• Why tolerate Tarmac-geddon in the countryside?

    • Article in The Guardian by Patrick Barkham, 13.11.17 - click here to read onlineAlso published on paper as 'The Road to Rural Oblivion'.  Read Patrick's article below.  

      ABNC review of this article: 

      Nature journalist Patrick Barkham has 'grasped the nettle' here. The discovery by Mid Arun Valley Environmental Survey of the amazing biodiversity and habitat value of the area south and west of Arundel, which would be severely impacted by the two offline bypass routes, has become a national story. Many country-wide will be as shocked as Patrick that Highways England are looking at a major new road through a National Park landscape of this importance at all, let alone that they have presented a consultation on it on such a knowingly shoddy ecological impact assessment basis. The lack of regard to the biggest strategic issue of climate change is a national issue, as is the need to restructure the Roads Improvement Strategy agenda for traffic management rather than just building more and bigger roads to increase car use, dependency, and collateral damage.

      Like most motorists passing the West Sussex town of Arundel, I spent some time last week in a jam at Crossbush, one of the most bizarre road junctions ever. A child could design a better way of moving traffic into the single-carriageway A27.

      I then spent several hours in the countryside that grown-ups hope will alleviate this jam. Highways England proposes building a dual carriageway through a landscape filled with bluebells, orchids, historic hedgerows, a pond where a thousand toads gather in spring, and ancient trees where 13 of Britain’s 17 breeding bat species fly.

      Engineers are now deciding between three routes, all of which destroy precious water meadows and woodland (one option obliterates a massive 24 hectares), and pass through the South Downs National Park. Trees that have been alive since the Norman conquest have less legal protection than listed buildings, and ancient woodland – designated as over 400 years old – urgently needs specific legal protection. However, Arundel’s bypass illustrates the hazards in such “conservation” designations. They simply encourage developers to let rip on unprotected land.

      West Sussex county council favours the most southerly route, which avoids the largest incursions into the national park. But the bluebells don’t stop where woodland becomes less ancient. Nor do the rare bats, bees or butterflies. The whole of our countryside is greater than the sum of its parts, and new roads not only bring pollution – noise and light, as well as air – they fragment and isolate the species we share our world with.

      Are we prepared to trade such wealth – peace, space, clean air, dark skies, other species – for a road that will save motorists, at best, 10 minutes in 2041, before they hit the A27’s next pinch-point at Worthing or Chichester?

      I once asked for directions when I was lost and was told: “I wouldn’t start from here.” So, too, with utterly futile road-building, which only drives more traffic and more pollution.

      Start here instead: no new roads.

      No new roads doesn’t mean abandoning local residents to apocalyptic jams. A fraction of the £250m-plus Arundel bypass cost could build motorway-style junctions at bottlenecks such as Crossbush. Free-flowing 40mph traffic on the existing single-carriageway is less polluting than vanity bypasses.

      But a no-new-roads policy must persuade motorists such as me to use their cars less. Vehicles travelled 68bn miles on British motorways in the year to June, up by more than a third since the 1990s. This is disastrous for (almost) everyone.


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