LETTER: Objection to route being diverted

I understand plans are afoot for a significant diversion of the southern (Chichester) end of our much-loved Centurion Way cycle/footpath.

I wish to object to any diversion of the path away from the established route of the old Chichester to Midhurst Railway line.

The route was opened 137 years ago and the amazing work of the Victorian era engineers has naturalised, providing a vital linear, natural corridor into Chichester.

The cycle path sympathetically fits well within the confines of the old railway line, flanked with mature trees and undergrowth, supporting a rare and diverse ecology.

There are many miles of joined up Ancient Woodland.

The proposed diversion has no rational justification in that, for example, a new footbridge could be built over the Centurion Way to facilitate pupils of Bishop Luffa School to access from one, existing football/rugby playing field to a proposed new playing field.

To explain further: the proposed new playing field is to compensate the school for the loss of part of their existing playing field for a proposed new southern vehicular access to a development of 1,600 houses.

Building work on phase one of the housing development is about to start, but with a different new access route from the north.

Indeed, the housing developers have illegally jumped the gun by removing a long length of wide, ancient hedgerow in preparation for a new roundabout for that northern access route.

Understandably, there is much opposition to the whole housing project, but that is not the purpose of this letter – I’m flagging up the importance of Centurion Way and the fact there are low impact, low cost ways to maintain the old railway line route intact, whilst facilitating the new housing development.

Volunteers have recently been counting the number of users of this threatened stretch of Centurion Way – cyclists, pedestrians, mobility scooters.

This is not just some occasionally-used rural path, but links an already large housing estate to Chichester railway and bus stations, several schools (including Chichester High School, Chichester College, Bishop Luffa and several primary schools), plus the Chichester shops, Terminus Road Industrial Estate, Southgate (cinema and bowling etc) and Westgate (swimming pool and gym etc).

Centurion Way, and the pathways it connects with, means that a large, and significantly growing, population can access all of these destinations safely, well away from the choking traffic that blights much of the city.

A particular downside of the proposed path diversion is that the new route would take path users in the opposite direction to where they are heading.

Not only would this be totally counter-intuitive for the walkers, cyclists and mums with prams, but would add over 100 yards to their journey.

My personal interest in Centurion Way is that my children learnt to ride their bicycles on it and I’ve supported groups of Cubs and Scouts along the path to Brandy Hole Copse (nature reserve), The Trundle (via West Dean) and, the other way, to Chichester Harbour (nature reserve).

I know that many other groups from across West Sussex and beyond occasionally use the path.

The number of people using the path – both for daily commuting and occasional recreation – is set to raise dramatically as public access is made possible along the old railway line to Midhurst.

An extension at West Dean was opened in 2015 and progress is well under way for the next extension towards Singleton.

The main road between Cocking and Singleton is horrendously unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians due to steep hills, sharp bends and areas with no verge and steep banks.

The legacy the Victorians have left us is a safe alternative route, with no steep hills and completely separate to road traffic.

The massive Victorian brick infrastructure at Cocking and also two long tunnels have to be seen, admired, preserved and easily accessible via the Centurion Way cycle- and footpath.

Please add your voice in support of keeping the integrity of Centurion Way.

Its use will definitely increase.

It is vital for our future.