated by business representatives and are not democratically accountable.