Countryside… or concrete? Arundel Hustings

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

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

Let’s get our landscapes back on the political agenda

Arundel SCATE and CPRE Sussex are holding a public meeting to discuss environmental issues in the Arundel area on Monday, 27 April.  All the prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) for the Arundel and South Downs constituency have been invited.  The meeting starts at 7.30pm (doors open 7.15pm) at St Nicholas’ Church, London Road, Arundel , BN18 9AT.

It offers the opportunity to quiz PPCs on their views on roads and transport, landscape and development, pollution and energy.  With many of the PPcs having already set out their position on the A27, this meeting provides a good opportunity to to challenge candidates and for you to express your own thoughts.

It looks like being an interesting meeting.

Pause for reflection?

Today saw the launch of the Labour Party manifesto, outlining its blueprint for the country should it be elected on 7 May.  Contained in the accompanying press release and press statements, it has announced that it would pause any work on the Arundel bypass and linked this with a rail fare freeze.

It said:

“Labour will deliver a fully funded rail fares freeze for one year, a strict cap on every route for any future fare rises, and a new legal right for passengers will be created to access the cheapest ticket for their journey.

The cost, of just over £200 million, will be fully funded by switching spending within the existing transport budget from delaying road projects on the A27 and A358 for which the economic case is still uncertain.”

It also that:

“…we intend to go ahead with the works on the A27 with the exception of the specific Arundel bypass – this is due to cut through a National Park and so raises a number of environmental issues that need to resolved before we give this one section of road improvement the go ahead.”

This comes on the back of the very good work by local Arundel, Binsted and Walberton residents who have been lobbying hard about having a say over what is brought forward in their area.  The Labour, Green and UKIP Prospective Parliamentary Candidates for the Arundel and South Downs constituency have all stated their opposition to a new dual carriageway bypass through the South Downs National Park and elsewhere.  These can be read on the ABNC website along with the Conservative statement in support of a new bypass.

So today is good news in that a major political party has at last recognised the potential damage that a new bypass at Arundel would cause the South Downs National Park and has questioned that it offers value for money.  Whether this means anything in reality of course depends very much on the outcome of the General Election, but there is at least the potential opportunity for a pause in the process to take stock of the issues.  We need to make sure that we get the right solutions for Arundel and not be bulldozed into accepting any old bypass solution, which is what has happened to date.

 

 

Breathing Bad

Today sees some of the highest pollution levels experienced across parts of Sussex this year as an area of high pressure traps pollution, mainly from traffic, combined with bad air from further afield and a pinch of Saharan dust for good measure. Yet the response of the Government and relevant bodies has been pathetic. Their suggestion is for people to avoid heavy exercise, such as walking and cycling, during the high pollution episode. The likely result? Possibly more people will drive instead!

In Paris, they had the sense to tell people not to drive if they could help it, so at least reducing the levels of pollution that will be experienced. In this country, no attempt was made to encourage people to drive less in the few days leading up to this pollution episode which would have helped mitigate its severity. It’s not as if it wasn’t known about several days in advance.

The problem is that the full public health impacts won’t be felt immediately and combined with the invisible nature of the pollution, it allows politicians to avoid having to tackle this serious issue.  If this were a disease, the number of deaths due to air pollution at 29,000 a year (and this is probably an underestimate as this is solely based on particulates (tiny smoke particles) and doesn’t include the impacts of nitrous oxides the other main vehicle pollutants) there would be a public outcry.

Yet we’ve barely heard a whisper. Instead it’s business as usual with Highways England busy planning how they can concrete over more the South Downs to widen the A27 and encourage even more cars onto our roads. Apart from the colossal waste of public money, it will lead to more traffic in the surrounding towns and cities, exposing people to higher levels of pollution.

Isn’t it time we stopped this madness, invested in the cleaner and more efficient alternatives and encouraged people to walk and cycle more? The coastal railway, which runs parallel to the A27, is crying out for investment and there is a desperate shortage of high quality facilities for walking and cycling. Invest in these and people’s quality of life will improve, it will be better for the local economy as a fitter and happier population is sick less often and all this helps reduce pressure on the NHS.

So next time someone knocks on your door and asks for your vote, ask them what they’re going to do to stop us breathing bad air and to reduce the huge number of deaths and other problems that this chemical cocktail causes. The good news is that soon the Government and local authorities might have to take this more seriously as ClientEarth will be at the Supreme Court on 16 April, 2015, for a one day oral hearing where they will be asking the Supreme Court to order the Government to produce a new plan to tackle air pollution.  In the meantime, don’t hold your breath!

