The Build a Better A27 group put tough questions to consultants this evening on the two concepts being put forward for Chichester’s A27.
Disruption during construction, rapid population growth and designs for flyovers were key points of discussion at the meeting of community representatives.
It was the last community meeting ahead of the county and district councils’ decisions in June, which will form the basis of a proposal to Highways England.
Consultants SYSTRA, hired by the county council, has put forward two concepts, a mitigated northern bypass or a full south online concept, following the existing route.
The northern route may or may not intersect the A286 and would be designed so as to minimise the impact on the landscape.
The ‘full south’ concept would include upgrades to all A27 junctions, with flyovers at the Whyke and Bognor roundabouts and underpasses at Stockbridge and Fishbourne.
Meeting co-ordinator Ash Patel assured the meeting that Highways England was now prepared to consider offline routes, such as a northern bypass.
Highways England’s absence at the meeting was attributed to an administrative error, although MP Gillian Keegan later told the Observer she was ‘disappointed’ as officials had told her they had been planning to attend earlier this week.
Taking questions from the floor on the two concepts, SYSTRA representative Dave Carter was asked about potential disruption during years of construction works to the existing southern route.
Mr Carter said he could see how confidence ‘may have been lost’.
He said: “It is real challenge. We’re much better doing online road construction improvements than we used to be.
“There are techniques but there’s no doubt that the disruption during construction would be significant.”
He said it would be a key factor in Highways England’s costing appraisal at a later stage.
He added that ensuring sufficient mitigation for the northern route concept would also be a challenge.
Other attendees were concerned about the longevity or impact of the concepts in light of planned housing expansion, particularly in Bognor.
Mr Carter said that any road plan would have to have a detailed 60 year report and account for ‘uncertainty’ in the area, such as potential in the very long term for development on the Manhood Peninsula.
City councillor Sarah Sharp was concerned at how community consensus could be reached if BABA27 group members did not have much information on either concept to share with the people they represented.
She said: “We don’t know where the northern route is or where the flyover is in Whyke.
“And then there’s the timetable for a quick decision. It seems to me that they’re going to have to make a decision between these two concepts without very much information.
“These two concepts seem to be putting this north south divide back on the table, how do we deal with that?”
Members of the BABA27 group were not asked to vote on either concept and Mr Carter stressed the survey results, due to be published in the Observer next week, would also not be taken as a vote or ‘counted up’.
Instead, attendees were asked to choose between four different approaches to the next stage for elected bodies to follow: Ask for one prefered concept; present both as equal options, put forward a prefered concept with one in reserve, or choose neither.
Mr Patel said Highways England would then conduct a £2.5million appraisal and detailed work on what was put to them by elected representatives, with the final decision after a ‘full public consultation’.
Whether funding is granted in the next round of government schemes in autumn 2019 will be up to the Secretary of State.
Leader of West Sussex County Council Louise Goldsmith closed the meeting by thanking all those who had taken part in the process for their commitment.
She said: “I think West Sussex and Chichester are unique in what we’ve done and I think perhaps this may be one of the ways we should have consultation in the future.
“Build a road and you build contention. You will always have one side, two sides, but the A27 in Chichester polarises more than anything I’ve ever seen but hey we’re still in the room, we’re still talking.”
For three pages of analysis on the SYSTRA report and an interview with Louise Goldsmith, see this week’s Observer, in print now.