Deaths on A27 prove need for footbridge

The lives of two men who died crossing the A27 could have been saved had plans to build a footbridge not been scrapped, a homeless charity has said.

The Highways Agency unveiled plans in 2009 for a £2m footbridge at the Whyke roundabout, but at the end of 2010 it became clear the plans would not be on the priority funding list.

The route across the roundabout is a well-trodden path for the homeless community as they make their way to and from St Joseph’s Nightshelter in Hunston.

One of the men was on his way there when he died, while the second was walking back to his nearby tent where he lived.

Chief executive of the charity Stonepillow which runs the shelter, Sylvie Johnston, said: “We know in Chichester we have up to 20 people who are going to make their way here every day.

“There are bridges at the Donnington and Bognor roundabouts, why isn’t there a bridge at Hunston?

“Some people have been arguing they could have crossed at another bridge, you cannot do that because the path is on the other side of the A27.”

The first accident happened on December 2, when Sigitas Juozapaitis, 54, a Lithuanian national, was hit by a Ford Transit at the roundabout.

Three days later, on December 5, 39-year-old Kenneth Sherwood was killed when he was hit by a green Mazda MX5 just west of the roundabout.

After the accidents, staff at the shelter handed out a few high-visibility vests to clients, an idea which the police and local businesses have backed.

Inspector Kris Ottery from the neighbourhood response team said: “We have talked to the homeless community about the dangers of crossing the main A27 road between the Whyke and Stockbridge roundabouts.

“Thanks to the generosity of Covers, Halfords, Homebase, Jewsons and Tesco, we have been able to provide fluorescent jackets that will make a big difference to them being seen by drivers.

“Additionally, I would urge motorists using roads anywhere in the district at this time of year to pay especial attention to other road-users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists, who themselves should take every possible precaution to make sure they are highly visible at all times.”

Mrs Johnston said it should not matter that the men were homeless, or had been drinking,

“Every human life should be valued,” she said.

“It’s really comforting to know the community is getting together to provide a solution, but it’s a short-term solution.

“It has a huge effect on our staff who have built relationships with our clients.”

Co-chairman of the Whyke Estate Community Association, Steven Taylor, said the deaths could have been avoided had the bridge been built.

“This death has provided the sad proof that the need which had been identified for this crossing point was entirely genuine,” he said.

“There was no satisfactory explanation as to why it never went ahead, apart from a vague statement about how bureaucratic foot-dragging had delayed it beyond the time limit for it to be included in the budget.”

A spokesperson from the Highways Agency said: “Safety is a top priority for the Highways Agency and we work tirelessly to ensure that our road network remains among the safest in the world.

“The Agency has drawn up plans for a footbridge over the A27 near Chichester and we hope that funds will be available in the next financial year.”