In this guest blog, Chris Bicknell guides our readers through some of the issues explored by other writers on our webpage ‘The Case against a Big Bypass’.
Highways England is out of date on traffic data, climate change and transport alternatives
What stands out when sifting through Highways England (HE)’s somewhat impenetrable ‘Environmental Impact Assessment Scoping Report’, is that supposed legitimacy of the disastrous ‘grey’ route still seems to be based on traffic data from a 2015 feasibility study – a report which is clearly outdated .
New traffic studies have now been promised by HE, but this admission is not communicated within the scoping report. The DfT’s own ‘Traffic analysis guidance’ for 2020 points towards updates for modelling and appraisal methods of schemes . Yet specific details of implementing these have been postponed, leaving a messy situation that seems to allow for the justification of using data that is six years old.
We know that contexts are continuing to shift dramatically in relation to climate change. National and international pressure is mounting on the UK government to rethink its relentless drive for infrastructure projects which sit in discord with legally binding targets to achieve net-zero by 2050. Key global figures suggest that COP26 will fail unless priority is given to the climate . Choosing the longest and most expensive route is surely at odds with this. Point five of the government’s ambitious ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ states:
‘we must increase the share of journeys taken by public transport, cycling and walking.’ 
HE briefly dismisses bus and rail improvement options in their public consultations and announcements. On the surface, this seems understandable – modes of travel for the area are of course deeply skewed towards car use. Why though is policy being based on outdated information to somehow ‘predict’ future traffic trends, rather than focussing on how congestion and air quality could be improved through Arundel without decimating local environments and contributing to the inevitable blowing of the UK’s carbon budget?
Highways England is failing to adopt more practical solutions
The ‘Arundel alternative’ is a good compromise here . It would help to alleviate the major pinch points through Arundel, while allowing for resources to be channelled into improving traffic flow in resource-efficient ways which preserve green space.
Electric vehicle transition cannot be used as an excuse for not implementing further action. It’s widely recognised that a 2030 ban on new vehicles powered by fossil fuels will not be enough to meet climate targets . Bigger picture thinking is clearly needed. Covid-19 has shown that working from home, while not necessarily being ‘the new normal’, is undoubtedly here to stay in some significant form. Add technology developments to this and we can start to imagine what is possible:
- further decentralisation of workplaces, with advances in communication technology allowing for more and more to be done remotely.
- home delivery methods becoming more efficient, with aerial corridors for drones likely becoming a future reality.
- novel ways to shift more freight away from roads.
- the advent of driverless cars and car sharing schemes.
- technology to allow for dispersion of traffic at different times of day.
- incentives not to make individual journeys.
The list could go on. These are not idealistic fantasies, either, but practical solutions. It is ludicrous to suggest that we cannot focus on greener ways to solve problems.
Highways England is failing to admit and act on the true costs of the Grey Route
The already exorbitant cost of grey will go far beyond current estimations when new guidance is actively considered. Including Natural capital into accounting systems is gaining massive traction, most notably in the government commissioned ‘Dasgupta review’ . Plans to consult on the introduction of ‘Ecosystem services’ will also far better recognise cultural, historic, landscape and biodiversity impacts. What constitutes ‘value’ is transforming, and grey is clearly not a price worth paying.
In a 2018 review, the DfT accepts that the notion of ‘induced traffic’ does exist in some form . So even if traffic levels do continue to rise, the mix of economic, population and housing growth will present a vicious cycle which exacerbates future problems. Acknowledgement of this by HE is also lacking, however.
Highways England is failing to account for severance impacts on wildlife and landscape
News of the desperate state of the UK’s woodlands and wildlife simply adds to the absurdity of grey. The Woodland Trust points out that tree-planting cannot replace the wildlife that depends on what is lost . Yes, the route very narrowly avoids the national park. But the simple fact is that natural systems do not have ‘boundaries’. Natural England recognises this, as do the Sussex Wildlife Trust, who stated in 2019 that all route options would ‘permanently sever our natural environment’ . Mitigation is of course a hugely important consideration for any development, but no amount of it can account for the interconnectedness of nature. Using it to justify decisions that should never have been allowed in the first place is playing a very dangerous game.
The need for legislative compliance may seem like a logical step in procuring project success from those who are now supporting grey. However, in trying to achieve this by circumventing the South Downs National Park, the most damaging option was proposed.
Can the voice of reason halt the road-builders’ runaway juggernaut?
The continued self-regulation by HE effectively means a lack of accountability. It’s exactly this type of top-down decision-making – subsequently dressed-up as a highly engaging and flexible process – which continues to overwhelm the public, very few of whom wanted Grey in the first place.
The fact that Grant Shapps has dismissed the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendations on nationally significant infrastructure projects three times in recent months should surprise few. But the inherent danger here is clear; it shows that we cannot be confident that even the project’s rejection by the Planning Inspectorate will prevent construction.
Now is clearly the time to make the voice of reason heard louder than ever. The ‘necessity’ of an offline bypass option is a fallacy – it should never be too late to put a halt to an inherently bad decision.
Chris Bicknell is based in Pulborough and engaged in Environmental Management research