County councillors back more time for A27 community solution

Protesters outside the District Council in September 2016
Protesters outside the District Council in September 2016

Plans to find a community-led solution for improving the A27 at Chichester have been backed by county councillors.

The area has been given two options, the first of which would be to support Highways England’s preferred route Option 2, which attracted vocal opposition during a consultation last year.

But this was rejected by West Sussex County Council’s Environmental and Community Services Select Committee today (Thursday September 28), mirroring a similar decision by Chichester district councillors yesterday.

Instead the committee gave its unanimous backing to inform Highways England that no scheme should be taken forward in the RIS1 period (2015-2020), allowing the community and stakeholders to develop a scheme and bid for funding in the RIS2 period (2020-25).

Bob Lanzer (Con, Maidenbower), cabinet member for infrastructure and highways, will now take the decision but said he was ‘minded’ to follow the committee’s recommendation.

Jeremy Hunt (Con, Chichester North), cabinet member for finance, was one of only two councillors to speak in favour of taking the £250m now for Option 2, which includes a new Stockbridge Link Road.

He argued in favour of ‘taking the money that’s now on the table’ and said there was no guarantee a future bid for funding would be successful.

Mr Hunt also told the committee how Highways England had made it ‘abundantly clear’ that a northern option ‘is not a possibility’.

In the county council’s consultation response to Highways England last year, it set out a number of key matters that would need to be addressed if Option 2 was implemented.

However officers confirmed that Highways England had ruled out action on some of the points, suggested they would look at others, and revisit several potential actions ‘at a later date’.

Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of the county council, explained how the community workshops were the ‘right way to find the right solution for this magnificent cathedral city and this beautiful area’.

She called deferring a decision until RIS2 the ‘right option’, adding: “It’s the option I’m proposing and supporting, and I’m supporting it for the community because the community will find the right solution for the area they live in, and walk in, and drive in.”

Mrs Goldsmith continued: “We have the opportunity to do something really special for this community.”

Jamie Fitzjohn (Con, Chichester South) said they could not ignore the fact that 47 per cent of consultation responses had selected no option last year.

Meanwhile Pieter Montyn (Con, The Witterings) also backed giving the community time to ‘evolve’ a scheme, suggested Option 2 did not meet Highways England’s own objectives and offered poor connectivity for residents living south of the A27.

The other councillor to back Option 2 was James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, who felt it ‘offered the best way forward’, but needed significant changes to improve local accessibility and environmental mitigation measures.

He suggested an outside observer would see a decision to turn down £250m of funding as ‘daft’ and warned that the community workshops could become a ‘talking shop’.

But committee members backed the community solution option.

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Gossops Green) said they had ‘no choice’ but to wait until RIS2 so a solution acceptable to the greatest number of people could be found.

Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester East), vice-chairman of the committee, said they needed a ‘long-term transformational solution’ to the A27 at Chichester, while Carol Purnell (Con, Selsey) argued the community ‘has to go forward together with one voice’.