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Councillors back controversial northern bypass of Chichester

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Andrew Forster
08 June 2018
 

West Sussex County Council is calling for a northern A27 bypass for Chichester, despite warnings it may be impossible to deliver because of its effect on the South Downs National Park. 

The council’s cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, Bob Lanzer, this week endorsed officer advice that an A27 northern bypass for the city should be built. He also accepted that the council should have a fallback option of a ‘full southern route’, which would see major improvements to six junctions on the existing A27 in the town. 

The proposal is the second improvement plan for the A27 South Coast trunk road to threaten the South Downs National Park in recent weeks. Highways England’s preferred route for the four-mile Arundel bypass, announced last month, would include a section within the park boundary (LTT 25 May). The South Downs National Park Authority has started proceedings for a judicial review of that decision, saying HE discounted options outside the park too early in the decision-making process. 

West Sussex County Council has been working with the community in Chichester to explore improvement options since the Government withdrew a plan last year to improve four junctions on the existing A27 round the south of the city. Ministers cited a lack of consensus about the plans locally (LTT 17 Mar 17). 

The council wants an improvement scheme included in Highways England’s second road investment strategy period (2020/21-2024/25). 

Consultant SYSTRA was commissioned by the council to review options. 

In this week’s report to Lanzer, Lee Harris, West Sussex’s executive director for economy, infrastructure and environment, and Matt Davey, director for highways and transport, recommended the council’s preferred option should be the ‘mitigated northern route’.

This would be a new dual carriageway ‘off-line’ route to the north of Chichester. It would feature lowered carriageways and ‘green bridges’ in sensitive sections to reduce severance. 

Harris and Davey acknowledged the route was controversial. “The environmental impacts of this option will be significant, even with carefully configured environmental mitigation measures.” The estimated scheme  cost is £350m-£400m.

A map appears to show part of the road within the National Park. “SYSTRA have identified that the ‘mitigated northern route’ option would conflict with national policy,” said Harris and Davey. “This is because major road building or widening in National Parks can only take place in exceptional circumstances and where it is in the public interest. There is also a duty on the county council to have regard to the purposes of National Park designation when considering projects outside National Parks that may have impacts within them. 

“In order to demonstrate that such exceptional circumstances exist, there would be a need to demonstrate that the strategic objectives could not be achieved in another way that would have less impact on the National Park.” 

The fallback option of the full southern route has an estimated cost of £300m-£350m.

Harris and Davey said there was no community consensus on the options. “No significant majority appears to have developed during the course of the project in favour of any of the conceptual options. This makes it challenging to demonstrate that there is community consensus.”

They said locally elected representatives should therefore “consider setting out a single joint position on the way forward to demonstrate a degree of local consensus on this issue”.

 
 
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