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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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National park Friends group welcomes rethink on A27 Lewes to Polegate

On 26 September Highways England announced its proposals for improvements to the A27 east of Lewes, having consulted last autumn on various bypass and junction options. The Society has issued a press release welcoming the announcement, text below.

 

National park Friends group welcomes rethink on A27 Lewes to Polegate

The South Downs Society has broadly welcomed the latest proposals for the A27 between Lewes and Polegate.

Highways England, responsible for managing and improving the trunk road network, has announced measures to reduce congestion and accidents following public consultation last autumn. Junction improvements at Polegate, Wilmington and Drusilla’s roundabout are included in the announcement but controversial plans for a Selmeston bypass through the South Downs National Park have been dropped.

Says South Downs Society chairman David Sawyer, “The options for Selmeston would all have been very destructive to the national park for no tangible benefit so we’re delighted that scheme has been abandoned. The measures to improve safety at the difficult Wilmington crossing look like a good attempt to solve an awkward problem and we’re particularly pleased to see the emphasis on extending the cycle and pedestrian route alongside the main road. That will help more people enjoy the very special qualities of our treasured landscape without destroying it.”

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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.”

Ends

 

 

 

 

 

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Chichester local plan

Chichester’s Local Plan was adopted in 2015. The independent planning inspector, however, required the district council to complete a review within five years to make sure sufficient housing would be planned to meet the needs of the area. This work will form the Chichester Local Plan Review 2034 and covers that part of the district outside the national park. The Society keeps an eye on plans being drawn up for areas just outside the national park to ensure that the park is adequately protected.

Our response to the recent public consultation appears below:

 

Chichester Local Plan Review 2034 Issues and Options Consultation

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 their quiet enjoyment. Our comments on this consultation are restricted to those questions of greatest relevance to us.

Qu 1: Cross boundary issues/duty to co-operate

The setting of the national park is a key element of its quality. The District Council, through the local plan and other decision making processes, has a statutory duty under Section 62 of the 1995 Environment Act to have regard to the designation of the park. The local plan must demonstrate how this duty is to be discharged.

Qu 9: Spatial principles

The Society’s three highest priorities from those listed:

  1. Locate development to minimise its impact on protected or locally important landscapes, heritage and biodiversity
  2. Focus development in locations where there is greatest potential to maximise sustainable travel (public transport, walking and cycling)
  3. Focus development in locations where there is greatest accessibility to employment, local services and facilities

 

Qu 12: Suitable locations for strategic development

Sites within Chichester City and south as far as the A27 should be considered to accommodate strategic residential development that will be well served by rail and bus services and close to the city’s amenities. City centre development is suggested in order to minimise the need for travel, and to encourage the use of sustainable modes of transport as an alternative to the private car.

 

 

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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/

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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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Society’s support for the Lewes neighbourhood plan

After submitting our comments on the draft neighbourhood plan for the town of Lewes, we have written to local press as follows:

 

The South Downs Society warmly welcomes the Lewes neighbourhood plan recently out for consultation. The town council and the plan team are to be congratulated in so clearly identifying what makes Lewes “Lewes” and coming up with a set of draft policies — all of which we endorse — aimed at conserving and enhancing those special qualities while producing  what appear practical proposals for the town’s economic and social vitality and its need for genuinely affordable housing.

As the “Friends” group for the national park the Society has a particular interest in its biggest town and the role it plays as historic and architectural jewel, focus for creativity and nonconformism, key service centre and destination for tourists and visitors.

We have reservations about one or two of the proposed sites for new housing, required to meet demanding government targets and genuine local need, but the plan team have worked well to identify “brownfield” sites already or previously built on and protect the open downland around the town from development. They should be supported.

Some of the sites put forward for new dwellings are currently in use for car parking. While we wholeheartedly back the plan principle that cars should not take priority in the town over walkers and cyclists, there will need to be provision for parking in the right areas and we note the intention in the plan to adopt a comprehensive, rationalised approach,

The neighbourhood plan has a number of hoops still to be negotiated but this Society feels that a significant and positive step has been taken.

Steve Ankers, South Downs Society and Lewes resident.

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The Society’s response to the Lewes neighbourhood plan

The Society has submitted comments on the draft neighbourhood plan for the town of Lewes as follows:

Lewes Neighbourhood Plan

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park.

The Society regards the neighbourhood planning process as a key element in setting the statutory planning framework for future decision making. With Lewes being the largest settlement in the national park, a coherent neighbourhood plan is essential for the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of this part of the national park.

The Society recognises the considerable work that has gone into the preparation of the draft plan, and the efforts made to engage the public in and around the town in the process. The key document produced is attractive and accessible and the Town Council and the plan steering group are to be congratulated.

Plan summary

We welcome the emphasis in this brief summary on low-cost housing, green spaces and the natural environment around the town.

