The South Downs National Park Authority will not back any of options for the A27 at Arundel due to a lack of information and their impact on the area.
Highways England is currently asking for views on six different routes all of which are for new stretches of dual carriageway, with several bypassing the town.
Plans for an Arundel bypass have been hugely contentious with strong feelings for and against.
These were voiced at a SDNPA meeting yesterday (Tuesday October 1), where members agreed to a consultation response.
They gave officers the power to draft a holding objection response, which would outline how all six routes impact negatively on the national park and its setting.
The response will also ask Highways England to respond to concerns raised by a number of different environmental organisations.
Meanwhile in the absence of both a detailed scheme plan and a committed and funded mitigation and compensation package the response will argue it was not possible for the authority to rank the options in terms of their impacts on the national park.
However several members suggested they indicate a qualified preference for the grey route, the only option completely outside of the national park.
Sir Sebastian Anstruther said that whatever their personal views the SDNPA was not a pressure group, adding: “Our job is not to take a position in general in favour of roads or against roads.”
He continued: “I myself do not think we should pass up this one single opportunity we now have to rank these routes.”
His view was supported by Gary Marsh who described how Highways England had responded to what the national park had said previously and come up with a route completely outside of the South Downs.
He said: “Do we object to everything? We are a national park and we have those values, but we can’t uninvent the car, we can’t uninvent oil.”
Andrew Shaxson said: “There is not a perfect solution to this, but to keep it moving forward I would like to recommend to Highways England that we support the grey route with the reservations that were pointed out.”
However the majority of members disagreed with this approach.
Isabel Thurston suggested the grey route would ‘blight the lives’ of many residents in Walberton and Binsted.
She said: “I see the grey route as a red herring. It does not solve anything. It severs people from the park and the wildlife corridors.”
Ian Phillips, deputy chair of the authority, added: “I think it’s simplistic to take the view at this meeting that inside the park is bad and outside the park is good, which in effect this is saying.”
Vanessa Rowlands suggested in the future they would move away from the car, describing a future Arundel bypass as an ‘elephant’ and a ‘blot on the landscape we can see from the park’.
Several members felt that more attention should be focused on public transport and more sustainable modes of transport.
Ken Bodfish suggested more consideration should have been given to the ‘Arundel alternative’ route devised by campaigners, while Mr Phillips said the officers’ report ‘put a clear marker down’ that there was nothing in the consultation they could support.
Therese Evans added: “We as members of the national park have a duty to protect the national park and I do not think these proposed routes protect the national park.”
But Alun Alesbury had a differing view and described being ‘surprised and disappointed’ by the tenor of the officers’ report.
He said: “We are not an action group on transport issues, we are a statutory body charged with the protection and enhancement of this national park which is a geographical entity.”
Before authority members held their debate the meeting heard the arguments for and against Highways England’s proposals.
A statement read out on behalf of Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, put forward the case for the magenta route which he said ‘barely touches the park’ and felt it was time to listen to ‘silent majority’ who live in and near the national park and who have ‘put up with lorries and cars thundering through their villages for too long’.
He added: “Stopping the bypass won’t stop traffic. It will simply mean ever more cars and lorries rat-running through the South Downs, though the villages, through historic Arundel, through the national park.”
Derek Waller, vice-chairman of OneArundel, believed the officers’ report was flawed.
He said: “It seems to me you have set your face against any improvements to the A27 and are simply digging in your heels as a matter of principle rather than helping the people and communities that live in and around the park.”
But the majority of public speakers opposed a bypass.
Emma Tristram, from the Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee, raised the impact of all the bypass routes on Tortington, Walberton and Binsted.
She criticised the proposed ‘massive level of destruction’ to save a few minutes on journey times.
Both Camilla Lambert, chair of the Arun Countryside Trust, and Henri Brocklebank, director of conservation at the Sussex Wildlife Trust, raised the impact of any bypass on biodiversity, wildlife and ecology and highlighted the issue of severance.
David Johnson, vice chair of the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Sussex branch, said in light of climate change they should not be encouraging car use as ‘better roads only mean more cars’.
Kay Wagland, from Arundel SCATE, suggested a bypass would ‘scar’ the landscape and lead to a loss of habitats and wildlife.
She called for a proper investigation of the ‘Arundel alternative’, which she argued was affordable and deliverable and ‘does the job needed’.
To respond to the consultation visit Highways England’s website