A crucial meeting of the community to drive forward a plan to improve the A27 around Chichester ‘dissolved into farce’ and bitter recriminations this evening (Monday).
After the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling earlier this year dramatically axed the funding for improvements to the congested stretch of road, a series of community-based workshops had been established to try to find a common way forward that all residents could sign up to.
Led by West Sussex County Council the process culminated in a special meeting at Chichester College – but rapidly disintegrated as it was revealed toward the end of the session that there was a September deadline to agree an approach and secure the £300m central funding.
At the outset earlier this year, residents had been promised a blank sheet of paper with no options ruled out – including a northern bypass – after a consultation rejected all the options put forward by Highways England.
But this evening, as the deadline was revealed the leader of Chichester District Council Tony Dignum announced that he already had a new plan – a variation of ‘option 2’ which followed the existing route.
He said: “I am not prepared to say to my residents that we are going to kiss goodbye to the possibility of getting £250million to put up with 13 years at least of increasing congestion.”
Angry attendees demanded to know why they had not been told of the September cut-off date until five minutes before the scheduled end of the meeting as opinions became sharply divided on whether the plan was acceptable or even admissable given it had not originated from any of the community workshops.
Chichester city cllr Peter Evans said: “To suddenly find that we’ve been given a quite frankly ridculous timescale to September 2017 and then to be confronted with a solution, the very thing we said we wouldn’t do, somebody has tabled a solution and said this is what you will do or you will lose it [the funding] – we should not as a community be bulldozered into a solution.”
Shouts and disgruntled murmers left the civilised atmosphere in tatters as attendees in turns proclaimed cllr Dignum’s idea as ‘realistic’ in light of budget issues or ‘undemocratic’ and an ‘insult’ to several months of collaborative effort.
Chichester MP Gillian Keegan said she was happy to go back to the Department for Transport and negotiate for more time, but she needed to have a date to argue for.
She said: “We have can’t take forever, because clearly the process has taken a long time already.
“The question would be is there a solution that we can unite around and that’s still the outstanding question and which we need this consultant to help us with and I don’t know what the timescale is.”
Mrs Keegan’s request remained unanswered by the end of the meeting.
On leaving, one attendee said the meeting had ‘dissolved into farce’.