Introductory remarks and vision statement

These are a welcome identification of what makes Lewes “Lewes” – its history, geography, built heritage, creativity and non-conformity. It is right that these characteristics of the town should run through what follows. We endorse the vision statement and supporting text and note in particular such phrases as:

“acknowledging the part that the historic and environmental setting of Lewes has played in shaping our town”

“brownfield sites should be developed to avoid greenfield development especially on downland.”

“wide range of housing and work space options”

“resilient to the effects of local and national climate change”

“improvement of access to the town, particularly for pedestrians in the central area, and the development of routes for walking, cycling and public transport to service outlying areas and to connect with the town centre”

 

The Society welcomes the concept of “Lewes low cost housing” (p.27) and the contribution it can make to providing new housing that is genuinely affordable for Lewes people.

Plan policies

The Society supports all of the draft policies as being appropriate for the special circumstances that obtain in the town. We will not list them here: they seem well thought through and reflect the special qualities of the town “going forward”.

We note with approval draft policy PL2 Architecture and design and the comment (p.84):

“Lewes has a unique position in the South Downs National Park because of its attractive Medieval and Georgian central area and largely unaltered Victorian and Edwardian residential streets. New designs need to take heed of the reason why Lewes was included in the South Downs National Park”

And we note with interest draft policy HC2 (p.42) and its proposal to reconsider the use of the Phoenix iron foundry within the North Street development. As this Society sought consideration of the retention of this element of the Phoenix site in its response to the planning application for North Street, we would support this policy.

We note (p.54) that “during the plan period, Lewes can meet its housing needs within the settlement boundary without recourse to greenfield sites beyond”.

Two key questions arise from this welcome statement:

  • Can sufficient sites be developed from those possibilities outlined in the draft plan to meet the target of 220 dwellings? If some prove undeliverable on practical or physical grounds or as a result of valid objections, will the above statement of intent hold good? This Society regards that intention as imperative.
  • Is the 220 target likely to be affected by current legal uncertainty over proposals elsewhere, in particular at Old Malling Farm? Again, it is imperative for the integrity of the neighbourhood planning process that all of the good work carried out to date is not rendered irrelevant by decisions made elsewhere.

 

Allocated housing sites

This exercise appears to have been carried out with skill and sensitivity. We have studied not only those sites allocated but also those considered and discounted. While other organisations and individual respondents may present valid concerns about specific sites, this Society finds little on which to express concern in terms of meeting national park purposes.

We do however raise a strong query about the Spring Barn Farm site (PL1 50) which would constitute an unwelcome development almost in open countryside and an unhappy incentive to farms and other rural businesses to erect non-residential buildings with the prospect of securing residential value at a later stage.

We also note that a number of sites allocated for housing are currently used for car parking. If these are lost as parking spaces, there will need to be a compensatory and comprehensive approach adopted across the town to rationalise provision. This appears to be recognised in draft policy AM3.

 

Appendix 5: Key views to be protected

This is a welcome appendix to the plan and we are very pleased to see the iconic views identified.

Appendix 6: Contributing organisations

A useful list but could we please be given our correct title of South Downs Society?

 

 

 

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Seven Sisters Country Park: South Downs Society’s plea for safeguarding

East Sussex County Council has carried out extensive public consultations on the future management of its rights of way and countryside sites, including the famous Seven Sisters Country Park. Decisions on their future are scheduled to be made by the Council at a meeting of its Cabinet at the end of June.  In the light of recent moves by both Eastbourne and Brighton and Hove Councils to sell off land in their ownership, the Society has written to each member of the East Sussex Cabinet urging them to guarantee “benign” ownership, ensuring the protection and improvement of the landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and public enjoyment.

The text of our letter is as follows:

The Society recognises the achievement of the County Council over the years in acquiring and maintaining land for the purposes of countryside recreation over and above its statutory duties with regard to rights of way. We also fully recognise the financial pressures facing the authority which render increasingly difficult the achievement of the highest standards which you would wish to meet.
In the circumstances we have responded positively to your consultation on options for future management and we await with great interest the report due to be considered at your June meeting. As set out in our written response to the consultation, the Society would urge the County Council to:
1. Ensure that the rights of way function is adequately resourced in terms of staff and finance to meet not only its statutory obligations but also the reasonable expectations of its users and other stakeholders
2. Either deploy sufficient resources on a continuing basis on the management of its countryside estate or agree to dispose of its assets to one or more benign owners committed to maintaining and enhancing their landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and quiet enjoyment. In our response we made particular positive reference to the National Park Authority and National Trust as potential new owners.
The Society, which owes its origins to the benevolent and protective acquisition of coastal downland close to Seven Sisters Country Park, looks forward with great interest to your deliberations and offers its continuing support towards the achievement of the national park objectives of conservation, understanding and enjoyment.