Did you know that Highways England have been running a 4 week consultation on the errors and mistakes in the 2019 consultation they ran on the options for improving the Arundel A27? The deadline is this Sunday 1 March, but Highways England say you can only respond if you responded to the previous consultation AND the errors they are reporting would have changed your original response.
HE also say that ‘The corrections do not affect the overall nature of our assessments of the various options and for many of the people who responded to the consultation, it’s unlikely that the updated information will have a bearing on their original views of the options however, if your opinions have changed when you read the corrections, then we want to ensure you can comment further on the latest information.’ However when you go through to the online questionnaire, all you can do is change you preferred and least preferred options, there is no ability to actually ‘comment’ on anything.
We feel that this is another example of a major infrastructure project failing to acknowledge the importance of impacts on the environment and the legislation and policies that we have to try to make things better for nature. HE are continually changing their information and running consultations, but in a completely opaque and unfair way. We have responded to this current consultation in an email to [email protected] as it was clear that the online questionnaire was too restrictive. You might like to do the same before Sunday.
Below is the full text of the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s letter to Highways England:
Dear Mr Woodbridge,
Re: A27 Arundel Bypass 2019 Public Consultation – Corrections
Thank you for the letter you sent the Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT) regarding the additional consultation on the Arundel A27. It appears not everyone who responded to the 2019 consultation was informed directly.
SWT objects to the inadequate way in which this consultation has been carried out. In particular we strongly object to being forced to respond only through the online questionnaire, which is so restrictive it is not clear how any useful information can be obtained. It is not acceptable to limit the questions to only preferred and least preferred options with no ability to justify or explain the change in position. This is not consistent with the questionnaire from the 2019 consultation and therefore does not allow a comparison of responses before and after the errors were published.
Additionally, SWT stated in our 2019 response that the way Highways England (HE) had designed their questionnaire for that consultation was already unduly restrictive, not allowing respondents to convey the significance of the biodiversity impacts of the options. This consultation questionnaire is even worse. The questionnaire also relies on individual’s remembering their preferences from the previous consultation as they may have not chosen to have a copy of their answers sent to them. This gives us no confidence that the information HE is receiving about changes in opinion will be accurate.
It is dishonest for HE to frame the consultation as being unimportant because HE believes that the corrections to the documents make no difference to their overall assessments of the various options. For you to publicly state in your letter to previous respondents that ‘For many of the people who responded to the consultation, it’s unlikely that the updated information will have a bearing on your original views of the options’ is leading and coercive. This statement will clearly discourage respondents from considering the new information or responding to the consultation. We believe that this effect will be exacerbated by the inaccessible and confusing way that the errors are presented.
SWT is particularly concerned about the error in the amount of woodland impacted for each scheme in the Public Consultation Brochure. The change in the amount of woodland impacted for the Cyan and Beige routes is significant, especially given that they bring the figures for these online routes much closer to those for the offline options of Magenta, Amber and Grey. SWT feels that this change is particularly important as many people responding to the 2019 consultation may only have considered the summarised and accessible information in the brochure rather than the vast quantity of evidence and assessment documents.
Along with the serious issues listed above, SWT does not believe that 4 weeks is long enough for a consultation of this importance, especially if not all previous respondents have been contacted and when there has been little or no publicity. Neither the 2019 consultation nor this recent consultation were fit for purpose. Not least because all six options fail to address the Government’s commitment to a legally binding net zero emissions targets by 2050. SWT urges HE to look at the evidence again and present a proper public consultation which is inclusive, fair and accurate.
Jess Price Conservation Officer