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Society pledges public support for the National Park Authority

National Park Friends Group pledges support for Park Authority in controversial move.

At its meeting on 3 July the South Downs National Park Authority was promised the full and continuing support of its “Friends” organisation, the South Downs Society.

Addressing the meeting, the Society’s policy officer Steve Ankers, said “The Authority has taken a controversial step in seeking judicial review of the process by which Highways England identified its preferred option for the A27 Arundel bypass. This may not have gone down well with everyone but this Society unhesitatingly supports the Authority. Along with many other organisations, we campaigned for many years for a powerful, well-resourced body dedicated to conserving and enhancing the very special qualities of the South Downs and we are delighted to see it make this stand.” READ MORE…

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A27 Dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate

Maria Caulfield MP, Chairman of the A27 Reference Group, has announced that a business case to dual the A27 is ready to go before Government Ministers.

The Friends of the South Downs have expressed their concerns about the proposal to put a motorway-style road in between Lewes and Polegate near Eastbourne as it will destroy the beautiful countryside and be visible from the South Downs and the South Downs National Park.

It will be a scar across the countryside whether you’re standing on Mount Caburn near Lewes or whether you are on Firle Beacon on the South Downs.

Spending an estimated £450 million, at more than £50M/mile is a huge amount of tax payers’ money to allow people to drive a bit faster over the 9 or 10 mile stretch of road. This stretch of road is often slow, due mainly to the single lane traffic. READ MORE…

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Shaping the future of England’s strategic roads

The government’s agency for planning and maintaining the trunk road network, Highways England, has been consulting on its plans for future investment. The Campaign for National Parks (CNP), which works closely with all the national park “Friends” groups, has submitted the following response to the consultation, which is fully endorsed by the Society. 

February 2018

1. The Campaign for National Parks is the independent national voice for the 13
National Parks in England and Wales. Our mission is to inspire everyone to enjoy
and look after National Parks – the nation’s green treasures. We have been
campaigning for over 80 years to ensure that our National Parks are beautiful,
inspirational places that are relevant, valued and protected for all.

2. National Parks are our finest landscapes with the highest level of protection. They
contribute significantly to the well-being of the nation, by providing safe, attractive,
healthy places for recreation. They also deliver key environmental resources and
services, like water provision and carbon storage in peat soils and forests, which can
mitigate the effects of climate change. As well as being inspiring places for people to
enjoy and improve their health and well-being, National Parks make a significant
contribution to the economy through tourism, farming, and other related businesses.
The English National Parks currently attract 94 million visitors a year, who spend
more than £5 billion and support 75,000 full time equivalent tourism related jobs.

3. All of the English National Parks are affected to some extent by the strategic road
network (SRN) and several have significant lengths of this network within or close to
their boundaries. It is therefore essential that the plans for RIS2 take full account of
the additional planning protection that applies in National Parks. We are very
concerned at the potential for RIS2 to include road schemes which could be
extremely damaging for National Parks, undermining their special qualities and
putting at risk the significant economic benefits that these areas provide. There is
evidence that road schemes justified on the basis of reduced journey times fail to
deliver the promised economic benefits2 and such schemes would be particularly
damaging in areas such as National Parks where the economy is heavily dependent
on a high quality environment.

4. We are particularly concerned at the threat posed to the Peak District National Park
by the revised Trans-Pennine Tunnel study and proposals for major upgrades to the
A628. The decision to shorten the length of the proposed tunnel means that most of
the upgraded route would be above ground through the National Park, or adjacent to
its boundary and within the setting of the Park. While we do not yet know exactly
what is planned for the A628, it appears from the information about expressways in
the SRN Initial Report that the plan is to upgrade the road to motorway standard.
Such extensive road-building is completely inappropriate in a National Park.

5. There is a long-established presumption against significant road widening or the
building of new roads in National Parks. This is clearly set out in paragraph 5.152 of
the National Policy Statement for National Networks3 published in 2014, which states
that “there is a strong presumption against any significant road widening or the
building of new roads and strategic rail freight interchanges in a National Park, the
Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, unless it can be shown there are
compelling reasons for the new or enhanced capacity and with any benefits
outweighing the costs very significantly. Planning of the Strategic Road Network
should encourage routes that avoid National Parks, the Broads and Areas of
Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

6. In addition, paragraphs 5.150 and 5.151 of the National Policy Statement for National
Networks reiterate the more general presumption against major development in
National Parks, which is also set out in paragraphs 115 and 116 of the National
Planning Policy Framework. The Government emphasised the additional planning
protection for National Parks in the recent 25 Year Environment Plan (p57)
alongside strong support for greater enhancement of our landscapes.

7. Furthermore, Highways England also has a duty to take account of the potential
effect of its decisions and activities on National Park purposes, including activities
undertaken outside National Park boundaries which may affect land within them.

