The future of Sussex, and the South Downs National Park, hangs in the balance.
Highways England have briefed local authorities, confidentially, that they are considering proposing a Chichester Northern Bypass as the likely Preferred Option; to consult on this early in 2016 and to take the decision in summer 2016.
A. Why is this a threat to Sussex?
If a high speed expressway bypass is created on the National Park side of Chichester, rather than to the south, the impacts on the National Park and its setting, in the vicinity of Chichester, will be multiple and severe. Detailed analyses will follow. The proposal will surely be vigorously opposed, by all concerned with the National Park and local countryside, on the grounds of local impacts.
But there is also a broader strategic aspect to be considered. A 70mph Chichester throughpass would open the way for a Hampshire style A27(M) to be driven on eastwards through Sussex. The major cumulative impact of this on the National Park would extend far beyond the local impact. Pressure would inevitably follow for:
- a flyover on the A29/A27 junction at Fontwell
- a major offline bypass through National Park and bordering countryside at Arundel
- a downland bypass at Worthing (where the Park is only 3 miles wide), and
- revival of higher-impact proposals east of Lewes.
B. Why is this a threat to the National Park and its setting in Sussex?
1. Major new offline roads proposals will severely damage landscape traversed by their routes such as farmland, long views, watermeadows, ancient woodland.
2. It is a key feature of the strategic expressway concept that long distance strategic through traffic (a minority use of the Sussex A27) should be prioritised over local traffic (the majority use of the Sussex A27). Highways England admit they did not take account of induced traffic in the A27 Feasibility Study. Induced traffic would include, on the new high speed road:
- extra inter-county traffic (including drawn down from M25).
- extra inter-town commuter traffic, as faster speeds mean commuters accept longer distances between home and work.
3. The strategic expressway concept also requires local connections to be fewer and further between, in order to achieve 70mph fully dualled standard. This means:
- Traffic travelling between the National Park and the A27 will have to travel further to the remaining access or crossing points. They will have more traffic per access point, and have to queue for longer to get on to a faster road.
- Some businesses and recreational venues within the National Park dependent on direct access to the A27 will effectively be severed from it and become unviable.
- Communities and countryside either side of the A27 will suffer increased severance.
- Higher speed travel (as opposed to improvement in flow at lower speeds) means more noise, air and light pollution impacts on the Park, countryside, and communities.
C. Does it really matter, so long as routes are just outside or only just inside the Park boundary?
Highways England proposals for major new route developments in Sussex are contrary to government policy unless they ‘avoid the Parks’ (English National Parks and the Broads – UK Government Vision and Circular 2010). What does it mean to ‘avoid the Parks’?
- The same document clarifies that being just outside the boundary is not the same thing as avoiding the Parks: “Major development in or adjacent to the boundary of a Park can have a significant impact on the qualities for which they were designated” (para 31).
- The Autumn 2015 SDNPA ‘Duty to Cooperate’ document thus correctly says that “any development in or near to the National Park has the potential to cause harm to the landscape both individually and cumulatively”(4.6); and “Development both within and outside the National Park has the potential to create further cumulative impact on the landscape and amenity of the National Park and is a key cross boundary strategic issue”(4.7).
- Also in accordance with the 2010 policy is the Autumn 2015 SDNPA Draft Local Plan, which aims to “ensure that development outside of the National Park does not have a detrimental impact on its setting or otherwise prejudice the achievement of the National Park purposes”(ch.5). It seeks to counteract “the isolating effects of major roads and railways”(6.27); and notes that where “activities outside the boundary may have an impact within it, in such cases the relevant authorities will be required to take account of the National Park’s purposes and duty”(5.23).
Both national and local Policies have recognized that skirting a National Park boundary, with major developments such as high speed new roads, can be as unacceptable as traversing the Park.
D. Are Highways England taking a quick-and-dirty approach to a north Chichester route?
Spring 2016 consultation and Summer 2016 decision on a major new road development north of Chichester contrasts with the other A27 Sections where the consultation is spring 2017, decision autumn 2017. Why the rush?
