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”:
….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:
- Improve journey time and reliability
- Support walking, cycling and other non-car travel
- Improve safety
- Reduce community severance
- Minimise environmental impact
- Respect the special qualities of the national park
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.