Chichester has a problem: it’s highways network is not designed for the 2016 patterns and volumes of traffic and certainly not designed for the 2019 patterns and volumes of traffic once thousands of new homes are added to the City in the coming years.
In 2004 the Highways Agency saw this problem coming and proposed upgrading the A27. Their public exhibition saw 9234 responses. 6304 people (68%) agreed with the Highways Agency strategy. Then in July 2005 WSCC Councillor M submitted a petition with 2053 signatures asking the Highways Agency to consider a Northern Bypass instead of upgrading the A27.
The Highways Agency considered this option and in their report concluded building a new road to the North of Chichester would not stop the existing A27 needing to be upgraded and therefore the cost alone made this option an uneconomic method of solving Chichester’s traffic problem.
In the end the exercise proved academic as there was currently no money to spend on the A27 at Chichester. However in the meantime Councillor M was promoted to become WSCC Cabinet Member for Highways.
Over the following decade plans emerged for Roads Investment Scheme (RIS) funding. WSCC, in partnership with others, applied for funding to improve the existing A27. Funds were allocated to a project known as the ‘A27 Chichester Bypass Scheme’ by the Highways Agency who had by now had been turned into a company called ‘Highways England’.
Highways England began to look at options to solve this problem and considered 1) upgrading the existing A27, 2) building a new bypass to the South, and 3) building a new bypass to the North. When word spread in early 2016 a northern option was being considered, but before any proposals were officially presented, 4,412 concerned residents and businesses responded to the rumour by signing a petition to express their opposition to a new northern bypass being built around the North of Chichester.
By the time options for the A27 Chichester Bypass Scheme were officially presented in 2017 the northern bypass and southern bypass (new road building) options had been removed. As in 2004, the options presented to the public were for ‘on-line’ bypass improvements.
Once again Councillor M (who had stood down from his post as Cabinet Member for Highways only months before Highways England were due to present their options) and others, began to campaign for a northern bypass to be included in the consultation.
As had proved popular in national campaigns for Brexit and the US Presidential elections, the campaign in favour of a northern bypass focussed on false allegations of ‘the establishment vs majority’. Claiming the establishment was colluding for the benefit of itself and the detriment of the people an aggressive campaign put significant pressure on local politicians to oppose the proposed solutions or else they would be siding with the elite.
No evidence was ever produced to substantiate these claims but that didn’t stop members of the public who had no interest in the A27 wading in with copycat slurs against all and any in authority. Pro-northern bypass campaigners set-up facebook pages (32 followers), twitter accounts (99 followers) and a petition (3979 signatures). Ultimately the local politicians who hadn’t signed up to this level of pressure and certainly not this level of correspondance decided the easiest solution was to vote for no improvement at all.
The result was a very divided Chichester community and a Secretary of State for Transport who didn’t want to be dragged into Chichester’s local politics. The Chichester A27 roads investment was cancelled. The District lost £250m of inwards investment.
Clearly the Highways professionals know which option their calculations indicate give best value for money and deliver the solution needed. The question remains whether that solution will ever be realised? It’s not a problem the current round of local politicians will have to face. On their watch they have voted to kick the problem down the road. The average age of our current crop of County & District politicians means statistically they won’t be serving when Highways England next bring their proposal to the public for a solution to the A27 at Chichester.
The below video shows countryside to the NW of Chichester. A northern bypass for Chichester should never be built through this historic and productive countryside unless it brings significant and substantial economic benefit to Chichester. The professionals have been trying to tell us for over a decade a northern bypass does not bring those benefits and is not the solution.