Posted on

A27 Arundel bypass

Aware that West Sussex County Council will be recommended this week to back controversial option 5A of Highways England’s proposals for a new Arundel bypass, the Society chairman has written to WSCC councillors and the media highlighting concerns about the potential impact on the national park, text of his letter below:

Arundel bypass

WSCC members are being invited to back an expensive new bypass option for Arundel which is sure to increase traffic levels, add to congestion on the A27 at Chichester and Worthing, cause huge environmental damage and contribute little if anything to local economic prospects.

Despite consistent evidence to the contrary from highway schemes across the country, County Council officers are recommending their elected representatives to believe the tired, discredited fiction that big roads which bring tiny short term savings in journey times will strengthen the area’s economy, reduce traffic levels on roads nearby and manage – somehow – not to contribute to greenhouse gases and climate change.

From Highways England’s own consultation documents it is clear that against almost all environmental criteria the option being commended by WSCC officers (the infamous 5A) scores badly.

The particular focus of the South Downs Society is the impact of the various schemes on the national park in the long and short term. Highways England, like the County Council and all government departments and agencies, has a legal duty to have regard to the park and the reasons it was designated. The “Special Qualities” identified for the South Downs National Park, against which all developments must be assessed, include inspirational landscapes and breathtaking views, the rich variety of wildlife and habitats, tranquil and unspoilt places, well conserved historical features and rich cultural heritage, and distinctive towns and villages with community pride. Let’s be clear – option 5A drives a coach and four, or a major dual carriageway, through those.

The remit of Highways England is confined to building and managing the trunk road network, which means the current consultation is fundamentally flawed. Arundel has transport and access issues but building a big new bypass to bypass the existing bypass will have little bearing on those. Transport requires proper planning and integrated solutions, improving public transport, facilities for walkers, cyclists and, yes, car drivers but option 5A doesn’t address any of this.

Option 3 faces similar problems. Option 1 looks like being the best of a bad bunch, scores best against the environmental checklist, is by far the cheapest and, as shown by Highways England, provides easily the highest benefit to cost ratio.

This Society and others have pressed consistently for a further option to be on the table, an improvement on Highways England’s option 1. Known locally as the “new purple” route, and devised by Arundel residents, it is explained on the website of the Arundel A27 Forum. It follows roughly the same alignment as option 1 and would ease traffic through the existing hold-ups. It’s a broad single carriageway road – even cheaper than option 1, less damaging environmentally and, unlike options 3 and 5A, doesn’t involve raised dual carriageways cutting across the beautiful Arun valley and carving through the national park, ancient woodland and the village of Binsted.

Arundel and the national park deserve better than the options now in front of them. WSCC should place their interests at the top of their deliberations.

David Sawyer

Chairman, South Downs Society

 

Posted on

“Size isn’t Everything” say A27 campaigners

On Thursday 21 September the Society’s Policy Officer chaired a public meeting in Arundel organised by the Arundel A27 Forum, a grouping of organisations and individuals committed to seeking more environmentally sustainable solutions to traffic issues in and around the town. Over 100 people attended and indicated their opposition to the grander bypass options put forward by Highways England, the government’s trunk roads agency, and support for more modest measures.

The Society and its partners issued a press release shortly after the meeting:

 

“Size isn’t Everything” say A27 Campaigners

A packed meeting at Arundel’s Norfolk Arms last Thursday warmly welcomed a local, more integrated approach to the town’s traffic problems than relying on a big new bypass.

Local residents joined speakers from regional and national organisations in questioning the evidence submitted in their current public consultation by the government’s agency for trunk roads, Highways England, to justify their three bypass options.

Said Kay Wagland, Ford Road resident, town councillor and local campaigner with Arundel SCATE (South Coast Alliance on Transport and the Environment), “Bypasses are about speeding drivers past places and that’s the remit of Highways England. Arundel residents need to be able to get in and out of their own town safely and conveniently on foot, bike, bus and, yes, by car. None of this is helped by the bypass ‘choices’ we’re being offered.”

