NICK HERBERT: Authority ignoring environmental benefit
I am appalled by the South Downs National Park Authority's decision to seek a judicial review of Highways England's selection of a preferred route for the Arundel bypass.
I believe that most local people who desperately want a bypass will be infuriated that an unelected quango is using taxpayers’ money to try to frustrate a careful planning process that has already taken years and a route option which is supported by all the major elected councils.
Despite repeated pleas to be balanced in its consideration, the park authority continues to ignore the obvious environmental benefit of a bypass that will take traffic away from the national park and downland villages.
The existing route of the A27 goes through the national park at Arundel, while the bypass will go through a shorter section at the very bottom.
The authority does not have a veto over the bypass, and there is no good reason to attempt to pre-empt a statutory public consultation and scrutiny by the independent Planning Inspectorate.
The authority called the meeting with just a week’s notice, and the public were excluded from it. They should now tell us how much their legal action will cost.
I will be raising this use of public funds, and the role of the authority, with ministers and in the House of Commons.
When the South Downs – already an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – were controversially being considered for national park status, concern was expressed that a park authority would be unaccountable to local people.
This democratic deficit, and how public funds are being used, are issues which the Government’s review of national parks – announced on Sunday – should consider.
It is a modern malaise that so many official decisions are now routinely challenged in the courts. Opponents always claim there is some flaw in the process, but in truth they just do not like the decision.
However, nationally significant infrastructure is now decided by a special planning procedure, the Development Consent Order, which sets a timetable for taking the decisions.
I do not believe the bypass – work on which is due to begin in 2020 – will be prevented or delayed, because ultimately the case for it is so strong.
You can find further information, including the highlights of my diary each week, on my website: www.nickherbert.com.
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