I had always thought that in a constitutional sense the letters ‘MP’ stood for Member of Parliament. Someone who would represent the people of a constituency in the House of Commons and across various Government Departments with their concerns when the constituents had a legitimate and justifiable reason for doing so.
Well, it would seem that I am wrong given that in the case of the Arundel and South Downs MP, Andrew Griffith, when asked for his support, the acronym ‘MP’ appears to stand for ‘Missing Politician.’ Concerned by this, I am writing to the people of West Sussex in the hope that together we might be able to find him. Let me explain why I need this help.
Many - if not all- of the public in West Sussex will have at one time or another been stuck in traffic jams at Arundel due to the 2-mile single carriage-way passing around the Town centre, its numerous junctions and high volumes of local and pass-thru traffic. Many people also have to endure the traffic congestion on either side of Arundel on a daily basis that is at its worst in the morning and evening rush hours. It has been a problem for far too long now and a solution is long overdue.
So, you would think that with the announcement from National Highways of their intention to build a new 5 mile dual-carriageway to the south of Arundel that will link the existing A27 at Crosssbush to the existing A27 just short of the Fontwell East roundabout, everyone would be happy. But you would be wrong.
Prior to announcing the Grey route as National Highways preferred option, it is true that 7% of the public when polled did give their support to the Grey route, but 93% voted for one of the other options (5 other route options and a ‘Do Nothing’ option) were offered in which the Grey route came out as the 5th most popular choice. Given the daily traffic challenges at Arundel some may even be surprised by the fact that 25% of the public voted for the ‘Do Nothing’ option.
The ’Do-nothing’ response is not necessarily that big a surprise given the environmental damage the proposed route will do to the Arun valley along with the significant negative impact on the communities at Tortington, Binsted and Walberton as well as costing the Taxpayer an ‘arm and a leg’ for its construction. The current costs stand at £400 million, but it could be very much higher. It is a cost that is completely unnecessary and avoidable as much cheaper and better options exist and it exceeds the budget of £250 million.
To put this into a wider context: It is also a figure that dwarfs the budget of £20 million set aside for the comparable traffic challenges down the road at Worthing, and while the Government continues to talk about the problems along the wider A27-corridor, there is currently no firm budget or plans to address the traffic capacity issues on the A27 at Fontwell and onwards through to the west of Chichester that continue to get worse.
Some may also argue that without a ‘joined-up’ A27-corridor plan, the problems (e.g., shunts, congestion) at one location (e.g., Arundel) will only be kicked down the road to another location (e.g., Fontwell and the western villages and eastward to Worthing.) And they would be right. It is inexplicable, crazy in fact to spend £400 million (and possibly more) without a ‘joined-up’ plan and to move the existing problems to another location, and at the same time so negatively impact the people of the western villages and destroy 5 miles of the Arun valley. It could be decades before anything meaningful is done at these other congested locations.
When you throw in the lack of any meaningful (and I should also add validated) traffic and economic benefits, and while better solutions exist at a fraction of the costs of Grey you start to get a sense for just some of the reasons why 25% of the public voted for the ‘Do-Nothing’ option and why it only got 7% of the public vote. The current return for each £1 spent is £1.37. A reasonable return for each £1 spent is £2.50. Other solutions dismissed by National Highways deliver an even much better return and value-for-money and with less destruction.
When you try to ask National Highways to justify their support for the Grey route including seeking further validation on construction costs along with traffic and economic benefits, it is a bit like asking Boris if he knew going to a party during the Covid pandemic was not the best thing to do.
When National Highways do respond, their answers are so high-level they are devoid of any meaningful information. This is not altogether a surprise given National Highways enjoy full autonomy in just about everything they do. For most of the development life-cycle of a new road project National Highways are not subject to any form of proper scrutiny until right at the end. At which point, it is more often than not far too late as it is a done deal.
While the DfT are kept informed of what is going on, they leave things pretty much to National Highways who go about their business unabated. Other regulators such as the Office for Road and Rail (ORR) and the National Audit Office (NAO) - who you would like to think are involved to ensure taxpayer money is being spent wisely - do not get involved in any part of a newly proposed road scheme. So, National Highways are, in the main, self-regulating and while they need to be seen to be engaging with the public, the truth is that they are indifferent and dismissive of public opinion and are not averse to providing misleading statements in order to gain support for their own agenda.
National Highways would have the public believe that without the ‘Super-Highway’ running around Arundel, there will be 55,000 accidents over a 60-year period. That is 18 accidents each week over 60 years! The current accident rate is 0.4 accidents per week over a 60-year period. Given the lack of openness and honesty that is in the DNA of National Highways and given the lack of any robust independent scrutiny of their proposals, how else is it possible for the public to ensure its wishes and concerns would be seriously considered in what is not a very public-centric process?
One course of action would be to engage and reach out to the local Arundel and South Downs MP, Andrew Griffith. Who better to get local concerns and issues appropriately aired at the very heart of Central Government. Especially when Mr Griffith is someone who had previously voted against the preferred route when other options were available and who has stated that he has consistently expressed his disappointment in the decision to select the Grey route.
Therefore, on behalf of his constituents and the 6000 who signed the anti-grey petition who could see right through National Highways half-truths on the scheme (for example on Journey time savings) as well as the whole travesty and injustice of the proposed solution, I sought Mr Griffith’s help and support. So, we sent him an email and asked if he would make the following representations at Central Government:
- To make the Secretary of State for Transport aware of the strength and depth of public feeling against this scheme and concerns about the integrity and openness of the whole process.
- To raise with the Commons ‘Public Select Committee’ the publics concerns that this scheme does not represent good use of public money.
This plea for his help was requested in mid-July. After a number of chasing emails, here we at the start of October and there has not been a single reply. Not even a message to say, “I am a bit busy right now, but I will get back to you soon!” Hence why Mr Griffith is an MP, a ‘Missing Politician’ as far as a large chunk of his constituents are concerned and as a consequence, he is arguably not fully performing his day job. Perhaps there is a very good reason for this. It is, however, a concern that he is a ‘MP’.
So, if anyone knows of another way to contact Mr Griffith, perhaps you could remind him, he has many disgruntled constituents and let him know that it might be wise to spend some time supporting their very justifiable pleas for help before he does anything else. And especially before he starts to canvass them for their support at the next General Election which might be sooner than he thinks!
As for National Highways, well without intervention by other politicians, the DfT or other Regulators, they will be left to press on regardless and take forward the most-costly option, most unaffordable, most environmentally and community destructive scheme and a highly unpopular option to the National Planning Inspectorate for approval between now and the end of this year.
But with the public’s help, I am hoping that we can find the ‘Missing Politician’ who will then put forward the concerns and wishes of the majority of the public to the Secretary of State for Transport. And ultimately the DfT will steer National Highways to the most appropriate solution and in doing so avoid us all paying extra taxes for an overly expensive ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ solution that most people do not want.
Guest blog by Mr Peter Hammond, October, 2022