A27 Arundel bypass consultation response
I am writing in response to the consultation on the A27 Arundel bypass.
I strongly support an offline bypass at Arundel. In the twelve and a half years in which I have been MP for Arundel & South Downs I have consistently made the case for this, as did both of my predecessors, including in my election address in the most recent general election. I campaigned for the bypass to be put back in the roads programme, and won the funding for it in the Government’s Roads Investments Strategy.
While I accept that there is some opposition to a bypass, my judgement – based on the many meetings which I hold and the correspondence I receive – is that overall there is strong support in my constituency for an offline bypass. It is important to note that this support extends well beyond Arundel itself, reflecting the impact which delays on the A27 have on the wider community. It is also generally accepted, even by opponents of a bypass, that the existing road is inadequate.
An Arundel bypass was first proposed in 1985, and was elevated to the Conservative Government’s main roads programme in 1996, but was shelved by the Labour Government after 1997. In the 20 years since, traffic has increased substantially. Most of the A27 in West Sussex is dualled. The only stretches that are not are in Arundel and Worthing. A substantial majority of the 25,000 traffic movements through Arundel every day is not local, and the A27 in the town is already operating at or over capacity, with significant congestion at peak times each day and an above average number of accidents. With a very large amount of additional housing planned in the Arun District and beyond this situation will only get worse. It is essential that a long-term solution is adopted, which means an offline dual carriageway bypass without the obstruction of roundabouts or traffic lights.
Congestion on the A27, including at Arundel, exacts an economic toll. Improvements are therefore strongly supported by local businesses and their representative organisations. However, it also damages the environment. Vehicles currently avoid the A27 at Arundel by rat-running through the historic town itself and the South Downs. Villages such as Amberley, Storrington and Pulborough suffer from excessive traffic as a result – indeed, Storrington has some of the worst air quality in the South East. An offline bypass at Arundel would take traffic away not just from the town but from these villages and the South Downs National Park. The consultation document indicates that a bypass would reduce traffic on the A29, for instance, by as much as a third, depending on the chosen route, as well as reducing through-traffic in Arundel by up to 62 per cent.
I therefore reject the argument that the bypass would damage the National Park. The A27 already passes through the National Park at Arundel, and new sections would not cut through chalk downland. In fact, by drawing traffic away from the Park and downland villages, an offline bypass would create a net gain for the National Park and the local environment.
I strongly oppose Option 1, which would bring a dual carriageway road through Arundel, would massively increase traffic through this historic town (by 62 per cent according to the consultation document), would not deliver the time savings or anything like the same relief to the downland villages, and would sever Arundel. This route would also be less effective in reducing congestion as there would still be a roundabout at Ford Road. There would be major – and potentially unsafe – access problems for properties such as Arundel Community Hospital and roads such as Canada Road. Option 1, which has almost no public support, must therefore be rejected.
I remain in favour of the original ‘pink-blue’ route, now Option 3, which was agreed decades ago by the whole community, including local environmental groups and conservation bodies. The then Transport Secretary's decision on the preferred pink-blue route noted that it was supported by English Nature, Sussex Wildlife Trust, the Arun branch of Friends of the Earth and the Sussex branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
Both Option 3 and (to a lesser extent) 5A would pass through what has now been designated as ‘replanted ancient woodland’. I note that this is largely non-native, recently replanted conifer woodland, the loss of which could be mitigated by planting a much larger area of broadleaved woodland. While I am aware that a number of local authority and other respondents have preferred Option 5A to Option 3 primarily because it would mean a lesser loss of this woodland, I note that Option 5A passes much closer to the village of Binsted. While neither offline route would mean the demolition of any houses, it is regrettable that recently planted, non-native conifer trees appear to have more protection than communities.
It is important that, whichever offline route is selected, the bypass is designed to the highest possible standards. I have urged that, for instance, a new bridge over the River Arun should be a beautiful design which is fitting for the local landscape.
It has been suggested that the time saving created by the bypass is insufficient to justify it. However, the consultation document suggests a maximum time saving for a return journey passing Arundel of between 12 and 17 minutes by 2041. Someone doing this journey each day Monday to Friday would save between 1 hour and 1 hour 25 minutes of journey time each week. These are significant enough savings for an individual, while multiplied by the total number of passenger journeys they are very substantial.
I note that significant Government investment of £300 million has also been announced for improvements to the Southern and Thameslink railway networks, and I continue to make the case for further substantial investment in the local rail service to make the infrastructure equal to rising demand. However, given the reliance by most local people on their cars, I do not believe that the railway can realistically be expected to substitute for the existing demand on the A27, let alone an increase.
While the investment in the proposed Arundel bypass, of up to £250 million, is substantial, the consultation document recognises that the economic benefits of the offline routes would be at least double this sum, representing high value for money. It is essential that this major investment in West Sussex, which would significantly benefit the local economy, is not lost.
It has been suggested that there would be little point in constructing the Arundel bypass if improvements to the A27 at Worthing do not go ahead. I strongly agree that such improvements are needed, but we cannot allow an essential upgrade at Arundel – where the A27 is already dualled on either side – to be delayed or put at risk because of any delays in improving other sections of the A27.
In conclusion, I believe that the case for a fully-dualled, offline A27 Arundel bypass is very strong and widely supported. This long overdue road improvement would benefit the local economy and environment alike, and it must go ahead.