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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.

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