Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The road to a lasting legacy isn't always smooth

Back in the summer of 2014, we launched a Campaign with our MPs; Tim Loughton, Peter Bottomley, Nick Herbert and Nick Gibb called ActionA27.

The campaign was to raise awareness for improvements to the A27, Arundel, Worthing and Lancing. It was really well supported by local residents and businesses and it worked! In December 2014 it was announced that both schemes would go forward for improvements.

As we knew that Chichester was already due for investment this was good news for West Sussex.

However the course of road construction never runs smoothly – as we were to find out two years later.

Improvements to the Chichester stretch of the road came forward first when initial work was started by Highways England in 2015 with a consultation arranged for March 2016. That consultation, as we all know, was halted just before it was due to be launched with two options to bypass the city to the north were withdrawn. The consultation eventually took place in July with revised options.

This meant the consultation lacked credibility with many of the public  from the outset. It was only in December 2016 that we learnt that 47 per cent of those that took part opted for no option over the options on the table.

Since then the scheme was cancelled. However in April Highways England announced the money was still available but later that the funding was time limited. Residents have watched the whole process in dismay, resignation and disillusion.

Certainly the whole consultation process has divided communities and roused strong feelings.

When the scheme was cancelled in March I felt it was right to hold a community meeting to listen to the community voices – it was called at very short notice and my thanks to the Chichester Observer who supported this meeting and to our bishop who attended the first meeting too.

From that meeting the BuildaBetterA27 group got underway, a community group with representatives from all parts of the community coming together to discuss the art of the possible for the Chichester stretch of the A27.

The workshops have been well attended and have certainly had their moments! But there is no doubt in my mind of the commitment of the community in coming together to work out the best solution for Chichester. During that time we have had county council elections and a general election which resulted in a new MP for Chichester; Gillian Keegan. Gillian has really supported the group in their deliberations since she was elected.

The issue before us when we met on Monday was about the ‘money on the table’. Although the scheme had been cancelled the money was still available but only till the end of September and that formed the basis of discussion.

Gillian Keegan who has been liaising with Government and Highways England gave an update on her discussions. Both West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council sought a steer from the BaBA27 Community Group – whether to accept the money and Option 2A of the original consultation with some amendments or to submit a request into the next Government road investment programme known as RIS 2 which would give us more time to develop a scheme more sympathetic to this magnificent Cathedral City.

Various groups in the room discussed the pros and cons of each option and at the end provided a steer of 26 for RIS1 and 36 for submitting a scheme to RIS2 . 

As local politicians we too have rolled round the pros and cons of both RIS1 and RIS2; money today and certainty or money tomorrow with no absolute certainty.  

As politicians we make decisions in good faith, we weigh up decisions, listen to the voice of the community, take advice from our officers – but in the end the decision we make is for us alone and that can be hard – we do it for what we believe is the right reason in the knowledge that the decisions we make will leave a legacy and we want to leave a good legacy. 

The RIS 1 option gives certainty but at a cost. The cost of ignoring the voice from the consultation, an environmental cost, an impact on this magnificent historic cathedral city, a cost that is not a long term solution with no future-proofing and a cost that once built we and future generations will have to live with.

So this week I am not alone in considering where I stand. It has been a long and sometimes bruising journey to this point with certainly many bumps along the road. I know that in the division I represent people have strong feelings on both sides. But I am conscious that right at the start the whole consultation was flawed which has brought us to where we are today. I know too how many value the BuildABetterA27 community Workshop – the sense that the community voice is heard and valued and together a way forward without all the negative impacts can be found. So tomorrow at the County Council’s Environmental Services Select Committee I will be sharing where I stand.

I do believe that we need a better solution – a better scheme which communities believe in, a scheme that is right for our City and area, a scheme which as much as can be future proofed which is why I will supporting the RIS2 option.
With eyes wide open the RIS2 Option presents a lot of work ahead. We will need to know what short term mitigations HE will be taking to help the traffic flow.
I promised a highways consultant to help and advise and we will need to find one.

The BuildaBetterA27 Community Group needs to work together to building on what has been achieved, and we will have to work hard to make our case in RIS2.  

It is one big bold leap for all of us. Local leaders and MP working together supported by our communities to work for the best solution for the A27 a road that impacts on all of us one way and another – oh brave new world.

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