David Johnson, chair of Sussex Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, presented a short new video, The End of the Road, based on extensive national studies of the impact of new road schemes. “Research”, said David, “shows that building roads generates more traffic, causes permanent environmental damage and leads to little economic gain. It’s a tired formula that we can’t afford and benefits nobody in the long run.”

Bridget Fox from the Campaign for Better Transport agreed, “As the remit of Highways England is limited to managing and improving the trunk road network, it’s no surprise that they show bigger and better bypasses as their solution but this isn’t going to solve traffic problems in or around Arundel.”

Kay Wagland and fellow SCATE member Simon Rose concluded that “Bypass Option 1” from the Highways England consultation was a definite improvement on both of the other options, following the existing route of the A27 more closely and having a much less damaging environmental impact, while still easing traffic through the current hold-ups. But they showed the meeting how an improved, less expensive design for Option 1, known as the “new purple route” would perform even better. This can be studied on the website of the Arundel  A27 Forum. There seemed no enthusiasm amongst those present for Highways England’s more grandiose Options 3 and 5A and their viaducts sweeping across the Arun valley.

The meeting was chaired by the Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, Steve Ankers, who concluded, “Some politicians and many members of the public seem to cling to the idea that the more expensive the solution, the better the outcome. We need to look closely at what the actual problems are that we’re hoping to solve. Even from the evidence that Highways England have put forward the grand bypass options don’t score well. Arundel and the National Park deserve better.”

Ends

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

South Downs Society gives mixed reaction to A27 schemes

Today, 31 July, the Society issued the following press release highlighting our submitted response to Highways England’s latest proposals for the A27 at Worthing, Lancing and Sompting

National Park Society’s mixed reaction to A27 schemes

The South Downs Society’s planning expert Steve Ankers has given a lukewarm response to new plans to reduce congestion on the A27 through Worthing and Lancing.

Writing on behalf of the Society Steve, former Head of Environment for East Sussex County Council, observed that “Most of us travel by car at some stage and are well aware of the problems on this road. The Society broadly supports measures to reduce journey times for local and through traffic. Reductions in accidents, air pollution and the severance experienced by communities along the road also make it easier for people to enjoy the national park. We welcome the safeguarding of the national park highlighted in these new proposals and will hold Highways England to its word on ensuring that detailed design of any improvements will protect views from high ground in the park.”

Highways England is the company set up by government to manage the nation’s trunk road network. They are consulting through the summer on £50 million to £100 million of junction improvements to relieve congestion at this bottleneck. The company’s own costings and its legal duty to protect the national park mean that the largest scale solutions such as a northern bypass through the park or major flyovers and underpasses are not being considered. The plans now available online and at exhibitions in the area cover more modest schemes to improve traffic flow through the existing junctions.

But the Society has stopped short of fully endorsing the plans. Says Steve, “There is no integrated transport planning here. Highways England has no responsibility for railways so we’re seeing multi-million pound investment in highway schemes which will encourage more traffic to use the A27. Passengers will shift from rail to road as journey times improve in the short term and increase congestion further along the A27 at places like Arundel and Chichester.”

The plans will be shown on various dates in Worthing, Sompting and Lancing and the consultation will run until 12 September. Full documentation is on the Highways England website at:

https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/a27-worthing-and-lancing-improvement/

Posted on

National Park Society’s mixed reaction to A27 schemes

Highways England is currently consulting on options to improve capacity at junctions on the A27 at Worthing, Lancing and Sompting. The Society has responded as follows:

 

A27 Worthing and Lancing improvements scheme

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park. The Society has nearly 2,000 members, many of whom live or work close to the A27 and use it on a regular basis. The Society’s focus is on conserving and enhancing the special qualities of the national park and their quiet enjoyment.

The Society recognises the issues raised in the consultation, in respect of protracted and unreliable journey times, accident rates and severance, and regrets the difficulties experienced by those seeking access to the national park as well as local residents, visitors and through traffic.

We welcome the clear recognition that “the issue” here is not merely that of enabling through traffic to pass more quickly through the area but also the need to facilitate local movement by those on foot, bike and public transport as well as by car. We also welcome the recognition of the key environmental constraint of the national park and the decision not to include options in the consultation that would involve major engineering within or adjacent to the park. The Society would object most strongly to any move to reintroduce such options, which would in any event be very costly in financial terms and do little to ameliorate the traffic issues identified.