National Parks’ statutory purposes as set out in the Environment Act 1995 are:
 to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and
 to promote opportunities for public enjoyment and understanding of their special

8. This means that Highways England should be seeking to conserve and enhance
National Parks through all of its activities. High volumes of traffic already have a
negative impact on the tranquillity and natural environment in some parts of our
National Parks. It is completely inappropriate to propose projects which would
increase these negative impacts. Instead Highways England should be
demonstrating how it has fulfilled this duty by placing a much stronger emphasis in
RIS2 on measures to reduce the negative impacts of the SRN on National Parks.
This should include, for example, a commitment to prioritise these areas for
measures which reduce noise and light pollution such as low impact lighting and
noise-reducing road surfacing. Tranquillity and dark skies are two of the special
qualities for which many areas of National Parks are particularly valued.

9. Highways England should also be demonstrating that it takes its responsibilities
towards National Parks seriously by actively managing demand for road capacity on
sections of the SRN which pass through National Parks and instead encouraging the use of routes which avoid these protected areas; and placing a much stronger emphasis on investment, and promotion of, public transport as an alternative to roadbuilding.

10. Unfortunately, our recent experience with proposals for the SRN in other National
Parks provides evidence that Highways England does not always take account of the
additional protection afforded these areas. For example, the consultation on the A27
Arundel bypass last autumn only included options which involved unacceptable
damage to the South Downs National Park and failed to take account of alternative
options that would have reduced the impact on the National Park.

11. The consultation document states that one of the key aims of RIS2 is to “make a
positive contribution to the environment”. This will only happen if Highways England
takes its responsibilities towards National Parks seriously. We therefore seek a
reassurance that the strong presumption against significant road widening or the
building of new roads in National Parks will be upheld and that damaging proposals
such as the A628 upgrade will be abandoned.


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National Park Society gives two and a half cheers for South Downs Local Plan

The South Downs Society has actively engaged at each stage of preparation of the new local plan for the South Downs National Park. We have met with park authority staff at each stage, submitted comments on its general principles as well as specific land use allocations and development management policies, and believe our voice has been heard.

While most local plans are dominated by the need to find locations for new housing, this plan is “landscape led”. It seeks to ensure that, while sites can be found for affordable housing to meet local needs, strong limits are placed on housing numbers.

The draft plan contains 96 policies. We have looked carefully at every one, commented on most and suggested some that aren’t there. We believe the overall approach deserves our support — there will undoubtedly be those who will lobby against it — and we have commented robustly where we feel the plan needs improvement.

To read our full response CLICK HERE.

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National Park Authority objects to Arundel bypass schemes: press release

At its meeting on 19 October the South Downs National Park Authority resolved to object to Highways England’s three options for a new Arundel bypass because of their significant adverse impact on the national park. The following press release has subsequently been issued jointly by Arundel SCATE (South Coast Alliance on Transport and the Environment) and ABNC (Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee). It quotes the South Downs Society and other organisations.


National Park objects to A27 Bypass – Campaigners slam Highways ‘narrow focus’ 

The South Downs National Park Authority has voted to object to all three options for the Arundel A27 Improvements Scheme. All options go through the National Park.  The Authority wants Highways England to do more work on assessing, mitigating and compensating the impacts, as well as alternatives, before it will even rank the options.

Local community and environmental organisation representatives spoke at the full Authority meeting.  Nick Herbert MP claimed that an offline bypass at Arundel should be seen as a “National Park Relief Road”, but other speakers disagreed. “Any traffic diverted from other parts of the Park would still be travelling through the National Park, but faster, more noisily and on a high embankment”, countered Mike Tristram, a member of the Park Partnership and Binsted campaigner.

“This is not a plan for reduced congestion,” added Tony Whitbread of the Sussex Wildlife Trust. “It is a plan for increased traffic, which will spread throughout the National Park. Imagine Midhurst, Petworth, Pulborough and Storrington all with 20 per cent more traffic.”

Steve Ankers spoke for the South Downs Society, the Campaign for National Parks and CPRE Sussex. “Highways England’s recent consultation was fundamentally flawed by its narrow focus on a bypass to take traffic off the existing bypass.  Our focus is on the impact on the National Park, its statutory Purposes and Special Qualities.  We also don’t believe that the options presented will solve Arundel’s traffic and access issues.  We strongly object to all three options on the table.  Our heaviest criticisms are of options 3 and 5A, and we have asked for the ‘New Purple’ variations on option 1 to be taken seriously.”

Mike Tristram agreed.  “Highways England has failed to properly analyse impacts on the Park’s Special Qualities.  Having ‘regard to the Park’s Purposes’ is a legal requirement, but they won’t have this unless they assess the impacts of all options thoroughly before choosing a preferred route. The next stage is too late.”

Kay Wagland, an elected Arundel Town Councillor but speaking as chair of local group Arundel Scate, agreed. “We wholly oppose the offline options 3 and 5A.  Both are highly destructive of communities, irreplaceable species, habitats and features.  They are a huge waste of money, and unlikely to ease congestion in the long run.   We object to Option 1’s dualling, but support its alignment, which matches our preferred single carriageway ‘New Purple’ route.

