Meetings and protests in Sussex last week show the public wants better buses not bigger roads, writes CPRE Sussex Director, Georgia Wrighton.
One could be forgiven for thinking that ‘the only game in town’ for addressing improvements on the A27 east of Lewes is a major new dual carriageway carving a scar through unspoilt Low Weald countryside and devastating views from the South Downs National Park. And what of the Long Man of Wilmington?- if lobbyists have their way, the new road could be just a mile from the Ancient Monument, and visible and audible from it.
Some would have us believe that we need to swallow the ‘bitter pill’ of new road infrastructure of the kind emerging out of government A27 Feasibility workshops. It is the brave way forward for economic health in the area, we are told, and we need to grasp the nettle or be branded as NIMBYS.
Well, it became apparent to the 100 or so people who attended a Campaign to Protect Rural England (Sussex) public meeting in Polegate last Saturday (8 November) that plans for damaging new roads west of Polegate are firmly on the table without convincing economic evidence or traffic demand data to back them up.
Local people were left wondering how on earth such a devastating blow to the countryside could be hurled at an unsuspecting public, who until that meeting were blissfully unaware of the blunt instrument that could strike in their name.
Traffic on the A27 between Polegate and Lewes has not increased in the last 10 years. Instead there has been increasing use of the rail service, and access could be improved to meet demand.
A public information sign posted on the A27 just outside Lewes reminds us of the direct rail link option between Lewes and Eastbourne. Surely we need to get the best out of the perfectly good rail link that we’ve already got. Is it really good housekeeping to throw hundreds of millions of pounds at a ‘road to nowhere’? Whose interests will this really serve?
Our public meeting learnt how safety and accident concerns on the A27 could be addressed by junction improvements already planned, except that the fate of those junction improvements was apparently flung out of the equation and apparently not sexy enough to qualify as grand political gestures postured at solving ‘the problem’. Neither was investment in rail such as Willingdon Chord a charming enough proposition to satisfy those baying for tarmac and concrete across our precious countryside.
Local people learnt of protests that same day against bus service cuts in East Sussex, when surely investment in public transport is the responsible way to better connect Sussex and safeguard all our futures. Do we want to trash our countryside heritage and increase choking, noisy traffic into our villages and towns, or make it easier for everyone to get around ‘lightly’ with the health of this and the next generation in mind? Isn’t futureproofing business about access to jobs for all of the vast talent Sussex has to offer, not just those with cars, and about securing resources for the economic health of everyone? Has the value of our beautiful countryside and historic villages been wiped off the balance sheet?
CPRE Sussex is part of South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment (SCATE)