We welcome the recognition of Highways England’s statutory duty to have regard to the purposes of national park designation, including in respect of works planned outside the park, and the undertaking to consult with the South Downs National Park Authority with regard to potential impacts of the scheme options on landscape, tranquillity, dark night skies, biodiversity, recreation and heritage. We believe that options involving online underpasses and flyovers may have a negative visual impact on key viewpoints in the national park and their exclusion from the consultation is welcome.

It is asserted that, owing to the current levels of congestion on A27, some longer distance traffic now diverts onto inappropriate routes, some of which pass through the national park. If the overall effect of the proposed schemes were to reduce total traffic levels within the park, that is broadly to be welcomed. We assume that origin and destination surveys, census and mobile phone data are available to substantiate this potential outcome? While indicating the existence of this displaced traffic, we note that the summary consultation material stops short of claiming that the proposed works will actually reduce it.

To the extent that the options outlined are aimed at increasing capacity at existing junctions, reducing journey times, trip unreliability and accident rates, and improving air quality, the Society is broadly supportive, though we would be keen to see detailed design and landscaping that respected views towards and from national park viewpoints.

The Society fully supports measures aimed at reducing manmade climate change and will object to schemes that are likely to exacerbate it. We note that the measures proposed are expected to increase traffic levels along the A27 while generally reducing levels on roads such as A259 which run parallel to it. But we see little recognition of the overall increase in traffic along the corridor which will be encouraged by the implementation of the proposals and the accompanying modal shift from rail to road which seems an inevitable consequence.

The consultation material claims there is “no evidence to suggest that there will be any significant switch from road to rail along the A27 corridor between Chichester and Brighton.”  The likelihood is surely the opposite if the proposed works take place. There seems little doubt that a speedier passage for through traffic will persuade many current rail passengers to drive – at least until the congestion builds again to its current levels. Moreover, any increase in traffic on the A27, which Highways England forecasts as a consequence of these proposals, will add to traffic levels at other pinch points on the road, particularly at Arundel and Chichester, increasing the pressure for further investment aimed at “solving” the freshly exacerbated problems.

Meanwhile, as the consultation material indicates, there are no current plans to improve rail capacity or performance along the corridor. The lack of integrated transport planning is to be deplored. Rail investment is of course not within the remit of Highways England, rendering this exercise partial at best and, in its cycle of further road investment generating increases in traffic and pressure for further road investment, a poor use of finite resources.

To the extent that the schemes currently envisaged are modest in ambition – though costly in cash terms — the Society accepts that they are likely to achieve some limited improvement for road users in the Worthing/Lancing area in the short term, while serving to exacerbate problems along the corridor. The aspects of the proposals aimed specifically at vulnerable road users, such as toucan crossings and new traffic signals at roundabouts, should benefit local residents and those seeking access to the national park and are to be welcomed.

Posted on

A27 East of Lewes

Highways England, responsible for improving and maintaining the trunk road network, have been consulting on a range of possible schemes aimed at speeding up journey times and reducing accidents on the A27 between Lewes and Polegate. Here is a link to the consultation “paperwork”:

https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/a27-east-of-lewes/consult_view/

….and here is the Society’s response:

A27 East of Lewes improvement scheme

Comments of the South Downs Society

The South Downs Society has nearly 2,000 members and is the recognised national park society for the South Downs National Park. Its focus is the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the park and their quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

Rationale for the scheme and general comments

The objectives of the scheme as outlined in the consultation are to:

  1. Improve journey time and reliability
  2. Support walking, cycling and other non-car travel
  3. Improve safety
  4. Reduce community severance
  5. Minimise environmental impact
  6. Respect the special qualities of the national park

 

  1. Improve journey time: No information is supplied to indicate the scale or nature of journey time as an issue, other than to refer to “below average journey times”, which is presumably an error in presentation. We note that the greatest predicted shortening of journey time for any of the schemes presented appears to be a maximum of 90 seconds in the case of Drusillas roundabout and one of the Polegate options, with 30 or 60 seconds more common. While acknowledging that the benefit of any reduction in journey times for large volumes of traffic will add up, we question the overall value being attributed to this scheme benefit. It would also be helpful to know how journey time reliability compares with dualled stretches of the same road nearby. We are aware from personal experience of major holdups on the dualled Brighton bypass immediately to the west, less so on the single carriageway stretch now under consideration.

