Anyone who’s driven on the A27 at Arundel at rush hour knows that it’s more like a coastal car park than a coastal highway. I’ve continually pressed for an Arundel by-pass, as did my predecessor, but it was only when the new Government came to power that ministers became receptive and visited the area. Now, at last, we’re making progress.
Last week’s National Infrastructure Plan contained a significant update about upgrades to the A27. In June the Government published plans for infrastructure investment that included (pages 6 and 74) a £69 million upgrade to the Chichester by-pass and a feasibility study to look at problems on the A27 on the south coast, including Arundel and Worthing, identified as one of six of “the most notorious and long standing hotspots in the country”.
The latest Plan says (pages 107 & 108) that the start date of the Chichester bypass upgrade has still to be confirmed, but the feasibility study for Arundel and Worthing is “on track and the Government is working with local stakeholders and the Highways Agency to examine the problems on these stretches of road and are working to identify solutions …. The Government expects to report back at Autumn Statement 2014 with solutions to alleviate congestion and tackle the enduring problems in these areas.”
The new Roads Minister, Robert Goodwill MP, has confirmed that the feasibility study work will “reach its conclusions by March 2015 at the latest”. It’s not clear what scale of improvements will be possible, but the Minister says they must “offer value for money and [be] deliverable.” An Arundel by-pass and dualling at Worthing would be very expensive schemes. But with this study, and the national focus on infrastructure investment, we now have a very important window of opportunity to make the strongest case for an Arundel by-pass and Worthing upgrades. I’ve urged West Sussex County Council to work with other local councils, businesses, the Local Enterprise Partnership and MPs to make the case, and they’ve agreed to do so.
The announcement of the feasibility study came ten years after the Labour Government summarily cancelled the by-pass in 2003, citing environmental objections. Roads protestors hailed “a famous victory.” The by-pass had first been proposed in 1985 and was elevated to the Conservative Government’s main roads programme in 1996. The ‘South Coast Multi Modal Study‘ in 2002 confirmed the need for it. But the combination of a fear of Swampy and his friends, who were threatening direct action against the road, and Labour’s lack of concern for infrastructure investment in the South East, killed it.
In fact there’s a strong environmental case FOR the by-pass, because traffic rat-runs not just through the historic town of Arundel but also through the South Downs National Park. Downland villages suffer from heavy traffic as a result. Storrington has a serious air quality problem. The pink-blue route (see map below) has strong local support and would cause the least environmental damage. I’ve suggested that a beautiful bridge across the Arun could enhance, rather than spoil, the valley. The French have long known how to do that – think of the sensational Millau Viaduct.
There are also safety grounds – the current road is an accident blackspot – and strong economic reasons to upgrade the A27. Poor transport links have undoubtedly hindered the economic development of coastal towns like Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. Overall, there’s a powerful case for fully upgrading the A27. Now’s the time to make it.