On Tuesday, the South Downs National Park Authority discussed its position statement on new transport infrastructure. This has been drawn up in response to the potential expansion of the A27 but broadened out to include rail, ports and airports.
At the start of the meeting members were reminded that they were there to uphold National Park purposes, not any other interests that they might represent outside of the room. They were then addressed by Dr Tony Whitbread, chief executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust, Chris Todd from Brighton & Hove Friends of the Earth and Campaign for Better Transport and by Kay Wagland, local Arundel resident and founder of Arundel SCATE.
All expressed their concern that expanding the A27 would have a large impact on the National Park. This would not be localised to where changes were made but spread along the whole length of the South Downs and potentially lead to other expensive and damaging interventions. Indeed, a key concern was that rather than solving congestion, an expanded A27 would create more traffic and ultimately more congestion, albeit in slightly different places.
The debate was interesting and highlighted that several members were struggling to leave their other responsibilities at the door. However, the vast majority were sincere in their approach, even if they did occasionally say some rather contradictory things.
The Authority eventually agreed a much amended but largely improved position paper, although it did contain a few anomalies and leading statements – for example it specifically mentions the A27 and roads when it is meant to be a position statement for transport infrastructure. The final statement while a useful and competent outline of the Authority’s position and the South Downs’ special qualities, is a rather dry document. It contains no vision, nor does it really come across as championing the South Downs landscapes in a way that it could and perhaps should have done. It also contained one serious omission in that it failed to mention, let alone address, the cumulative impact of expanding several sections of the A27. This is a serious omission and weakness which is hampered by not having a strategic vision.
While an amendment to insert a vision into the document narrowly failed, members agreed that it would be good to take more time to develop one and that perhaps this could be developed through the Local Plan process. We shall have to wait and see whether the Authority delivers on this, but in the meantime it will be interesting to see whether this new position statement will have any impact on the current A27 study process.