Last week saw Highways England hold two stakeholder meetings in Worthing and Arundel to supposedly get feedback on how to progress transport solutions for the respective areas. The trouble is that Highways England are not looking to solve the transport issues in the area, purely looking at expanding capacity on the A27.
Their principal reasoning is that public transport isn’t able to solve the issues as Network Rail has no plans for the south coast railway. Yet this is down to finances and priorities. If this was seen as a priority and the Government wanted to invest money in the railway as it is throwing money at the roads, then the answer would be different. As it is, the only reason that Highways England is even able to ponder this question is because the Government has pledged vast amounts of money for road building. So the analysis is rather misleading.
More locally, West Sussex County Council has been pretty slow (and poor) at bringing forward sustainable transport schemes so that walking, cycling and bus connections with the rail stations are generally pretty bad. This is reflected across the wider area too, with a few exceptions. As a consequence, sustainable transport is a long way from fulfilling its potential and shifting people out of their cars.
At the Worthing meeting, although there was an option to just tweak the junctions, there were at least four dual carriageway options. Highways England’s ambition was clearly for a dual carriageway through Worthing, involving the demolition (in most options) of quite a lot of housing plus the loss of the corner of the cemetery (although no one is buried there at present). Other than perhaps influencing what happens around the dual carriageway, stakeholders are unlikely to have little sway on the outcome. The other fear is that the dual carriageway comes at such a cost that little or no money is left to address severance, sustainable transport, landscaping and other issues.
In Arundel, the situation was similar. One online do minimum option and four dual carriageway options, one near online and 3 off-line. Again, the Highways Agency seems to have largely determined the solution it wants and stakeholders had to press quite firmly for a near online non dual carriageway option to be discussed.
In both cases, sustainable options were not really considered and there was a dearth of information to allow people to make informed comments. For example, Highways England could have provided indicative noise pollution information so people could understand the difference that higher speed roads would have on local residents. Some visualisation of a road across the Arun Valley could also have been mocked up to allow people to assess the difference in visual impact that the various options would have on the setting of Arundel.
In the meantime, everything is likely to go quiet for quite some time, with firm proposals not due until 2017. Not much comfort for those living alongside the A27 in Worthing or around Arundel and Binsted, whose homes are now blighted for the foreseeable future.