Campaigners '˜disappointed' as Chichester A27 forum idea rejected

Two motions calling on the county council to set up a Chichester community forum on A27 improvements were rejected last week.

Wednesday, 20th April 2016, 11:39 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th April 2016, 12:50 pm
Chichester Deserves Better members outside County Hall before Friday's West Sussex County Council meeting discussing a more than 4,000-strong petition. SUS-160418-154643001

A petition was launched after it was revealed earlier this year that two of the seven options Highways England was considering to upgrade the route involved a new bypass north of the city, and has since been signed by more than 4,300 people.

It called on Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie, along with Chichester district and West Sussex county councillors, to oppose any plans for an A27 northern bypass.

Since January plans have been scaled back and only options for upgrading up to four roundabouts on the existing stretch are expected to go out to public consultation later this year.

But Lib Dem and UKIP motions, asking West Sussex County Council to set up an A27 improvement forum to increase engagement in affected parishes around Chichester, were both rejected by the majority of councillors on Friday (April 15).

A statement from Chichester Deserves Better described how the group was ‘disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm and passion’ shown by the county council, and said it would look to set up a forum instead.

It added: “Yet again WSCC seem unable to grasp that they need to be proactive and not just reactive. We are now watching the budget and scope of improvements proposed by Highways England dwindle before our eyes with the initial budget slashed from a maximum of £250m to £181m and talks of upgrades to four junctions now being referenced as ‘up to four junctions’.

“If WSCC really are going to sit back and wait for Highways England to run this at their own pace, then they shouldn’t be surprised that by the time we get to the public consultation in late June, we may well be left with a meagre budget and a series of ‘short term quick fix’ options.

“What happened to the enthusiasm that was seen in the campaign to get the funding for the A27 in the first place? The job is far from done and we need to see some leadership to make sure we get a proper job.”

During the meeting Elaine Drummond, speaking on behalf of the petitioners, argued that a public forum would connect the county council with the concerns of all interested parties before HE proposals are published.

Sandra James (UKIP, Bourne), leader of the UKIP group, put forward the first motion and said the process had been ‘chaotic’ principally from Highways England, but something she thought had been matched within the council chamber.

She argued that a single forum would allow the county council to take a lead in engaging residents and the wider community.

Meanwhile James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group at WSCC, welcomed the decision by Highways England to remove options for a northern bypass, which he thought would have ‘caused a lot of damage to the community to the north of Chichester’.

But Peter Evans (Con, East Preston and Ferring), outgoing cabinet member for children – start of life, said: “I believe that West Sussex County Council as the highways authority does need to stand aside from this issue and look at the facts and figures when they come in.”

John O’Brien (Con, East Grinstead South and Ashurst Wood), WSCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said he had listened very carefully to all comments made, and when Highways England published the consultation options they would scrutinise them thoroughly before agreeing a response.

He described it as ‘essential’ for Chichester and the wider county that improvements were delivered effectively and on schedule.

But he added: “To come to any position and decision prior to being in full possession of the facts would be inappropriate at this stage.”

He continued: “We will be pressing and are pressing Highways England to be as forthright as possible with what they are intending to do.”

Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester East) said it was not clear how Highways England could be held accountable when it had ‘set the hares running’ by looking at northern bypass options.

This had caused ‘considerable community disquiet, friction, and disagreement’, he added.

Suggesting work on ‘up to four junctions’ could take place reminded Mr Oakley of ‘language used by the Ministry of Defence to hide a reduction in warship numbers’.

Nor was it clear the scope of the project would include the Oving traffic light junction, the Portfield or Tangmere roundabouts, or the ‘lethal’ on-carriage eastbound queueing at Crocker Hill.

He added: “My fear is the money available will not be sufficient for that level of benefit and the Treasury will pull the plug leaving us all back at square one.”

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