 

On the right track

In the budget statement there was a small but not insignificant item that almost slipped out unnoticed.  It was an allocation of £100,000 for a new study into the viability of restoring the Lewes to Uckfield railway line.

While not the most important transport intervention in terms of reducing road traffic on the A27, it would:

  • help reduce the number of cars driving to Brighton from Uckfield and Tunbridge Wells areas and hence on the Polegate to Brighton section of the A27
  • boost the local economies, particularly of Brighton, Lewes, Uckfield and Tunbridge Wells
  • offer greater resilience and provide a more viable alternative for when the Brighton mainline was down for maintenance repairs
  • reduce social exclusion for those without a car
  • significantly improve the rail network and its connectivity within Sussex and Kent
  • impact on the South Downs National Park both positively (from traffic reduction and improved connectivity) and negatively (from the reconstruction of the line within the Park)

The important thing is that the study is carried out by an independent body with a broad terms of reference so that all the benefits (social, economic and environmental) of the scheme can be captured.  SCATE looks forward with interest to see what develops, although nothing much is likely to happen now until after the General Election.

For much more detail on restoring the Lewes – Uckfield rail link see the Railfuture website.

A beautiful solution?

On 4 February, the Rt Hon John Hayes MP, Minister of State for Transport, gave a speech titled ‘Beautiful roads’ at an event hosted by Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Campaign for Better Transport (CBT).  It contains this promising phrase:

“Our goal is not just to undo the most intrusive, insensitive road design of the past 50 years….”

If he means what he says, the Crossbush junction on the A27 at Arundel is a prime candidate for demolishing and rebuilding.  I suggest that the Crossbush junction – and the Crossbush bypass – are good examples of “the most intrusive, insensitive road design of the past 50 years”.

The Crossbush junction is half of an uncompleted ‘dumbbell’ junction.  It is known locally as ‘the diving board’ since it raises the A27 (going westwards) and then stops, turning into a T-junction with lights, with both arms of the T becoming a single carriageway road, one going down to Arundel.  The intended A27 dual carriageway is an unused strip of tarmac which ends in a bank under the junction.

The Crossbush bypass should really have been treated as part of the (unbuilt) Arundel bypass which it would adjoin.  In other words, it should not have been built unless and until an acceptable route for a bypass at Arundel was found.   But the Crossbush bypass was built in the 90s, and stands as a monument to human folly – ‘expecting’, or encouraging, a completion with an Arundel bypass which cannot be built because it is too environmentally damaging.

Two offline bypass alternatives at Arundel were suggested by the recent A27 Study.  All offline routes would cross the Arundel watermeadows, then bisect Tortington village, south of Arundel. One, the previous Preferred Route, then goes through much-loved and nationally protected woodland (Tortington Common, part of the South Downs National Park), the other through the villages of Binsted and Walberton.  Neither road would be beautiful.  Instead both would be terribly destructive.

The Crossbush junction stands at the eastern side of the Arun valley, a floodplain with small fields and hedges, described by a previous Secretary of State, Alistair Darling, as of ‘outstanding beauty’ when he cancelled the Arundel bypass in 2003 (the Preferred Route through Tortington Common).  Even as it is, without the Arundel bypass, the junction is looming, high, ugly, inappropriate, and has brought the inevitable large service station and fast food outlet, themselves a blot on their beautiful surroundings.

The best way to improve the ugliness of the junction would be to demolish it and replace it with an at-grade  roundabout, accepting that a dual carriageway across the Arun valley watermeadows, through Tortington, and then through either the National Park woods or two more villages, is not appropriate or possible and could not be ‘beautiful’.  Such a plan would represent a commitment to protecting what is truly beautiful.  The looming ‘diving-board’ would disappear and the monument to human folly would become a story of the attainment of wisdom.

Many local people do not want increased capacity on this road, leading to more traffic and further traffic jams, but would accept smaller-scale work to improve traffic flow.  Some improvement of the A27, at a less intrusive scale, nearer to its current route, is possible without being as destructive as a completely offline bypass, and should be one of the options in the coming public consultation.  The Crossbush bypass cannot be unbuilt, and the least damaging solution would be to join the A27 at Crossbush to the current Arundel bypass with a short section of new, non-dual-carriageway road passing south of Arundel station.  This could be combined with the changes to the junction suggested above.

