MP calls for "concerted push" on A27 upgrade
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for "a concerted push" for a major strategic upgrade of the whole of the A27 in West Sussex.
The MP's call came at a summit on the A27 held at County Hall on Friday (1 March). The meeting brought together local authority leaders, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and government officials to discuss what could be done to improve the road.
West Sussex County Council's Cabinet Member for Transport and Highways, Pieter Montyn, said that the County's Transport Plan 2011-2026 identified improvements to the main A27 bottlenecks as a priority. The Council had recently resolved that all possible options for funding the A27 improvements should be investigated.
An A27 Action Plan would outline a series of short term interventions for key junctions and links at the main bottlenecks at Chichester, Arundel and Worthing/Lancing. This work is being overseen by a small group of WSCC Members and recommendations are expected in the summer.
However, Mr Montyn said that the County Council also recognised the value of exploring the latest thinking on infrastructure funding, and seeking consensus on any further preparatory work that should be carried out to take advantage of funding opportunities that may arise in the future.
Mr Herbert said that while short term improvements were welcome, there was a need also to make a bold case for upgrading the A27, which was designated as a strategic route of national importance.
The MP said that too often the A27 resembled a coastal car park rather than a coastal highway. Delays caused by congestion at Chichester, Arundel and Worthing were irritating to local people, and poor transport links were one of the major reasons why coastal towns like Shoreham, Littlehampton and Bognor Regis had not prospered as they should.
Sussex Enterprise have calculated that poor transport links in the county are costing £2 billion a year - or £29,000 a year for each business. And 14 per cent of coastal West Sussex businesses have said that they would consider relocating outside the county unless the transport infrastructure improves.
Mr Herbert argued that there was also a strong environmental case for upgrading the A27. Rat-running through the South Downs harmed the environment, with villages like Storrington suffering from serious air quality problems.
Upgrades to the A27 had faced constant set-backs. The Arundel by-pass had been in the roads programme until the last Labour government cancelled it. Mr Herbert acknowledged that the problem was that the improvement schemes were "very big and expensive".
West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council had recently told the Government they were willing to consider a contribution of £20 million towards bringing about a major improvement scheme for the A27 in Chichester, but the Arundel by-pass is a much more expensive scheme, and a Worthing solution is the most challenging.
However, the MP said that, with major infrastructure projects being prioritised by the Government to boost growth, there was now an opportunity for everyone to get together - local authorities, the new Local Enterprise Partnership, businesses and MPs - to make the economic case for a major strategic upgrade of the whole A27 in West Sussex.
The summit heard that it would be advantageous to raise some local funding to lever in government support, and it would be necessary to show that that the scheme would boost economic growth. A promising start had been made with a joint County, Horsham and Arun study into the Arundel by-pass, which is due to be published shortly. This was commissioned following an earlier meeting which Mr Herbert convened on the A27.
Nick Herbert said: "I am grateful to the County Council for convening last week's summit, which was a good start, and West Sussex MPs followed up with a useful discussion last week. There is broad agreement that we need to make the case more systematically.
"We all continue to lobby the Government, and the Transport Minister recently visited Worthing to see the problems for himself. But with big infrastructure projects on the Government's agenda, this is the time for a concerted push for the major upgrades which the A27 needs."
He added: "I look forward to further discussions with local councils and the Local Enterprise Partnership about how we can make this happen."
Notes for Editors
1. A briefing by West Sussex County Council on the A27 Chichester improvements can be found here: http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/living/roads_and_transport/roads_and_pathways/plans_policies_and_projects_f/major_projects/a27_chichester_bypass_improvem.aspx.
2. The County Council's latest news release on the A27 Chichester improvements can be found here: http://www.westsussex.gov.uk/your_council/news_and_events/news/2013_archive/february_2013/authorities_willing_to_contrib.aspx.