The recent announcement by Highways England that it was dropping the controversial Selmeston bypass from its preferred route options for the A27 East of Lewes is welcome news. It came after the National Park Authority raised concerns about the impact the bypass would have on the South Downs.
In the plans to be taken forward, there are new pedestrian and cycling facilities along the A27, filling in the missing links to provide a continuous facility from Lewes to Polegate. New and improved crossings are also to be installed. Junction and road layout changes will be built to smooth traffic flow and improve safety with some expansion in road capacity between Polegate and the Cophall roundabout.
However, there are still doubts as to the quality of what will be built for pedestrians and cyclists, where many of the existing facilities along this corridor are substandard. Cycle tracks still look like they stop at every side road and driveway, while crossing points are tortuous and will involve long delays, particularly at the Polegate end.
It is not clear how well buses will be accommodated by the plans either. Bus operators are refusing to stop at the recently rebuilt bus layby on the A27 at Falmer as it is too dangerous when buses try to rejoin the main carriageway. Any new bus stops and laybys will need to be signed off by the bus operators as being safe to use and crossings will need to be put in place to serve the stops. At present these appear to be missing in places.
To avoid these pitfalls and to maximise the benefits of the scheme it will be essential for Highways England to work with local people.
Further west things look very different. In Chichester, local authorities have resisted the temptation to try and rush through a request to Highways England to press ahead with work on the A27 south of Chichester after the cancellation of the scheme earlier this year. Instead they want to take their time and explore other options, if necessary submitting a bid under the next Roads Investment Strategy.
Meanwhile at Arundel, Highways England is pressing ahead with its consultation, giving people a choice of three dual carriageway options all of which would involve substantial damage to the South Downs National Park and the loss of ancient woodland. No option is presented that avoids substantial harm and this would appear to contradict Government policy protecting these important national assets.
It also highlights an inconsistent approach by Highways England, pulling back from a highly damaging scheme in one area (at Selmeston) while continuing with one somewhere else (at Arundel). If it is to have any credibility then Highways England should properly respect the natural environment, important for so many socio-economic reasons. It needs to come up with genuine proposals that avoid great loss or damage to these assets and gives people real choice for the future.
The consultation on Arundel is open until 16th October – Locals have come up with their own solution which addresses the worst of the bottlenecks while minimising the harm the setting of Arundel. Let’s hope common sense prevails and this is taken forward as the preferred option. In the meantime we will be keeping a close eye on what comes forward east of Lewes.