The purpose of this article is to give you some insight into the thinking at the Chamber following the publication of the consultation documents and the plans they contain.
Highways England have been tasked by the government to devise options to relieve what must be some of the most appalling congestion on any English ‘A’ road. To quote the HE consultation document directly:
‘The A27 Worthing and Lancing improvements scheme is identified within the government’s 2015-2020 Road Investment Strategy which states that England’s strategic road network requires upgrading and improving to ensure that it can deliver the performance needed to support the nation in the 21st century.’
‘The scope of the A27 Worthing and Lancing improvements scheme as described in the road investment strategy is: “Improvements to the capacity of the road junctions along the stretch of single carriageway in Worthing and narrow lane dual carriageway in Lancing. The extent and scale of the improvements, including the option of full dualling are to be agreed in consultation with West Sussex county council and the public.’
The government has allocated a budget of between £50 and £100 million to the scheme. The option presented is costed at £69 million.
It is worth bearing in mind the above because we have now entered into a short and inconveniently timed consultation period which was launched by HE on 19th July and is set to end on 12 September. During this time, every stakeholder in the A27 is at liberty to make their views known and that of course is exactly what the Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce is keen to do on behalf of its members. It is extremely important that the Chamber formally writes to Highways England and responds on behalf of its membership because the weight that our response carries will be proportionate to our membership. That isn’t to say that every single business shouldn’t express their own view in fact quite the contrary, they should. The Chamber’s job over the next few weeks is to come to an agreed position that the vast majority of the membership can support and to that end, we will be surveying our members once we have agreed a positional statement.
There can be only one….
As things stand HE has only brought one option to the table. It covers a scheme that in our view might result in fairly low level incremental improvements along a six-kilometre section of the road between Ivydore Avenue in Durrington and Manor Road/Grinstead Lane in Lancing. The option that has been presented sees work being undertaken on six junctions including of course Lyons Farm and Grove Lodge. The latter being by all accounts the worst junction for congestion in the county and the former being not much better.
The issue with these works is that whilst there are some fairly radical changes proposed for some of the junctions, none of the junctions will see ‘grade separation’. For the uninitiated grade separation means keeping the roads apart - so for instance a flyover or an underpass. In our view at the very least there needs to be grade separation at Grove Lodge and preferably at Offington Corner and Lyons Farm as well as a closer look at the impact of the works to the east of Grinstead Lane/Manor Road where the New Monks Farm development will impact and where current proposals make life very difficult for Lancing College.
An initial view:
The A27 is a strategic English ‘A’ road trying to be too many things. It is both a local connector and an east/west highway. Highways England have worked up a scheme that has some merit, but following a breakfast where the consultation was discussed (and thanks to Highways England for taking part) the initial view of the Chamber is that the scheme needs a far larger budget if it is going to make any meaningful difference to the problem and achieve on the government’s own aims. A £69 million spend on shaving a few minutes off east/west transit times at the expense of lengthening north/south journeys is not the answer. As things stand, we think that the works being proposed will result in gridlocking the town for the duration of the works with very little gained afterwards, so we would rather delay the scheme for a short while to persuade Mr Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, that the budget needs to be increased so that the solution will work for the long term.
If we can achieve this so that grade separation is included in the scheme we believe it will deliver improved value for money by delivering a meaningfully upgraded A27 meeting the government’s aim whilst also having a very positive effect to our local economy and the thousands of residents and businesses that contribute to it and depend on the road. We look with some envy to our west where we see a worthy Arundel scheme which will hopefully result in a bypass for that town of 5,000 residents at a budget of around £250 million. We look with sympathy even further west where the Chichester scheme is currently off the agenda. Worthing’s a town of around 108,000 with the highest population density in the county and well above the national average, is a major commercial and industrial centre in West Sussex and deserves a long-term solution.
“A £69 million spend on shaving a few minutes off east/west transit times at the expense of lengthening north/south journeys is not the answer.”
For the record, our two local MPs, whose constituencies the road runs through have both rejected the option. The headline around their response sums up their view: MPs brand Worthing to Lancing A27 improvement plans an ‘elaborate damp squib’.
Our next steps:
Whilst the Chamber has formed an initial view, it is now looking to consult with members to agree our approach and come up with a statement. This will then be incorporated into an official response to the consultation (and which we hope will broadly align with the various other groups concerned). We will be emailing member businesses over the next few weeks putting forward and looking for a broad acceptance around a Chamber stance. We hope that our approach, which is collaborative rather than confrontational will win Mr Grayling around to what is obviously now a political issue rather than a Highways England one. You can download various PDFs and see the scheme in detail if you visit: https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/he/a27-worthing-and-lancing-improvement/