“We are also concerned about Highways England’s narrow focus and poor quality data, including unreliable traffic figures  and large gaps in environmental data.  The public has not been sufficiently informed. The Department for Transport should allow work on more integrated transport solutions. The A27 needs to be better not bigger.”

Dr Mike Davis from Walberton, a regular walker in Binsted and Tortington, said,  “I cannot accept that option 5A on a high embankment, visible night and day, in such a beautiful setting, pays any regard at all to the Special Qualities of the South Downs National Park. The few minutes saved by option 5A cost over twice as much as those saved by option 1 and cause far worse damage. This degrading of the National Park is not justified.”

Highways England will now be looking at the consultation responses. They have to decide in the light of what they have been told, whether or not they can now recommend a preferred option through the National Park.

For more online information about affected areas see:               

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Arundel bypass: the South Downs National Park Authority response

The SDNPA today, 19 October, considered its response to the Highways England consultation on three options for a new bypass at Arundel.

The Society’s Policy Officer took the opportunity, alongside MP Nick Herbert, Sussex Wildlife Trust and local residents and campaigners, to address the meeting. The text of the Policy Officer’s “speech” is reproduced below. In line with his plea the SDNPA agreed the recommendations of their officers and resolved to object to all three bypass options on the basis of their significant adverse impacts on the national park.

A27 Arundel bypass

I am speaking for the South Downs Society but also on this occasion for CPRE Sussex branch and for the Campaign for National Parks.

I have addressed this Authority and its Planning Committee on many occasions but seldom on an issue of greater importance.

The idea that a bigger, better road will lead to less congestion, more jobs, environmental benefits is out of date and discredited. I speak as someone who headed East Sussex County Council’s environment division for 15 years but also, for a decade, its transport planning, road safety and economic development functions.

Any road scheme which achieves short term reduction in congestion will attract traffic from other routes and from public transport alternatives but will also “induce” additional traffic – in this case adding to congestion at Chichester, Worthing and Lancing along the A27 and adding to pressures for more road building in or close to the national park. If not already familiar with CPRE’s recent extensive study into the effects of major highway schemes I would highly recommend it.

Highways England’s recent consultation was fundamentally flawed by its inevitable restriction to what benefits an improved trunk road might bring. No real consideration of public transport or the traffic and access issues of Arundel or the national park. Just “what kind of bypass to take traffic off the existing bypass?”

Any benefits to through traffic will be limited and short term. The disbenefits to the environment will be long-lasting and will range, in the words of Highways England, from predominantly “moderate adverse” for option 1 to “major adverse” with options 3 and 5A. What a choice you have before you!

The focus of the bodies for whom I speak today is the same as yours, the impact on the national park, its statutory purposes and special qualities. The South Downs Society and CPRE Sussex strongly object to all three options on the table. We are aware that a letter, which I believe you have seen, has been sent by nine national transport and environmental organisations to the Secretary of State for Transport making the same points. We saved our heaviest criticisms for options 3 and 5A and we asked for variations on option 1 – referred to as the “new purple” route and devised by local residents – to be taken seriously.

Your excellent officer’s report recommends you to object to all three options on the basis of significant adverse impacts on the national park. I strongly urge you to take his advice.



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Save Binsted, Save the National Park

Highways England, responsible for building and maintaining the trunk road network, are consulting on options for a new Arundel bypass. All three of the options now being considered will impact on the national park.  Media coverage has been distorted by errors in Highways England’s press release which referred to one option (“Opion 5A”) passing “between the national park and ancient woodland” when in fact it passes through both the national park and ancient woodland as well as the village of Binsted. HE agreed to change their press release after the Society pointed out the error. The Society and other environmental organisations have supported local residents in their struggle to protect this beautiful part of the national park and its special qualities.

Join us this Sunday 8 October to walk the route of the infamous Option 5A, show your support for the villagers of Binsted and the strength of your feelings for the national park.

The walk begins at 1 pm on Sunday at the Flint Barn, Binsted BN18 0LL

For more information see:


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Midhurst Rother College: the lost footpath

The Society has today issued a press release — text below — highlighting its response to a current planning application in Midhurst and the loss of a valued footpath.

Last chance to restore our path

National park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, has called on the National Park Authority to seize the last chance to reinstate a popular footpath.

When playing fields were laid out for Midhurst Rother College a few years ago the Society led a campaign to save the well used path from Lamberts Lane to Whiphill, leading across the Cowdray estate to Woolbeding and beyond. Although this proved unsuccessful, the Society’s efforts were partially rewarded by the creation of alternative permissive paths which gave some access to open countryside around the town.

But a planning application for new housing on Lamberts Lane to be decided shortly by the National Park Authority opens up the possibility of securing an improved and more direct path to Whiphill. It avoids the busy roads north and south of the college, an opportunity which the South Downs Society is urging the planners to take seriously.

Says the Society’s Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We don’t always rush to back proposals for new housing in the national park but in this case we’re talking about a brownfield site near the centre of Midhurst and a real opportunity to improve access to the delights of the national park. We’ve urged the Park Authority to be creative.”

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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


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“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.”