Community leaders and campaign groups last night lit the spark to a major campaign to build a better A27 - on Chichester’s terms and not the government’s.
At a packed meeting at County Hall, organised by West Sussex County Council and supported by the Observer, attendees made clear their fury at Highways England’s failed consultation last summer and the transport secretary’s decision last week to scrap the £250m worth of funding.
Now community workshops will be established with a clean sheet of paper and independent chairmen to explore every option and shape a plan which can win widespread support and be presented to government.
The Bishop of Chichester Dr Martin Warner welcomed guests to the meeting and county council leader Louise Goldsmith made clear in the keynote speech that this was to be a plan owned entirely by the community - and not dictated by those outside it.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “We know that the A27 can be a car park, and last year it was an even bigger car park than it was usually.
“We have to do something. But we need, as a community, to gather together.
“I know that’s possible because I know an awful lot of people who would be committed to that.
“I know that the community voice is the strongest voice, and the community knowledge is the strongest knowledge that can help us to find a way forward.”
Observer editor Gary Shipton explained how the paper had battled Highways England for a transparent consultation process - but his comment that the process going forward should confine itself to finding a solution that united north and south by excluding a new northern bypass was condemned by some vocal attendees.
Mrs Goldsmith made clear that all options should be looked at through a series of working parties.
Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie, who also attended, said: “Louise (Goldsmith) is absolutely right to call this meeting, to send a clear message that we have got to come together with a broad single approach to solving this problem, with compromises, whatever they might be.
“That is then the point that I can go to the secretary of state to ask for the money again.
“That is the point I can work with (MPs) Nick Gibb and Nick Herbert, and put together a scheme which we can convince Chris Grayling or his successor...that we have a scheme which we know the community will stick with for the duration of the project.”
The packed meeting was also attended by a number of senior figures such as Chichester College principal Shelagh Legrave OBE, also a member of the Chichester Chamber of Commerce.
Mrs Legrave said businesses and her students continued to be hugely affected by the regular traffic problems on the A27 and gave her backing to a community-led solution.
During the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, suggestions included looking at transport solutions as a whole, the possibility of tunnelling, and if it would be possible to get more than the £250m originally allocated for the Chichester scheme.
Mrs Goldsmith concluded the meeting by thanking attendees for their support and comments which she called ‘heartwarming’, adding that further details on the community workshops would be released in due course.
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