A27 – £75million Update
CALLS FOR ON-LINE WORKS TO A27 RISK MORE CONGESTION, MORE POLLUTION AND DAMAGE TO SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK.
Calls to spend the £75 million set aside by the DfT to upgrade the A27 on counter-productive on-line works risks slowing traffic, increasing congestion, increasing pollution and putting a new road across the Downs and through the South Downs National Park, without solving the existing conflict between the increasing volume of long distance traffic on the A27 trunk road travelling east-west and local traffic travelling north-south.
Suggestions put forward have included cutting a new road into the South Downs National Park across the Downs to bypass Selmeston. This option was considered during the feasibility study undertaken in 2014 and shown to have poor strategic benefit, no economic benefit and a high adverse environmental impact. There has even been talk of putting a roundabout at the Wilmington crossroads, something which would inevitably slow traffic, increase congestion and increase pollution due to more stop-start driving. Calls for improved local access at junctions and a single speed limit are likely to worsen driving conditions on the A27, slowing traffic further and increasing congestion. There are over 45 junctions with the trunk road between Polegate and Beddingham, one of the principal failings of the road which is the main east-west road through Sussex.
Despite some claims to the contrary, DfT counts show traffic on the A27 between Polegate and Lewes is increasing. Traffic flows between Berwick and Beddingham have increased for 4 of the last 5 years, and in 2014 stood at just over 34,000 vehicles per day, an increase of over 20% since 2009. Traffic flows between Polegate and Berwick have increased each year for the last 3 years, having decreased during the recession and in 2014 stood at just over 22,500 vehicles per day, an increase of 29% since 2000.
The poor quality of the existing road is known to make many drivers detour through the National Park via the A259 and the neighbouring villages, many of which are reporting problems with speeding traffic. Wealden has one of the highest accident rates in the country on its rural roads, being 63% above the national average.
A new road between Polegate and Beddingham, whether single or dual carriageway, would take through traffic away from the existing route, further away from the National Park, encourage consistent driving speeds (reducing pollution), reduce traffic through the adjoining villages, and provide significant scope to enhance the existing road for local traffic, horse riders, cyclists and walkers. Local traffic would no longer be in conflict with through traffic and the villages along the road would no longer be cut in two. While there are highly exaggerated claims made about the impact of a new road across the Weald, landscaping and tree planting will do much to conceal any new road. The ‘untouched countryside’ between the Long Man of Wilmington and the High Weald already hosts the existing A27 (34,000 vehicles/day), the A22 (22,500 vehicles/day), the Polegate to Lewes railway line (137 trains/day), Arlington Reservoir, thousands of houses, miles of roads, electricity pylons, industrial estates and the impact of man’s activities over several millennia, yet virtually all is obscured by trees or hidden within the landscape and invisible from the Downs.
Sec. of State Patrick McLoughlin came to Eastbourne Town Hall in February and met Chamber representatives to discuss the A27 with Stephen Lloyd MP, Cllr Caroline Ansell and Council Leader David Tutt . He was accompanied by John Dowie of the Department for Transport and they both confirmed that the £75 million set aside for the Polegate to Lewes section of the A27 is not dependant on the Gatwick Airport decision.
The £75 million is set aside for us to improve the road and is flexible, according to our needs, so could be as much as £90 million. While this amount will not cover the cost of an offline expressway for the full length of this section of road it can be used to make a real difference to safety and journey times. For example it could pay to bypass the A22/A27 Polegate lights junction.
John Dowie told us that the Gatwick Airport decision could be a game changer. If Gatwick gets a second runway, the impact on the East Sussex economy might lead to the funds we need to develop this road and link Kent, Sussex and Hampshire more effectively. The Gatwick decision is being made by the Howard Davies Airport Commission now and will be announced later this year.
Late last year Mark McFadden wrote to the Herald to counter the Campaign for Protecting Rural England (CPRE) case against improving the A27. Here is Mark’s letter in full:
CPRE A27 ARGUMENTS ARE FAR FROM REALITY
The arguments put up by CPRE and other anti-road groups in recent weeks may grab headlines and create the impression that a motorway is to be routed through the National Park without any justification, but the reality is very different.
The existing A27 already lies a mile from the Long Man and any new road, whether single or dual carriageway, would lie further outside the National Park, removing traffic, noise and congestion away from Wilmington and Selmeston and lying even further downwind of the Downs. It would make the existing road significantly safer for cyclists and horse riders and those who live along its length, daily taking their lives in their hands venturing out of over 40 access points between Polegate and Beddingham.
The ‘unspoilt countryside’ of the Low Weald has been a landscape worked by man for thousands of years and already contains the A27 and A22, the Eastbourne-Lewes railway line, Arlington reservoir, miles of electricity pylons, a criss-cross of roads and lanes, thousands of houses and even the Romans ‘carved a scar through the countryside’ with their roads. Landscaping and trees already conceal much of man’s impact on the area and can do the same with a new road.
Over 1,000 residents and businesses responded to the Chamber of Commerce’s questionnaire from across the area and overwhelmingly supported upgrading the A27, confirmed the negative effects of the existing road and the potential for economic growth that improvement would bring. The anti-road groups would do well to actually look at the traffic flow counts produced by the DfT which show a 31% increase in traffic between Beddingham and Berwick since 2000 and an 18% increase in the last 2 years. Traffic flows here are at their highest for 13 years, in spite of economic recession, before any account is taken of nearly 20,000 new homes planned around Eastbourne, Hailsham and Lewes over the next decade.
