Earlier this year we celebrated the news that Highways England had been told to drop plans for a northern A27 bypass around Chichester.
This would have impacted upon the South Downs National Park, caused substantial local economic harm and failed to address local transport needs. It was stopped after a strong local campaign called Chichester Deserves Better and representations by the Goodwood Estate.
Highways England wasn’t entirely to blame for the initial debacle around the northern bypass as it was encouraged by certain local politicians to pursue an alternative to upgrading the existing A27 to the south of the city. Having had this option shut down by its paymasters in London, it resorted to what it was meant to be doing, which was to produce options for upgrading the existing road.
The consultation on these options has just finished and in our response we refused to back any of them. This has been the case for many other people locally, not just because they don’t believe in building yet more roads but because there has been a political backlash against the options on offer, including the fact that a northern bypass wasn’t on the table.
Many people view the choices they have been given by Highways England as being ineffectual to highly damaging. The most vociferous residents though are those who live to the south of Chichester on the Manhood Peninsula and who view the current A27 as a major barrier to them getting in and out of the city. They are concerned about the impact of the current proposals and don’t believe anything other than a northern bypass will solve their problems.
It is a classic situation where two communities, with others caught in between, are opposing road expansion near them because of the damage it will do and in the process trying to push the road and the harm somewhere else. It shows that new roads are highly damaging, are generally unloved if close by and as we know already; rarely solve the problems that they are supposed to.
The problem facing local people is that there is nothing else on offer. There has been no serious attempt to look at other options along the south coast to serve as an alternative to upgrading the A27. While there are no silver bullets out there, far greater investment in walking, cycling and public transport (bus and rail) combined with good planning and demand management measures could improve things. But this if course is more complicated and a harder message to deliver than telling people that their problems will be solved with a new road. So of course politicians pick the easy message and back the road.
Yet it’s going to be interesting where Highways England goes from here, particularly if a majority of respondents don’t favour any of its options. It can hardly go back and suggest a northern bypass again, can it? Could it be that it will actually consider investing in non-road solutions as a possible third way – one that might not appease everyone but will upset people far less? We shall have to wait and see.
Read our full response to the consultation here.