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?