Thankfully, it is not a question of solutions being ‘sexy’ or ‘charming’, but whether they will work and improve traffic flow, safety and reduce congestion. Minor junction improvements are recognised as making little or no difference. The old chestnut of the ‘Willingdon Chord’ has been regularly considered by Network Rail for decades and shown to be a non-starter as the very few advantages are heavily outweighed by the disadvantages and cost. While better use of public transport is very much to be encouraged, there needs to be realism about what it can achieve and where.
The road signs listing the train journey time between Polegate and Lewes imply local people cannot already work out the most efficient way to travel. Once the time taken to get to and from the stations is factored in, it is easy to see why so many people choose the convenience of cars. Many studies have shown that outside of urban areas, even substantial investment in public transport has limited impact on reducing car traffic as buses and trains have such limited coverage. Contrary to CPRE assertions, £30 million is already being invested in a Hailsham/Polegate/Eastbourne sustainable transport corridor package and an Eastbourne & South Wealden local sustainable transport walking and cycling package.
The success of the Pevensey Bypass in reducing traffic along Rattle Road and through Westham shows how effective new roads can be. DfT counts show that traffic flows along it have remained almost static since connecting with the Polegate bypass in 2006. The Polegate bypass halved journey times along the A27, reduced traffic through Polegate by 49%, reduced accidents and had an economic benefit 43% higher than forecast.
Traffic on the A27 is going to increase, with or without a new road. Hoping it will just go away because thousands of commuters and businesses will hop on a bus or overcrowded train to travel and send goods and services across the county is hopelessly optimistic at best and at worst will mean increasing congestion, cost and accidents.
For an interesting RAC report on the myths and merits of road building follow this link!
As a result of its appalling safety and reliability record 1051 business people and residents have responded to surveys put out by the Alliance of Chambers in East Sussex regarding the improvements needed to the A27. The road meanders like a B road between Polegate traffic lights and the Beddingham flyover and it has 47 junctions despite carrying around 30,000 vehicles per weekday.
Normally traffic flows like this would warrant a dual carriageway but a common sight at Wilmington crossroads is to see horses bringing the busy A27 to a standstill as they cross it to exercise on the South Downs. Riders and horses cross at least twice a day, every day putting horses and riders at risk.
These surveys have revealed a level of passion about the A27 including comments like:
“It’s an old cart track. Not fit for purpose in the 21st Century.”
“I have had the opportunity to re-locate a manufacturing business to Eastbourne that exports to more than 20 countries. This was not logistically feasible due to the poor road links.”
”My Company has lost several contracts by not being able to give guaranteed delivery times all around the county.”
And statistically the responses from across East Sussex reveal a remarkable level of support for improvements:
57% have lost customers and contracts due to the impact of the A27
64% have suffered increased costs
21% have considered relocation
50% would consider employing more local people if the A27 were improved
89% said the increase in tourism would help the area grow noticeably
Analysis has shown that if the companies who said they had considered relocation actually moved away we would lose over 1500 jobs from the area.
On the other hand, if the A27 were improved and 50% of businesses in East Sussex employed one more person each, as indicated in the survey, that would create jobs for over 9,000 people.
After another death last week when a 28 year old man was airlift
83% of residents said the A27 has a negative impact on the prosperity of Eastbourne
And 91% said the A27 is an unsafe road
Philip Johnson of Locate East Sussex said “Due to our proximity to London and mainland Europe, East Sussex is growing remarkably well – this despite the challenges presented by infrastructure such as the A27, which is clearly inadequate. Imagine how well the modern and progressive businesses here would be doing with a road system to match.”
Locate East Sussex
In March Stephen Lloyd wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin and we have managed to get this stretch of road included in the Strategic Roads Review with the help of Cllr. Caroline Ansell.
The South East Local Enterprise Partnership has also included it in their Strategic Economic Plan and the South Downs National Park CEO, Trevor Beattie has welcomed an upgrade to improve A27 safety and SDNP access.
Councillor Caroline Ansell also arranged a meeting between Patrick McLoughlin, our President Mark McFadden, SELEP Vice President Derek Godfrey and Chamber CEO Christina Ewbank in Eastbourne to press for the strangle hold this road has on our economy to be removed. Caroline then drove Patrick McLoughlin along the A27 from Polegate to Lewes to see it for himself.
Councillor Caroline Ansell and Chamber Chief Exec Christina Ewbank took the results of the survey to the top man in the roads ministry, Secretary of State for Transport, the Right Honourable Patrick McLoughlin MP. He was very interested in learning how an improved A27 could benefit the local economy and create new jobs.
If the A27 is improved we believe it will bring huge benefits to Eastbourne:
- Move the A27 away from the pinch points (Polegate, Selmeston, Firle) and safety will be improved
- The old A27 will become a pleasant tourist route through lovely villages without lorries thundering past
- More visitors will benefit from access to the South Downs National Park
- It will reduce congestion on the M25 as Sussex people will drive direct to Kent instead of going the long way
- Speed up access to and from Gatwick and Newhaven
- Faster road journeys and fewer delays will:
- Bring more customers to Eastbourne for all our businesses
- Bring more visitors to our hotels
- Encourage businesses to relocate to Eastbourne
- Demonstrate that we are “Open for Business”