South Downs National Park under threat as A27 is set to be ‘improved’
June 18, 2014 by combehavendefenders
The South Downs National Park is threatened by Department for Transport (DfT) roadbuilding plans: proposals to ‘upgrade’ the A27 are currently under consideration. It is certain that the DfT wants to make a ‘major intervention’ on the A27; what is currently unclear is just where that ‘intervention’ will be.
Infrastructure, always infrastructure
Mindful of George Osborne’s edict about infrastructure (we need more, now, never mind the cost, and roads are the best), the DfT is currently working on studies which aim to identify ‘investment solutions’ for the A27, which they claim is unacceptably congested. They are looking for ‘solutions’ which are ‘deliverable, affordable and offer value for money‘ (although close observers of the rising cost and decreasing value for money of the Bexhill Hastings Link Road may feel the latter two objectives are not uppermost in the DfT’s mind).
Investing in Britain’s Future – or in roadbuilding companies?
In July 2013, HM Treasury published a document, Investing in Britain’s Future, which set out details of proposed infrastructure ‘investment’, including ‘the tripling of annual investment on Highways Agency major roads enhancements from today’s levels to over £3bn by 2020/21’. The document announces the DfT’s intention to ‘identify potential solutions to tackle some of the most notorious and long-standing road hot spots in the country.’ One of these ‘hot spots’ is the A27.
The A27 runs along the south coast, from Portsmouth to Pevensey, where it joins the A259. Much of it is dual carriageway, but in parts (including around Arundel, Worthing and Polegate) it is single carriageway. Much of it runs alongside or actually through the South Downs National Park, so clearly any bypasses or widening of the road will have a major impact on the natural environment:
Less traffic but more roads?
The DfT has set up a ‘reference group’, to represent the views of ‘stakeholders’. The group comprises county and district councils, MPs, and various NGO representatives including Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and Campaign for Better Transport. Documents presented to the group at a recent meeting show a decrease in traffic between 2007 and 2012 for the entire length of the A27 with the exception of a small section west of Polegate:
However, the DfT claims that traffic levels are set to increase over the coming years, and therefore something must be done. Some might suggest that taking radical steps to reduce demand for road space would be a good start – reducing not only congestion but also, and more importantly, carbon emissions – but that would not fit in with Osborne’s determination to build as many new roads as he can before the money runs out.
In the same document, the DfT admits that ‘travel demand [in the A27 area] is often for short distance/local trips’ – in other words, exactly the kind of trips that are ideal for walking, cycling or public transport. It goes on to say that ‘Modal transfer opportunities exist but rail and bus alternatives are not well placed to address full travel demands’. However, rather than dealing with this situation by investing in public transport, the DfT appears intent on forcing through a new, or wider, road.
Where will the money go?
The DfT has identified three possible areas for ‘investment’: Worthing, Arundel, and the corridor between Lewes and Polegate. Possible ‘interventions’ include a(nother) bypass for Arundel, or a widening of the road around Worthing and/or Polegate. Clearer proposals are expected later in the summer.
Other options dismissed
Campaign for Better Transport has written a response to the DfT feasibility study. In it, they express their concern that ‘little account is proposed to be taken of how other (non-road) measures might be able to ameliorate some of the A27 corridor issues’. They point out that other measures could be cheaper, have better cost-benefit ratios and be quicker to implement (not to mention vastly less destructive of the countryside and the wider environment). But the DfT study is only going to consider evaluating proposals that are in existing local highway authority or railway development plans, and appears to be focussed almost exclusively on road-based ‘solutions’.
A27 action, and A27 action
Various pro-road organisations, including East and West Sussex County Councils, business groups, and local MPs, have set up a new group, A27 Action, to push the road proposals. At the same time, a coalition of groups has come together as SCATE (South Coast Alliance on Transport and the Environment) to resist the proposals.
Climate change takes a back seat
Investing in Britain’s Future proudly states that ‘Britain at its best is a country which invests in the future’. It goes on to say that ‘[i]n recent decades, we have let this proud record slip. This is not the fault of any one party or any one government. It’s been the result of a collective national mindset that has privileged the short term over the long term, and has postponed difficult decisions.’
Rationality flies out of the window
A rational person might think that privileging the long term, as the report proposes, might lead the government to take serious, immediate, action to reduce carbon emissions. In fact, climate change is mentioned only twice in the 82 page document – once in relation to smart metering, and once in relation to electricity market reform.
‘Privileging the long term’ in this context does not mean doing anything to ensure that future generations grow up on a livable planet: it means more roads, more carbon emissions, more destruction of the countryside. These proposed new roads are not simply roads to nowhere: they are roads to the hell of climate catastrophe.
The SCATE website is currently under development: check back regularly for updates and actions.