We would also query the potential impact of additional or “induced” traffic likely to be generated by any scheme and the extent to which this has been factored into the scheme evaluation process. We have previously requested, and been promised, in relation to A27 schemes at Arundel and Worthing/Lancing, the outcomes of origin and destination surveys, mobile phone data and traffic modelling in order better to assess these impacts. We will continue to press for this information to be made available in a timely and publicly accessible form in order to inform responses.

 

2           Support non car travel: We welcome moves to improve access to and within the national park by means other than private car. We will consider the options in this light, though always balanced against other environmental issues such as visual impact. We note with great disappointment that reference to non-car travel in the consultation does not appear to include bus or train. We have previously stated, and will repeat, our dissatisfaction with the narrow scope of this exercise. To consider costs and benefits of highway schemes without consideration of the rail alternatives greatly diminishes the value of the consultation. If schemes proposed here were implemented, and if they were sufficient to encourage a shift from rail use to car between Eastbourne and Lewes, the implications for traffic and car parking in the latter could be significant.

Provision of laybys on the A27, suitably located, may help to encourage walking and cycling.

 

  1. Improve safety: The Society welcomes moves to reduce accidents, and the risk of accidents, to both motorists and non-car travellers. No information is presented to indicate the nature and scale of this issue and whether, for example, incident rates are above average for trunk roads with similar traffic patterns, or how these rates compare with other parts of the A27.

 

  1. Reduce community severance: This may be an issue at Selmeston although almost the whole of the village is located north of the road. We welcome in principle moves to reduce the current impact of the road on the village, subject to other environmental considerations like the visual impact of any changes. Severance appears to be a more substantial issue at Wilmington which these proposals scarcely address.

 

  1. Minimise environmental impact: This is a major consideration for this Society. We will consider options against a range of criteria including visual and aural impact during both night and day, effect on wildlife and the special qualities of the national park, both in the short and long term. This will include the potential impact within and close to the park of any additional, induced or diverted traffic on the A27 and other roads nearby.

 

  1. Special qualities of the national park: This is the “core business” of this Society and we will comment on the options in this light. The National Planning Policy Framework places the highest level of protection on national parks, requiring any scheme to meet high standards of design, implementation and mitigation and, in particular, indicating that planning permission should be refused for “major development” except in exceptional circumstances. Any diversion of the trunk road around Selmeston and passing through the national park would need to meet this stringent test. Any implemented scheme must be subject to appropriate landscaping and subsequent maintenance, especially as existing vegetation will be affected and the noise and visual impact may well be increased by higher speeds and traffic levels. If necessary in order to achieve this, additional land may need to be acquired.

 

 Walking and cycling path

Any proposal to extend the walking and cycling route along the A27, with safe crossings of the trunk road and other highways, is welcomed in principle.

Reconnecting foot/bridle paths truncated by the road schemes also needs to be addressed.

 

Selmeston options

 The identified benefits for all options, and benefit to cost ratio, are identified in the consultation as slight and are lower than for the walking/cycling route.

Options 1 and 4 offer scope for reducing traffic impact on properties and businesses on the A27 itself and the main village may benefit from a reduction in traffic noise. It is not known whether the pub will welcome the removal of passing traffic. Option 6 may achieve minor benefits in terms of road safety but will have little effect on journey times or on improving the amenity of the village.

