A new mitigated northern route for the A27 at Chichester was backed as the preferred option by West Sussex county councillors this week.
But on Monday the majority of members of the Environment, Communities and Fire Select Committee went against part of an officers’ recommendation to also put forward a full southern route as a reasonable alternative to Highways England.
The two conceptual ideas to improve the A27 are those generated by consultants Systra, who were tasked by the Build A Better A27 group to carry out technical work as it looks to secure Government funding for improvements.
The final decision on the county council’s submission to Highways England will be made by Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, who does not have to follow the select committee’s recommendation.
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.
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.
Louise Goldsmith (Con, Chichester West), leader of the county council but speaking as a ward member, described the full southern route as a considerable improvement on Highways England’s previous option two, but highlighted significant engineering challenges at a number of the junctions including the Stockbridge roundabout.
However her main concern was the potential four years of disruption and delays this option would cause and the impact this would have on residents and businesses.
Mrs Goldsmith said they had been talking for too long and it was time for a ‘bold step’, voicing support for the northern option which would include ‘innovative’ environmental mitigation.
Jeremy Hunt (Con, Chichester North), cabinet member for finance and resources, was the only local member to argue against the approach suggested by officers.
He said: “At this stage it would be a huge mistake to express a preference for one concept.”
However Dawn Hall (Con, Nyetimber) highlighted the number of new houses proposed in her division and her main concern was good access on to the A27, something she argued could be improved with a northern route.
Pieter Montyn (Con, The Witterings) argued the full southern route would only lead to a modest increase in capacity, while the engineering implications were ‘largely unknown’.
He suggested construction would lead to five years of traffic ‘chaos’.
Meanwhile Kate O’Kelly (LDem, Midhurst) said there was anecdotal evidence the A272 was being used as an unofficial northern bypass, which was affecting the air quality in her parishes.
Although there were two groups with different strongly held views, she argued not to put forward a preferred option ‘shows weakness’, with the northern route being the most desirable.
Viral Parikh (Con, Bourne) backed the officers’ approach but personally supported a northern route as the best long term solution to boost capacity.
Lastly in a statement read out by the committee chairman, Jamie Fitzjohn (Con, Chichester South) argued the impact of constructing a full southern route would be ‘catastrophic’ to businesses in the Chichester area, while the northern concept was more deliverable.
But he backed keeping the southern route on the table so a true comparison with the northern route could be made in the interests of the transparency.
However Ashvin Patel (Con, Bognor Regis West and Aldwick) proposed they solely back a northern route as its preferred option.
This was approved by four votes to two.
Simon Oakley (Con, Chichester East), vice-chairman of the committee, raised engineering issues with the full southern route proposals, especially at the Whyke, Portfield and Stockbridge junctions and questioned the economic and air quality impacts of five years of roadworks.
Carol Purnell (Con, Selsey) suggested the construction of a full southern route would ‘cripple’ businesses.
Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Gossops Green) described the approach outlined by officers as a ‘master class in fence sitting that’s highly camouflaged’.
But Mr Lanzer responded: “On the suggestion that we are being weak here, there is a risk of declaring too formally for one option prematurely.”
He suggested this could also destroy rather than giving them an opportunity to strengthen community consensus.
Since this report was published the cabinet member has agreed to write to Highways England requesting the A27 Chichester 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.
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