West Sussex County Council has been described as being ‘out of touch’ by selecting a mitigated northern route as its preferred option for the A27 at Chichester.
Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, is set to write to Highways England requesting the improvement scheme be included in the next roads investment strategy, stating that the mitigated northern route is the authority’s preferred option but the full southern route should also be developed as a reasonable alternative.
The decision was announced yesterday (Tuesday June 5).
It follows Monday’s meeting of the county council’s non-decision making environment, communities and fire select committee, where the majority of councillors backed a northern route as a preferred option, but went against part of the officers’ recommendation to also put the full southern route forward as a reasonable alternative.
Highways England is due to undertake a technical assessment of consultant Systra’s work and according to minutes of a recent meeting it would treat both options equally.
Ben Kirk, from Chichester Deserves Better, said: “The decision made by WSCC follows a farcical debate on Monday where half the councillors didn’t attend, and half didn’t know what they were voting for.
“Stating a preference for a northern bypass when there is no consensus with the public over which option is more desirable shows how out of touch WSCC are.”
He argued the council had come up with solutions that ‘polarise the community rather than bring it together’.
He described how the impression was given that ‘significant adverse impacts’ of a northern bypass could be mitigated to an acceptable degree but he argued there was no evidence to back this up.
Mr Kirk believes the county council never had an open mind and has always favoured a northern route, and expressed hope Chichester District Council would take a ‘more sensible stance on Friday by not stating a preference’.
Chichester district councillors are being recommended by officers to promote both options as ‘being desirable without indicating a preference for either option’ on Friday.
However Zoe-Elizabeth Neal, co-founder of Chichester A27- No Option is Still an Option, said: “The West Sussex County Council cabinet member decision is very positive as it clearly shows that the county council has taken note of the consultants Systra.
“I can only urge that Chichester District Council also accepts the consultant’s advice and comes to the same conclusion as WSCC, if we are jointly to present to the Department for Transport and Highways England with a unified response as necessary for the A27 at Chichester to stand any chance of being included in the next Route Investment Strategy (RIS2).”
The Build a Better A27 group employed Systra to come up with conceptual ideas as it looks to secure Government funding for improvements.
Two options were identified: a mitigated northern route and a full southern route.
A mitigated northern route would see a new ‘off-line’ dual carriageway route to the north of Chichester between a point west of the Fishbourne junction and a point east of the Portfield junction.
Meanwhile the full southern route would see improvements to six junctions on the existing A27 Chichester bypass, including underpasses at Fishbourne and Stockbridge, flyovers at Whyke and Bognor, and a flyover and junction remodelling at Portfield.
Reaction to the county council’s decision on the Observer’s Facebook page was mixed with some calling it ‘fantastic news’, but others labelling the move ‘irresponsible’.
One reader said: “The high £ cost of a new route and massive environmental impact to northern Chichester makes the full-southern option the only realistic one.”
But another Facebook user wrote: “Should never have added the unfeasible and medium term online southern route as a backup and stuck with the advice of the committee and just backed a northern route alone.”
Yesterday Mr Lanzer said: “This decision has been made after a long process of listening to the views of the community, attending the Build a Better A27 group meetings and considering the full report produced by Systra as well as the comments of our select committee.
“It is important that we put in both a preferred and an alternative option to Highways England to maximise consensus with the community at this stage. A lot of work has gone into engaging the community and we want to build on this momentum.
“Key to our success in achieving these improvements to the A27 is local consensus and we are hopeful that our partners, including Chichester District Council, will be aligned with our decision.”
On Monday county council officers explained they felt it important the council indicate a preferred scheme unlike its response to the Highways England consultation in 2016, while the mitigated northern option had been chosen because Systra recommended it as the best long-term fit.
It would also ensure the concept was not removed by Highways England at an early stage.
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