Options 1 and 4 involve in varying degree new road construction within the national park and constitute major development. The acknowledged “large adverse and long term effects on the character of the surrounding landscape” and “large adverse long term effects on views from the national park including the South Downs Way and Firle Beacon” of any southerly bypass passing through the national park, as acknowledged in the consultation material, are not outweighed by evidence of benefits submitted in the consultation. Hence, pending the availability in digestible form of evidence to support the case for the improvements, we object to options 1 and 4. Option 6 involves a smaller degree of road construction in the national park but its visual impact and, as with options 1 and 4, the effect on rights of way, will nevertheless be significant and negative.

 

Drusillas roundabout

 We welcome this scheme. It appears to facilitate walking, cycling and particularly horse riding routes across and along the A27 while also achieving the stated objective of reducing journey times for road traffic, at relatively modest cost.

 

Wilmington options

 We recognise the current difficulties for walkers, cyclists and horse riders seeking to cross the A27 at this point, as well as the problems facing motorists in certain manoeuvres. There are significant current issues of severance of the Wilmington community by the A27 and its traffic which the new proposals are only able to address in a minor way. Both options would be highly visible and would damage the village green with little scope for mitigation. Option 2 appears to offer greater benefits in respect of achieving a safe crossing for vulnerable users including horse riders but, in disagreement with the findings of the consultation documentation, we feel this is at a significant adverse cost to the appearance of the landscape owing to the need for major ramps, steps and other infrastructure associated with the proposed underpass. While option 1 also entails the creation of discordant urban features in the landscape and may yield lesser benefits in terms of road safety, we would express a guarded preference for this option over option 2, which seems to involve more highly visible, intrusive infrastructure. If a scheme can be devised that achieves some safety improvements without widening the highway and introducing visually intrusive elements to the landscape, we would be more prepared to support that.

 

Polegate options

 Where widening of the road is envisaged, as with the existing dual carriageway north to Cophall roundabout, substantial existing planting may be lost and this will impact on views from the national park. This will need to be replaced. Otherwise, we do not believe that the options identified will have significant impacts on the national park other than in respect of the effect they may have on traffic levels along the A27 and nearby roads as outlined above under point 1, Improving journey time.

 

Prioritising investment

 It follows from our comments above that the development of a continuous walking and cycling route alongside the A27, together with appropriate crossing points, is our highest priority. We also support improvements at Drusillas roundabout, prefer Option 1 to Option 2 at Wilmington and object to the published options at Selmeston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

A better rail service for Cooksbridge?

Govia Thameslink Railway, which includes Southern Rail, is currently carrying out a public consultation on possible timetable revisions (this is for beyond the current strikes!)   The Society has responded to the consultation as follows:

 

During the previous round of consultation this Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park, requested that the timetable revisions under consideration should recognise the designation of the national park and the statutory duty on public agencies and utilities to have regard to that designation. In particular we pressed for an improved service to Cooksbridge station, providing enhanced access to the downs.

 On page 25 of the current consultation this need is acknowledged and the Society welcomes that recognition.
 
Qu. 35 poses a question in relation to the frequency of services at Plumpton and Cooksbridge. This Society, though regretting any proposed reduction in service at Plumpton would welcome the introduction of a two hourly service throughout the week at Cooksbridge.
 
Posted on

A27 Chichester Bypass

Highways England is undertaking a public consultation on options for improving the A27 Chichester Bypass. The Society has submitted the following comments:

These are the views of the South Downs Society in response to the current open consultation on the above. The Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park, has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities for which the park was designated. Our comments will reflect this focus.

The Society fully recognises the need to address the issues of congestion, unpredictable journey times and accidents on this stretch of the A27 and regards it as essential that any options progressed must have full regard to any implications for current and future traffic levels elsewhere along the road, including Worthing/Lancing and east of Lewes. We very much regret that the current exercise is road-based only and has been divorced from any real consideration of rail and bus transport: we regard this shift from integrated thinking on transport policy to be an unacceptable weakness in the approach.

That said, the Society welcomes the fact that no bypass options passing north of the city and close to the national park have been included in the consultation. If such options were to be resurrected the Society would strongly object.

We believe that any preferred option should be able to demonstrate that it can reduce congestion and unpredictable journey times on the Chichester bypass and bring about a commensurate reduction in traffic displaced by that congestion onto roads within the national park. It is essential that origin and destination survey data, mobile phone data and the results of any traffic modelling are shared with the public in a timely and user-friendly fashion in order to facilitate informed discussion about the potential implications of any changes to the bypass.

