A27 Action – ‘an alliance of local councils, businesses and MPs who want to see the A27 upgraded‘ – had its big launch on 26 June at Worthing College. It may not have been entirely coincidence that the launch was held during rush hour and a stone’s throw from the A27, thereby pressing home the point that the road is unacceptably congested.
No New Roads
Participants arriving for the launch had to drive past a large ‘No New Roads’ banner, and a collection of people from various groups opposing further roadbuilding along the A27. Groups represented included Campaign for Better Transport (), Bricycles, Council for the Protection of Rural England (Sussex), Eastbourne FoE, Combe Haven Defenders and anti-road groups from Arundel and elsewhere. Most had arrived by train, bus or bicycle, thus proving that there are viable alternatives to driving along the A27.
The local media came along, and interviewed people from several groups, allowing them to put forward their case: not that there is not a problem with the A27, but that roadbuilding is not the answer. Investment is needed instead in decent, affordable public transport, as well as in walking and cycling. This would not only reduce carbon emissions, it would save vast amounts of money and avoid the terrible destruction of the countryside that will be caused if the road plans for the A27 go ahead.
End to end dual carriageway needed
The stated aim of A27 action is ‘[T]o present the Government with a robust case demonstrating the need for improving the A27 across West Sussex‘. To that end, the launch was addressed by the local MPs (Tim Loughton, Nick Herbert, Nick Gibb) and the leader of West Sussex County Council, Louise Goldsmith. All of them stressed the costs to business of the congestion along the A27 and how it is putting businesses off relocating to West Sussex. Louise Goldsmith stated that she would like the A27 to be a dual carriageway from end to end.
Ancient woodland at risk
Arundel MP Nick Herbert spoke about the need for a(nother) Arundel bypass. He dismissed the ‘online’ option (that is, enlarging the existing bypass) and said that the only acceptable solution was an ‘offline’ road along the ‘pink-blue route’. This cuts right through the ancient woodland of Tortington Common, as well as areas rich in protected species.
Don’t mention climate change
A question was raised about environmental issues: there is plenty of evidence that building new roads creates more traffic and therefore more carbon emissions. How can this be justified at a time when we’re facing catastrophic climate change? The speakers were momentarily flummoxed, but it didn’t take Tim Loughton MP long to jump up and start talking about emissions from stationery vehicles stuck in traffic jams – which are not, of course, the same thing as carbon emissions – thus skilfully avoiding the issue of climate change.
More A27 = more traffic
The A27 launch event also avoided mentioning the concept of induced demand – that is, that new roads create new traffic, as people who previously might have avoided driving and used alternatives, decide once the road is built that driving is a viable option after all. This has been known for many years – in 1994, the government’s Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA) report concluded that ëinduced traffic can and does occur, probably quite extensivelyí. This – rather large – elephant in the room was conveniently ignored, as ‘improving’ the A27 was presented as a miracle solution to transport problems.
Editor-in-chief takes a long drive
The final speaker at the meeting was Gary Shipton, editor-in-chief of most of the local newspapers in West Sussex. He was there to tell participants how to use the media to their advantage, and was unashamedly pro-roadbuilding himself. He arrived late, having spent, he told the meeting, three hours driving along the A27 from Portsmouth. Someone shouted out, “You should have come on the train!“. Indeed: had he done so, it would have taken him 55 minutes. It turns out that driving is not always the best option after all.