The timescale, and absence of even the minimal stakeholder consultation given to the other sections through the A27 Feasibility Study Process, were perhaps acceptable when it was understood that only online junction improvements on the south side of Chichester were on the table. But now, a major new through road is proposed alongside the Park.
This leaves local people and environmental organisations, and presumably also the Park Authority, very little time to gather local knowledge and carry out detailed impact analyses on this option. Even just in the Chichester area, the impacts on major cross-boundary farms and businesses would be severe; to name but one example, there would inevitably be severe impacts on very popular recreational events offered by the Goodwood Estate, a great flagship of the Park in Sussex.
The current HE approach suggests inadequate regard to policies and guidance for the protection of National Parks (a legal obligation under Section 11A of the 1949 Act & section 17A of the 1988 Act). No disrespect to Highways England or their consultants, who like the rest of us have a difficult job to do with limited resources amongst considerable practical constraints. But on the face of it, “quick-and-dirty” does not seem an unfair description.
Despite the protests of those to whom one more 15-minute delay would be the last straw; we should welcome it if Highways England were to reconsider, and to adopt a more measured timescale for public consultation, on a project of such consequence.
E. Is there a different strategic approach to traffic in Sussex which can conserve and enhance the National Park and its setting in Sussex for the future, whilst resolving unacceptable delays?
Yes. I started by saying that the future of Sussex and this part of the South Downs National Park hangs in the balance.
- It will be clear from the above that I believe the Park’s success and that of Sussex would ultimately be destroyed by the growth of an A27 Expressway - starting with a Chichester North Bypass, a flyover at Fontwell, a major new offline bypass through beautiful historic countryside and productive farmland at Arundel, a downland bypass through the narrowest section of the Park at Worthing-Lancing, and major new routes east of Lewes.
- Conversely I believe that the Park’s potential for success and that of Sussex will be promoted by more intermediate improvements - focussed on reducing queuing and increasing journeytime predictability, rather than on achieving highest possible design speed limits throughout.
Here is one such viable approach, for better management of traffic within and through Sussex:
Proportionate measures to address A27 pinch points
Such as: below-70mph limits wherever needed for optimum traffic flow or impact reduction; online junction improvements at Chichester; traffic lights and roundabouts where needed to enable major new housing development traffic to get on and off the A27 (eg as proposed at Fontwell); a mostly-online solution from a new railway bridge at Arundel travelling max 50mph past the town with severance mitigation measures, as proposed by the Arundel-based ASCATE group; online improvements as proposed in the A27 Feasibility Study for the Worthing-Lancing section; and online improvements where needed to minimise queuing (but not requiring 70mph standards) east of Lewes.
This approach needs to be combined with:
Joined-up thinking that looks beyond the A27
Between Chichester and Worthing, the developed A259 is on the verge of becoming a major conduit, but A27 studies have failed to consider them together. The DfT travel hierarchy has not been given more than token consideration because it is outside the remit of Highways England.
Strategic 21st century solutions
Within 10 years road pricing, journey pricing, and intelligent signage and management of journey choices (routes, timing), will have a dramatic impact on traffic flow management. This approach, combined with the above, will deliver the best long term strategy for Sussex transport.
A strategic approach such as the above will avoid the terrible waste of natural and financial resources, and the disaster for the National Park and its setting in Sussex, that would follow from the adoption of an A27 Expressway strategy in Sussex.
F. The Chichester North Bypass is the Rubicon.
If a 70mph throughpass is built around the National Park side of Chichester, the National Park in that area and its countryside setting and relationship to Chichester will be irretrievably damaged. And almost inevitably the rest of Sussex will become a layby beside a motorway, section by section as and when the money can be found.
We have a choice. Whether as a Partner of the National Park; as a businessman employing several hundred people; as a farmer; or as a local resident; my choice is to improve the pinch points that impair traffic flow, but NOT to build an expressway through Sussex.
What is your choice? And what will you do to help make it happen?
- Keep informed on Chichester issues through the Chichester Deserves Better website
- Join the Chichester Deserves Better Facebook Group
- Follow the Chichester Deserves Better Facebook Page