It is not this Society’s belief that the aim should be to create a 70 mph expressway. It would be our strong expectation that such a road would induce yet more traffic, increasing its contribution to climate change, potentially encouraging traffic to cross the national park to access it, diverting custom and thus the prospect of investment from the parallel, competing railway, and adding to the obvious traffic problems on the A27 further east.

The Society has attended the exhibitions of the options and taken the opportunity to discuss them with the staff present.

There are clearly local environmental implications attached to each of the options: these will rightly be raised by those directly concerned. As this Society’s remit is the impact on the national park, and much of the impact will be felt on the opposite, southern side of the city, we will restrict ourselves to one or two comments:

  • We note that a positive value, an “economic benefit”, is attached in the scheme evaluation to any reduction in journey time. From discussion with the staff at the exhibition it appears that no consideration has been given to whether a reduced journey time is an unmixed blessing, an absolute benefit: if, for example, car commuting from the south into the city centre may be achieved more quickly, will this not encourage more car traffic and is the city centre geared to accommodating it?
  • Views into the national park are as important as those within, or outwards from, the park. We would oppose the eastern end of the proposed link road forming part of option 2 where it passes beyond the B2201 towards Hunston. It would damage the iconic view of the cathedral and South Downs from the Chichester Canal at Poyntz Bridge, a view made famous in a painting by Turner, as well as destroying the tranquillity of the canal.

 

The consultation runs until 22 September. Here is a link to the Highways England consultation website:

http://www.highways.gov.uk/roads/road-projects/a27-chichester-improvement/

Posted on

What next for the A27?

On Monday 7 March this Society issued the following press release:

Back On the Right Road

 The announcement by Highways England that they are no longer considering building a new A27 expressway north of Chichester has been welcomed by the official “Friends” group for the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Society.

“The setting of the national park and some splendid views from it would have been badly damaged by a new road running right along its boundary,” says the Society’s chairman, Robert Cheesman. “We know there are major traffic issues on the bypass and we understand the need for improvements but those changes can be made to the existing route, as Highways England and the government have now recognised.”

The Society, and a range of environmental, business and other organisations, have been engaged with Highways England and their transport consultants for over a year, considering congestion, road safety and other issues along the A27 at Arundel, Worthing/Lancing and east of Lewes and how to address them. Options for improving the Chichester bypass will be the new focus when public consultation takes place in the spring or summer.

Says Robert Cheesman, “The problems with the A27 are not just about delays for car drivers but also the impact of traffic on the national park and those visiting it. People should be able to enjoy the park and reach it on foot, bicycle or public transport as well as by car. As possible improvement schemes emerge, the South Downs Society will look at each option on the basis of the likely effects on the national park and how we can all enjoy it.”

Posted on

A27 Chichester Bypass: Road to Ruin?

The Society has issued the following press release in connection with proposals for a new expressway, northern bypass for Chichester:

Road to Ruin?

“The South Downs National Park would be severely damaged by a Chichester northern bypass” says the park’s official “friends” group, the South Downs Society.

Although formal public consultation has not yet begun on various options drawn up by Highways England, the government’s agency for trunk roads, it is already clear that two of the possible routes would pass to the north of Chichester, between the city and the national park.

“We fully recognise that there are major traffic issues on the bypass and understand the need for improvements,” says South Downs Society chairman, Robert Cheesman, “but those changes can be made to the existing route, not by constructing a major new expressway along the edge of the national park. We have a very special landscape here, designated of national importance, and planning policy insists that better options be found.”

The Society, and a range of environmental, business and other organisations, have been engaged with Highways England and their transport consultants for over a year, considering congestion, road safety and other issues along the A27 at Arundel, Worthing/Lancing and east of Lewes and how to address them, but the proposals for Chichester bypass have taken them by surprise.

