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April 27: Countryside... or Concrete? Here's what your politicians said...

Thursday, 30 April 2015 12:53

Over a hundred and forty Arundel residents crowded into the St Nicholas Hall to make sure that their parliament candidates heard their concerns and ambitions for the town and its surrounding countryside.

The event, organised by Arundel SCATE (the South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment), and CPRE Sussex, saw candidates from the main parties set out their stall on issues affecting Arundel. The hot topic of the evening being the proposals for a new Arundel bypass.

David Johnson, chair of CPRE Sussex, chairing the event, was introduced by Sue White, chair of Arundel SCATE, a new residents group. She told the meeting the group was keen to see the best transport possible solutions for the area and to conserve their beautiful and historic countryside. SCATE talks with experts from transport, ecology and countryside organisations for advice. They are demanding full, informed, local involvement in decision-making. Decision- making based on evidence, not political opinion or simply old-fashioned assumptions.

David, introduced the candidates, reminding everyone “we hold the countryside in trust, it’s not being held for something else”. That CPRE supports change, in the right places, at the right time.” Change that’s based on “using good solid data, not based on quick decisions.”

First up was Arundel’s Conservative MP of the past 10 years, Nick Herbert, who made a surprise and welcome appearance at the last moment. He reminded the audience of his deep commitment to the countryside and of all the work he’s done in trying to protect the 125 sq. miles of the district not protected by National Park status and consequently under intense pressure for development.

Lack of social housing

UKIP candidate Peter Grace expressed the need to make transport improvements but called for “21st century experts to provide 21st century solutions to improving and integrating the road, not building a racetrack”. He went on to say that in the country at large 23% of properties are deemed affordable but only 5% are in the countryside, with almost no social housing available. He noted that UKIP would aim to bring in the right to buy for British citizens.

Isobel Thurston representing the Green Party called for joined-up thinking to protect the planet. She went on to emphasise the need for local decision making and for investment in more effective and cheaper public transport. She agreed with Peter Grace that Arundel does not need a bypass and stressed that 250 million pounds scheduled for the bypass should not be spent on what she called ‘this kind of vandalism’. That money should all be spent on getting people out of their cars and onto affordable public transport. She sighted the successful example of Holland and other European countries with equivalent population pressures and agreed that we needed an integrated transport system.

Improving public transport

Labour’s candidate Christopher Wellbelove reiterated the point that “we are custodians here for a limited time, responsible for our legacy. He stressed that climate change is key and improving public transport an important part of reducing our carbon footprint.

Shweta Kapadia (Liberal Democrat) pointed out that a major Lib Dem initiative is a proposed government Office of Environmental Responsibility. She went on to expand on their thinking on sustainable housing, issues such as solar gain. She also pointed out that Arundel is the least congested section of the A27 'bottleneck' asking “why spend here?”

Nick Herbert’s response was that with 25,000 traffic movements daily, twice the number that should be using a single carriageway, improvement was needed. He also said mprovement was needed to reduce air pollution in surrounding areas and the number of ‘rat runs’ through the Downs.

The A27

A lively discussion followed around the various proposed route options and whether road building was viable at all, with audience members and the panel putting their points across with passion.

That many people feel that there is already a ‘preferred option’ and that local opinions are simply not being heard are issues raised both by many members of the audience and by the panel including Christopher Wellbelove who opposed new bypass plans, saying there was a “lot of suspicion about the cost, and fears about the process”.

Richard Smith asked from the floor “Is this going to be the first bypass to reduce traffic rather than increase it?” He followed up responses to his question with serious concern about the legacy we are leaving for the next generation through misguided road expansion.

Isobel Thurston made the point that much of the projected effects on the local economy are “guesswork” and that for the public transport providers to simply say that there are “no plans to improve our provision” is simply not acceptable.

Peter Grace pointed out that cost benefit analysis had been done and the aim was “to improve our area without destroying it”.

Nick Herbert said that poor infrastructure was costing the country two billion pounds annually which could be made up, with improved infrastructure, by improved economic performance.

Peter Grace wanted more decision making at local level, and the pros and cons clearly set out for major infrastructure projects followed by referenda.

Nick Herbert pointed out that there are two more years of consultation to come on the A27 proposals and that this was not a decision for Arundel alone. He said he ‘listens to your views and respects them, but the A27 is a strategic route for the broader community in West Sussex”.

He also reminded everyone that 80% of journeys in West Sussex are taken by car and “it would be very difficult to have a level of public transport that would tempt people out of them”.

Shweta Kapadia’s opinion was that another consultation was needed on all the strategic issues - not just Routes A and B. Isobel Thurston also wanted previous options back on the table. Nick Herbert directed people to his website to look at detailed studies on the proposed routes, reminding everyone that tunnelling had been ruled out on a cost basis – Something roundly rebutted by audience members.

He also noted that Option B travels right through Binsted and Walberton avoiding the National Park (according to the report) and Option A preferred as it avoids bisecting villages even though it cuts through a small area of the Park.

Last words on the subject from audience members were that “this strategic road is needed, we need better links between bus and train services, we need this route improved”. It was also emphasised that “the biggest contribution to congestion is commuter traffic, reducing that would free the road for business traffic”. Contributions from the floor made it clear that the contentious proposals for a new by-pass on the table were very unpopular with the majority of those attending.


The discussion moved on to landscape and development and the need for improved infrastructure as a means to encourage business development in places like Littlehampton and Bognor Regis, both currently areas of deprivation.

The effectiveness of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was called into question with Sheweta Kapadia saying “the NPPF needs more detail, it’s riding roughshod, local authorities are losing control of their areas”.

She went on to say that on housing, the NPPF has a lot to answer for. “Developers are getting away with proposals, local councils don’t have the power, planning inspectors toe the line more than they used to or should. We must make local plans as robust as possible and evidence based.”

Isobel Thurston “doesn’t think the NPPF is fit for purpose, a main priority for the Greens.” Peter Grace asserted UKIP’s stance as the “presumption in favour of brownfield, with 200,000 homes needed per annum, the greenbelt should be protected and planning decisions brought down to the local level”.

Nick Herbert said “ancient woodland is a jewel of our countryside and the NPPF wording ‘should be protected where possible and it’s loss mitigated’, may not be strong enough”. He offered to work with CPRE and others if it’s thought that the framework needs strengthening

He went on to say the localism is, in his opinion, working well and Arundel has got its local Neighbourhood Plan in place.

The evening was drawn to a close with David thanking all who came, posed questions and took part. He concluded by saying local people must have a strong voice to ensure that the right decisions are made for their area and with the hope that we can look forward to a much more transparent and open consultation on that burning issue, the A27 over the next few years.

Penny Hudd, CPRE Sussex

NOTE: Arundel SCATE will be running public events after the election to look at alternative solutions.

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