SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Are the South Downs safe?

Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Peter Bottomley

The problems of traffic have probably existed since the Romans came to Sussex.

Stane (Stone) Street was their highway from Chichester to London Bridge. It had four straight limbs with links.

More recently, about a century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote the reeling rolling ballad about the road rambling about the shire, including the trip to Bannockburn from Brighton Pier.

It has been known for decades that the A27 across Worthing needed improvement, if not replacement.

Some homes have been bought and sold twice by the transport authorities. It is likely to happen again.

Many now wish the last scheme had been completed, not dropped 20 years ago.

The Planning Inspector approved the plans, writing that the alternative of putting a new national road through the South Downs was not acceptable environmentally, that it would not resolve the traffic problems and that it would not be cost effective.

Since then, Labour’s John Prescott controversially created the South Downs National Park before having to overrule the presumption of no large development when he later approved the new Brighton & Hove Albion football stadium.

When I served as Roads minister in the 1980s, I asked successfully for a tunnel at Southwick for the Brighton and Hove bypass; additionally, I brought forward the Crossbush improvement in advance of the needed Arundel by-pass.

It would have been best for Worthing and Arundel to have had their new roads then too.

People living on the line of an overcrowded national road know the dangers.

Because little has been done for decades, residents and local travellers are exposed to unnecessary risks, experiencing pollution from queuing traffic, risking unsafe access to and from the road, in addition to the harm to employment and prosperity in the district.

I live in fear of hearing that a High Salvington resident has been injured by A27 traffic.

My reply to the person considering buying a house by the A27 roundabout on the Findon road was to be aware of the current consideration of improving the road.

Highways England have written that they expect public consultation on options in Spring 2017 with a possible preferred route announcement in the autumn.

Assuming another inspector agreed after a further public inquiry and the minister approved, work might start in early 2020, taking around three years.

It would be surprising if there were to be a serious possible option that went high over the downs.

That would be opposed by Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens.

The real choices facing us all are these: effective consideration, consultation, decision and fulfilment – or further delay, unending crashes, injury and deaths with A27 traffic diverting to the A259 and Long Furlong, with the coast roads being used as a rat run to avoid the A259, fumes from traffic jams and local business closing early to avoid drivers wasting hours in queues.

The South Downs are safe. The A27 is not.

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