Let’s hope the Minister’s commitment to ‘undoing intrusive, insensitive road design’ will be strong enough to encompass this proposal.

Emma Tristram, resident of Binsted

Better Buses not Bigger Roads

Norman Baker MP stops to join members of SCATE outside Eastbourne Town Hall

Norman Baker MP stops to join members of SCATE outside Eastbourne Town Hall – photo Kim Sweet

That’s the message that members of SCATE took to Eastbourne Town Hall yesterday on a wet and windy morning.  They were protesting at being excluded from a meeting organised by the Department of Transport (DfT) to talk about the A27 and growth.  In attendance were local MPs, councillors and businesses.

The reason given for excluding community and environmental organisations was that this was a meeting with representatives of various levels of government rather than with wider sectorial interests.  Yet the DfT invited the Local Enterprise Partnerships (unaccountable quangos not subject directly to the Freedom of Information Act) and local businesses.

But maybe this shouldn’t be surprising.  Government seems to be handing over the running of the country to big business, removing or watering down legislation (e.g. planning) at its request, while stifling democratic debate via the Gagging Act, preventing charities from challenging (or welcoming) political statements by parties.  At the same time when Cuadrilla writes to George Osborne to ask for action to make fracking easier, you’ve never seen the Government move so fast.

Back in East Sussex, we’ve seen sprawling car based development and more road building.  At the same time that more money has to be found to keep the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road going, there are swingeing cuts and prices rises to local bus services despite huge protests. Meanwhile there is very little investment in walking and cycling or the south coast rail line which runs parallel to the A27 and could offer more of an alternative to driving if properly invested in.

By our exclusion, the DfT is likely to back more expensive and inefficient growth, fuelling congestion and pollution across East Sussex.  Sprawling development will waste land, swallowing up more of our precious countryside and because of its low density any bus services serving these developments are likely to require subsidy.

Derrick Coffee of Campaign for Better Transport - East Sussex button-holes Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP in Eastbourne

Derrick Coffee of Campaign for Better Transport – East Sussex button-holes Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP in Eastbourne – photo Kim Sweet

It is clear from the evidence to date, that our elected officials are not able to plan in the true sense of the word.  Some of that is not their fault with the weakening of the planning system by central Government.  Nevertheless, they are failing to plan for the long term and to prioritise people’s well-being over short-term gain.

We have an opportunity now to get it right.  To design our communities in a healthier and more robust way which improves people’s quality of life while reducing our impact on our environment.  We should not accept the premise that to improve our economy we have to destroy what we hold most dear.  There is another way.

Parishes reject major road building for A27

View of A27 from Mount Caburn

View of A27 from Mount Caburn

A recent meeting of Parish representatives from east of Lewes to Folkington has welcomed the £75 million nominally allocated by the Government for improvements to this section of the A27. However, the representatives have resoundingly rejected the idea of a major bypass or new road from Lewes to Polegate.  Instead they want to see the money used to improve road safety along the existing alignment, with improved local access at junctions, as soon as possible.  They want the focus to be on improving traffic flow, but not increasing traffic speed.

In particular, the meeting supported the following measures:

  1. Junction improvements all along the route, with improvements particularly needed at Wilmington and Selmeston
  2. A safer crossing between the Firle and Glynde junctions for pedestrians and cyclists
  3. A Selmeston bypass behind the Barley Mow
  4. A single speed limit along this stretch of road and related measures

In contrast, there was no support for the Folkington Link.

All of these measures would make a marked improvement to safety and access along the route and could be implemented quite quickly, in comparison to a major new road.  While a Selmeston bypass behind the Barley Mow would intrude into the South Downs National Park, this might be acceptable if done sensitively.

Overall, this approach by the Parishes seems sensible and pragmatic, and if implemented would lead to real improvements without causing the widespread damage and destruction of new road building.

On the rails in 2015

Let the train take the strain

Welcome to 2015 and higher rail fares, while oil prices fall to new low, resulting in even cheaper motoring.  No doubt that will lead to more pollution, congestion and associated health impacts, but that’s alright as long as motorists don’t pay for the many external costs they impose on society.

In addition, buses continue to be under attack from local authorities who see them as easy targets for cuts.  Even when East Sussex County Council votes not to cut bus services, it appears that its decision can be overruled by an elite cabinet, seemingly unaccountable to no one.

