By Dr Tony Whitbread
The Arundel bypass is the key that will unlock a chain of destruction across Sussex. This is the legacy that will be left for future generations.
It is regrettable that some in the ‘pro-roads’ lobby are resorting to political manoeuvring to get their way.
The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) is to be congratulated for standing up for its purposes. Faced with the environmentally damaging Arundel Bypass the Authority has challenged Highways England because of its poor consideration of other options. Highways England (HE) must now defend its position, look at alternatives, and if these too are unacceptable then the Department of Transport must look again at how it is implementing transport policy.
This is quite right. It is not acceptable for politicians to make vague statements about “unelected quangos” (the SDNPA is made up predominantly of elected representatives whereas HE is not) or “wasting public money” (£250m on a bypass that will add to congestion rather than relieve it wastes far more money).
The SDNPA has done its job in challenging HE. It would have exposed a severe weakness if it had not. Since being formed in 2011 the Park has delivered a great deal for Sussex. It leads the country in its new local plan, has an impressive record in seeking good solutions with development proposals and has stimulated many valuable projects that might not have happened without them. It has challenged many developments over the past 7 years and generally the solutions they find are far better as a result.
The SDNPA, however, can only go so far. We are still suffering from a return to a 1960’s roadbuilding momentum and, as we see time and time again, governments can ride roughshod over their own policies and their own authorities.
Regarding the situation in Arundel we are being sold the lie that “…limited environmental damage has to be accepted because it is needed to relieve congestion and so improve a failing economy...” (Go to any Arundel bypass social media forum and you will quickly pick up this attitude). Sounds reasonable enough – but every part of that sentence is wrong, indeed indefensible.
- Environmental damage is significant, and has been identified as such many times over. Even HE note its significance. Despite untruths told in parliament, there is no getting away from this.
- A roads programme will not solve congestion. Study after study of real situations show how traffic increases, and with it congestion, as a result of increasing road capacity. If you like traffic jams, then build an Arundel bypass.
- A link between road building and the economy is almost impossible to find. Towns that are poorly linked to the transport network can perform as well or better than those that are.
- The economy of the area is not failing. Lobbyists proudly say how a bypass has been needed for years yet there is no sign of the economic collapse we have been warned of for decades.
Highways England recently published a reduced cost benefit ratio for the Arundel preferred option scheme (now 1.51 having been reduced from 2.6). This seems extraordinary since 1.5 is the point at which the cost benefit is considered poor. Large infrastructure projects are notorious for coming in late and out of budget, however in the Arundel case, any slight deviation from the predicted costs (inflation, changes in value of the £, underestimated mitigation costs etc.) and this scheme fails to deliver value for public money.
The political manoeuvring induced by challenges to the Arundel scheme, speaks volumes about how insecure the roadbuilding lobby is about its own proposals. Roads damage the environment. The benefits must therefore outweigh the damage. And this is where the road building case falls apart. By attempting to silence voices of opposition, it is clear that the roadbuilding lobby now realise this.