Calls for South Downs chair to resign over A27 Arundel bypass stance

Margaret Paren, chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, pictured in 2014
Margaret Paren, chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, pictured in 2014

The chair of the South Downs National Park should resign over the authority’s legal challenge to a new A27 Arundel bypass, according to one councillor.

Back in May Highways England revealed a tweaked version of 5a was the option it had chosen after months of consultation.

The route has divided opinion as many have welcomed the £250m investment but others have opposed the environmental impact of the proposed scheme.

The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) is pressing for a judicial review of Highways England’s decision.

But last Wednesday Arun district councillors voted unanimously to call on the SDNPA to stop pursuing a High Court challenge and instead work constructively with other local authorities to deliver environmental quality and traffic flow improvements.

During the debate Paul Dendle (Con, Arundel and Walberton) called for Margaret Paren, chair of the national park authority, to resign over the stance taken on a new Arundel bypass.

He suggested the boundary of the national park could easily have been the existing A27 and felt more consideration should be given to the impact of the existing route going through Arundel.

He felt the authority had colluded with opponents of the bypass scheme and argued Ms Paren had to take responsibility as she had overseen the authority since its formation.

He said: “She should have resigned a long time ago and she certainly should resign now, because of what has happened in the authority.”

Ricky Bower (Con, East Preston), who proposed the motion, said the national park was attempting to obstruct any bypass from being built, and while the Government was currently committed to improving the A27 the scheme could be abandoned if unexpected delays were introduced.

John Charles (Con, Barnham), cabinet member for planning, described the national park’s actions as ‘selfish’, while Gillian Brown (Con, Aldwick East), leader of the council, said it was disappointing the national park had taken this step, especially with public money.

James Walsh (LDem, Beach) added: “The South Downs National Park Authority have not only been selfish, they are being extraordinarily self-indulgent and acting as an offshoot of a pressure group.”

Norman Dingemans (Con, Arundel and Walberton) was not allowed to take part in the debate as he is deputy chair of the national park authority.

But earlier in the council meeting he described how the national park believed Highways England ‘has not followed the correct procedure’.

Approached for comment, Ms Paren said: “As I have said on a number of occasions, the decision to call for a judicial review was not taken lightly. Our work is guided by the statutory purposes of the national park, set by Government in legislation, and these inform all of our decisions.

“Having heard from public speakers, considered expert legal opinion and discussed the matter in detail, the difficult decision was taken to seek leave for the High Court to grant a judicial review.

“We await their decision.”

She added: “It is very sad to see this unfortunate misinterpretation of any stakeholder’s right to raise any matter they choose with us and the national park authority’s commitment to respond factually to all such approaches.”

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