In the meantime we have a rail network straining at the seams with the large increases in rail travel over recent years.  Yet away from the main intercity routes, services and connections can be pretty poor and offer little choice to people who need or want to move around without a car.  That’s why three consultations might be of interest to people, some with pretty short deadlines so don’t delay if you want to have your voice heard:

  • Network Rail is currently consulting on its South East Route Sussex area route study.  This is currently rather London-centric and largely ignores other rail journeys. Email them at SussexRouteStudy@networkrail.co.uk to ask for the re-opening of the Uckfield – Lewes line.  Reasons here if you need them plus other ideas for improvements along the south coast, such as building the Willingdon chord and new stations.  All would help reduce traffic on A27 and other roads.  Feedback required by 13 January, so hurry!  See this blog for ideas of what to say
  • Govia Thameslink is nearing the end of a 12 week consultation on a new off-peak timetable from December 2015.  The Cooksbridge Station Partnership has contacted SCATE to ask for our support in pressing for more off-peak and weekend services.  There may be other areas we wish to see improvements too.  Email your comments to: gtr.timetableconsultation@gtrailway.com by Friday, 30 January
  • At the same time as all this is happening, Network Rail is holding a consultation on radical proposals which could drastically alter the way the railways are planned and run.  Improving Connectivity is a long-term proposal to deliver substantially improved rail connectivity across Britain. It requires a different approach to planning both the network capability and the train services which operate on it.  Deadline for comments is 31 January.  Email improvingconnectivity@networkrail.co.uk or complete their online survey.

Amusing take on the Government’s Roads Announcement

Today saw the Government announce that it is committed to building a mile of new dual carriageway through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and dismiss the environmental impact of building in the South Downs National Park, destroying ancient woodland and harming the setting of Arundel.

Added to this the huge amount of money being spent on roads in a gamble to boost the economy is likely to fail.  Meanwhile the coastal railway is starved on any real investment and air pollution and congestion in our towns and cities is likely to rise.  Bus services are being cut and local authorities are struggling to provide much needed services as their budgets are slashed.

In the face of all this, take some time out for an amusing reworking of the Department of Transport’s press release.  Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Arundel residents want ‘smart’ spending of government funds for A27

As the government announces £350m for the A27 corridor, from Chichester to Polegate, Arundel residents say the money for Arundel should be spent on improvements along or near the existing route and include better access to public transport, cycling and walking, rather than be wasted on an ineffective and unaffordable bypass, seriously damaging the Arun Valley landscape and National Park.

The proposed ‘offline’ options for an Arundel bypass would mean a dual carriageway crossing the Arun Valley from Crossbush, over water meadows and either cutting through the ancient woodland at Tortington Common, close to the western edge of Arundel, the village of Tortington and Havenwood Park, or through the historic landscape and villages of Binsted and Walberton.

‘This would be a gross waste of money.’ said Sue White, Arundel resident and business woman. ‘We want smart, 21st century thinking for transport, not lumbering, outdated roads that we know will simply generate more traffic, increase local congestion and destroy town centres and small businesses, just as similar roads have done elsewhere.’

Philip Gadsby, retired engineer and Arundel resident pointed out that local people have been excluded from the discussions about options for transport and access along the Sussex coast and many people had no idea about plans until SCATE brought them to their attention. ‘We are now told we will be consulted, but the Department for Transport appears to have already narrowed our options to a bypass. There has been no debate locally on this controversial issue in over 20 years and ideas about transport and related issues have changed.’

He added, ‘the DfT study appears to have been unreasonably rushed and, contrary to modern transport thinking, it has focused only on road-building rather than addressing transport in an integrated way.’

Kay Wagland, resident of Ford Road, Arundel and chair of the Arundel SCATE group , said ‘The offline proposals are hugely damaging and just won’t help in the long term. They would destroy the countryside and wildlife that local people love and that attracts visitors to the area, adding noise and light pollution too. There are other options that would provide more choices for commuters, young people and the elderly, that would be less wasteful and damaging. Recent DfT reports have shown that money spent on improving local access, walking and cycling are not only healthier, but better value for money.’

The residents’ group, Arundel SCATE, was set up this year in response to the Department for Transport Feasibility Study which started a year ago, to inform local people about the plans and to provide a forum for discussion.

ENDS