Says Robert Cheesman, “The problems along the A27 are not hard to identify. It’s not just about delays for car drivers but also the impact of  traffic on the landscape of the national park and the quiet enjoyment of those visiting it. We want people to be able to enjoy the park’s special qualities and reach it on foot or by more environmentally sustainable forms of transport. When the various possible improvement schemes eventually emerge, the South Downs Society will look at each option on the basis of the likely effects on the national park and how we can all enjoy it.”

Meanwhile, Chichester bypass seems to have jumped to the front of the queue of A27 schemes and the Society will be lobbying vigorously against any options that involve building a new dual carriageway expressway right along the boundary of the national park. The Society hopes that as many individuals and organisations as possible will comment during the public consultation scheduled for the spring, but meanwhile is urging people to put their names to the following petition:

Click HERE to go to the petition

 

Posted on

A Transport Plan for East Sussex

The Society has today submitted comments on an “Implementation Plan 2016/17 – 2020/21” for East Sussex’s Local Transport Plan. As the authority responsible for highways and transport planning across the county — including the East Sussex part of the national park — East Sussex County Council is consulting on how best to deliver the transport capital schemes necessary to support the local economy and promote social and environmental well being.

Our comments appear in full below:

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park. The Society has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the national park and its quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

The Society welcomes the objectives set out in the plan and especially those relating to climate change, accessibility, social inclusion, road safety and environmental sustainability.

At para 4.7 we note the reference to improvements to the A27 east of Lewes. The Society is aware of, and has engaged with, the ongoing work of Highways England and DfT on this and will respond to any options for change in the light of predicted impacts on the national park in both short and long term. We have been in contact with the consultants working on this with regard to seeing, in user friendly form, the outcome from traffic counts and origin and destination surveys, model development and model validation. In order to inform our own position on any change options we need to have a feel for what increases and what reductions in traffic may be expected on routes crossing or near to the national park.

At para 4.12 we welcome the prospect of a county wide Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy and would be keen to engage with its preparation, especially in respect of access to and within the national park.

We note at para 6 the process for initiating and prioritising schemes but it is not clear at what stage, and how, the various environmental issues are taken into consideration. There is a risk that these may only be considered at a detailed design stage but an environmental “sift” needs to happen earlier, alongside any perceived economic or social implications.

We note under Eastbourne and South Wealden a case being made for improvements to the A27 east of Lewes. There is however no apparent reference to any implications that such changes might have for the use of the existing rail service which runs roughly parallel from Eastbourne to Lewes and beyond. Although the County Council is not the responsible authority for the A27 it must be conscious, in helping to promote changes to the trunk road network, of any wider transport implications and the prospect of encouraging a shift from rail to road use.  Also, this section appears to make no reference to the need for safe and attractive access to the national park for different travel modes.

Newhaven: although something of an afterthought (the final para of the narrative and one mention in the list of measures), it is moderately encouraging to see a reference to the national park. The Society would be keen to be consulted on the proposed walking and cycling links to the national park.

Lewes and the National Park: we welcome the recognition that appears to run through this section that Lewes has a special character of its own which needs to be served by any transport investment. We also welcome the references to the links to the national park and the emphasis placed on more sustainable modes of transport.

One area where caution is required is the reference to improving traffic flow within the town: while few would argue in favour of congestion and the associated visual and physical disruption and threat to air quality and health, it would be undesirable to see traffic moving at speed through the town centre and other parts of town, and equally undesirable to encourage more car use in town seeking to benefit from – and eventually nullify – any improved traffic flow. Solutions to these dilemmas have long proved highly complicated. This section should also be cross-referenced to that on proposed changes to the A27 between Eastbourne and Lewes: it seems to us that any measures that make it easier to use a car to access Lewes along the A27 from the east is likely to add to the problems of congestion, parking capacity, air quality, etc rightly identified in this section.

Finally, we note that the delivery of the plan is dependent on the availability of finance and that economic growth is the top priority. In the circumstances the Society is anxious that the measures that it views as positive in terms of sustainable transport and improving access to, and enjoyment of, the national park and the associated advantages to health and quality of life may take a back seat. We would hope that the economic (especially the visitor economy), social and other benefits derived from the park will be fully recognised: the economy is more than offices and production lines.