A27 community scheme will not ‘rehash’ previous options

Chichester MP Gillian Keegan speaking at the Build a Better A27 community workshop
Chichester MP Gillian Keegan speaking at the Build a Better A27 community workshop

A community-led scheme for the A27 at Chichester will not attempt to rehash previous options and has to be innovative, the city’s MP has reiterated.

Both West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council have agreed to help work up options to improve the stretch of road, but have until the spring 2018 to present them to Highways England.

This was after £250m of funding was pulled by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in March as almost half of respondents rejected all the shortlisted consultation options.

Concerns were raised about the tight timescale for consultants to develop fresh options and the scope of the brief they will be given at the latest Build a Better A27 community workshop on Friday (December 1).

Gillian Keegan, MP for Chichester, told attendees even if the resulting scheme did secure funding in the RIS 2 period for 2020-25 the budget was unlikely to be much more than the original £250m.

She said: “We need more innovative approaches and do that within a budget.

“I’m not saying that’s easy, but if we rehash what we have got we will not get any further and we will get the same answer.”

She described how Highways England ‘knew they completely mishandled the whole communication’ and referring to the two northern options which were dropped at the last minute before the consultation began ‘carried on looking at an option we did not have the money for’.

Asked by Chichester mayor Peter Evans if a northern option had been ruled out, Mrs Keegan replied: “They [Highways England] did not say there were any no-go areas.”

She said there was ‘no point in us limiting the consultants or Highways England’, but added: “It’s going to be something we can live with that will do the job.”

One attendee suggested they would have to ‘face up eventually to some difficult decisions’, but Mrs Keegan said they would ‘make the right decision even if it’s a difficult decision’.

She hoped this time would be different as during the previous consultation as many residents had ‘lost trust in the process’.

As a consultant is not due to be appointed until the week before Christmas and a submission is needed by the end of April, several raised concerns about the tight timescales.

However Mrs Keegan said they did not need a full scheme but had to show Highways England they were ‘moving in the right direction’.

She added: “We need a sense of direction so I can lobby with something that is credible to get the money.”

Highways England was described as a ‘supertanker’ that the Chichester community was slowly trying to turn.

Louise Goldsmith, leader of the county council, described a recent meeting with the Government agency as ‘extremely collaborative and open’.

She said: “It’s absolutely vital the consultants have a fresh look, not taking off one of the old plans.”

She added: “I’m pretty sure it’s going to lead to something better than something we have had dumped on us time and time again.”

Both stressed the need for an option that was not a short-term scheme, while several people called for quick fixes to ease congestion now.

Christopher Page, a district councillor for North Mundham, suggested yellow boxes on some of the roundabouts as people from the Manhood Peninsular were ‘incarcerated because the traffic will not yield’.

Mrs Goldsmith explained a need for interim short-term measures on the A27 roundabouts was raised with Highways England.

Several speakers highlighted the importance of integrated transport planning and whether extra funding from other sources could be secured.

Others suggested the need for good data to back up a better cost to benefit ratio might help increase the scheme’s budget.

The brief prepared for the consultants was discussed with arguments for and against a more definitive budget and discussion about whether the scope should be more prescriptive.

Sarah Sharp, a Chichester city councillor, said: “I think it’s far more important we have got the outline vision for what sort of place we want to put over to our children and grandchildren.”

Once appointed the consultants’ work will be overseen by a working group of the county council’s South Chichester County Local Committee.