A27 meeting is pointless when Highways England have rejected northern option
Your readers understandably may be confused by the utterances of Ms Goldsmith (WSCC) and others still pursuing a new northern bypass for Chichester when, to all but the meanest intelligence, the letter of refusal from Highways England, after exhaustive and professional assessment of the options put forward by WSCC and CDC, the matter is closed.
Neither option put forward under pressure from partisan interests in the Manhood peninsula, and not, as Ms Goldsmith stubbornly asserts, with the full support of the barely democratic BABA27 consultative forum, is viable from a cost, engineering or environmental point of view.
As Monty Python’s sketch so well puts it: “This parrot is dead.”
Where much heat has been generated, but not much light, is in the claim and counter-claim of the various players in this Alice-in-Wonderland game. There is a shortage of fact and a surplus of fantasy.
The facts can be summarised as:
Highways England (HE) never had a mandate for any Northern route option, because they had determined its non-viability even before the 2017 consultation process was launched. The public consultation of the five options offered by HE led to a majority in favour of improvement to the existing A27, a sizeable number wanting no major work done at all and a minority who supported option 2A, which would have benefitted the area south of Chichester most. WSCC rejected the £280m scheme that HE were prepared to implement and the Secretary of State then withdraw the offer.
He rightly observed that Chichester had no consensus which state, if a scheme were to be authorised, would have mired the area in dispute and legal wrangling for a decade or more. WSCC decided that an ersatz consultative body, BABA27, should wrestle with options prepared by French transport consultants SYSTRA – albeit given a small budget of £100k, enough for a ‘quick look’ but not for any credible engineering studies.
BABA27 was riven with dissent and, although browbeaten by Ms Goldsmith and her Southern place-men, failed to produce a clear mandate of any sort.
In the light of this ‘vacuum’ WSCC and, under similar pressure, CDC , went their own way and promoted the impossible dream of a Northern route, wrapped-up in a confection of so-called mitigation measures with upgrade to the extant A27 as a ‘poor second’ recommendation.
HE, after exhaustive re-consideration of both proposals have concluded that neither is viable or affordable. They have stated unambiguously there will be no funding for the A27 at Chichester in RIS2, although discussions can continue over minor improvements to the extant route in line with the perfectly sensible ideas espoused in CDC’s District Plan.
‘No’ does not mean ‘No’ to Ms Goldsmith who, in a bid to salvage her dreams from the car-crash of her strategy for the Northern option, proposes that all the ideas that would mitigate the environmental damage of the original scheme should be abandoned to save around ten per cent of the project cost in a creative bid to get the cost-benefit ratio to look better and thus qualify for funding.
This, in spite of the unequivocal statement by HE that nothing will induce them to undertake a Northern option. Ms Goldsmith, Mrs Keegan and Mr Dignum will sit down on January 25th they say to consider HE’s letter.
Tony Dignum has already signalled that he accepts that HE’s rejection of a Northern option is clear and definitive.
So what will this meeting accomplish? Mrs Keegan cannot go into bat at the Department for Transport in the absence of an HE approved scheme, leaving Ms Goldsmith and her partisans high-and-dry.
That the leader of WSCC can live in a fantasy world populated by crocs of gold funding armies of civil engineers digging up the Sussex downland and vandalising Goodwood’s invaluable enterprise, suggests that she should consider her position very carefully.
The fact that she continues to dig the hole when it is already treacherously deep suggests that she may not be a free agent in the matter.
It would be good for the whole community if her militant faction found other outlets for their energies.
Gavin Barrett, Member of the A27 Alliance and Summersdale Residents’ Association, Summersdale, Chichester
Reader letters special: A27 debate a hot topic