The meeting of ‘stakeholders’ with Highways England and Parsons Brinckerhoff representatives, at the Avisford Hilton on 12 May 2016, was a frustrating exercise. No new information about routes was provided, only a lot of talk based on slides, some in small type difficult to read even from near the front of the room, about the process of choosing a route and building the road. 54% of attendees evaluated the meeting as "Not Very Useful".
A ‘table exercise’ allowed us to draw coloured lines on maps of the status quo to illustrate rat-runs, walkers’ and cyclists’ routes, and blue for ‘problems’. We were encouraged to jot suggestions on to Post-it notes about how the public consultation should be run. These were collected and no doubt will be photographed as evidence of the consultants’ ‘engagement with the public’.
It became clear, from presentations by Highways England and their consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff, that choosing the options for the Public Consultation would be based on outdated or incomplete information:
Traffic flows: One questioner asked if choosing the options would be based on up to date traffic flow information – specifically, whether the information will include changes caused by the opening of the Bognor Regis Relief Road in March 2016. Answer: no, the decision will be based on 2015 information.
Induced traffic: This concept is now accepted by the government, but information on it will not be included in the decision on which options to choose for the Public Consultation. We were told that it would not be ‘Value for Money’ to do that at the Options Identification Stage, but it will be done after the options have been chosen.
Ecological data: Only baseline data and walkovers would be considered at the options identification stage. Surveys, for protected species such as bats which might suffer habitat severance from some options, would also not be conducted till later.
Another unsatisfactory fact that emerged was that Highways England and Parsons Brinckerhoff appear to be working on the basis that an offline bypass is the only solution that will meet their remit, so they are only including references to the part-online Purple route ‘for purposes of comparison’ - to provide evidence of value for money of the offline options and presumably to avoid legal challenges. The Parsons Brinckerhoff spokesman gave, as another justification for this limited focus, that the online option had been dismissed by the Feasibility Study on grounds of cost of achieving gradients for high speed travel by tunnelling or a deep cutting; but he did not respond to the point that a reduced-speed section, whilst maintaining flow, would not require the same gradient standards.
In fact the Roads Investment Strategy (RIS) does not specify an offline bypass, only 'a bypass'. Highways England and Parsons Brinckerhoff need to recognize that a partly online option which includes a bypass of the existing bypass, and of most of the pinch points whose effect on traffic flow is cumulative, comes within their remit and must be seriously considered as a potential Preferred Option, against offline options which are much more damaging.
Many thanks, therefore, to Councillor Norman Dingemans, who suggested that it would be helpful to at least eliminate the most damaging offline option, through Binsted Village. He pointed out to the meeting that the most damaging options have now been cancelled at Chichester and Worthing, and asked if the most damaging option at Arundel, sweeping far out into the countryside through Binsted, could now be cancelled. This would simplify the process going forward and relieve blight. The answer was obscure and unhelpful - something like ‘at the planning stage we have to be resilient in what we are offering’. But:
- Walberton Parish Council has recently written to Highways England asking for the Binsted option to be dropped; and
- ABNC will in the near future present Highways England with an extended Evidence Report demonstrating substantial planning grounds for Councillor Dingemans' and Walberton Parish Council's proposal.
Since the Faber Maunsell map of the Binsted option was produced (2006), many new planning policies have been written to protect historic landscapes, and conserve the Special Qualities of the South Downs National Park (created 2011). Roughly half of the old Binsted Parish, and 10 of its 38 houses, are within the National Park; these policies apply to the landscape and community of Binsted, which straddles the boundary.
Highways England's Draft Scheme Objectives now include ‘have regard to the purposes and special qualities of the National Park…in designing and evaluating improvement options’. We must all hold them to that.