LETTER: Facts ignored by candidates

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You have reported comments made by the Conservative candidates for Eastbourne and Lewes about the planned improvements to the A27.

As concerned locals, we wish to set out some facts about the A27 which the candidates have ignored. The budget of £75m for on-line and safety improvements (Highways England consulted on these in 2016) was secured by then MP for Lewes, Norman Baker, before the 2015 election. This was and is hugely welcome and should improve the lives of both residents and users of the road. Progress is well under way and work is committed to start by 2020 to be completed shortly after. Any new road, costing up to £400m, would be at least 10 and even 15 years away. Costs tend to go up.

The Conservative candidates’ move to get the Transport Secretary Grayling to syphon off £3m of the budget for immediate A27 improvements to fund a feasibility study for a road that may never be built, is not in our opinion either good planning or a success for locals. It’s simply electioneering – and could delay improvements.

The Chamber of Commerce in Eastbourne has been lobbying for a new road for some time. However, the last government-funded study (which Grayling has clearly ignored) found it to be such bad value for taxpayers’ money that the Treasury was not even asked to look at it.

Traffic levels on this stretch of the A27 have fluctuated over the last 15 years, rising and falling with peaks in 2008 and 20015 and troughs in 2000 and 2012. Extra capacity with a £400m completely new road would lead to gridlock at both the Lewes and Polegate ends, especially with more housing in the Polegate/Hailsham area planned and coming on stream without the high-quality alternatives to the car desperately needed in a growing Eastbourne ‘travel to work area’ – there’s a deafening silence on these. In Lewes, the roads are already crammed at peak hours.

A new road in the Low Weald overlooked (and loudly overheard) by the South Downs, next to and partially within the National Park, would cause huge environmental damage. Any new road would cause irreversible harm to interests of acknowledged importance: significant listed buildings, a Registered Park and Garden, a Roman road of high archeological value, ancient woods and protected species, high-quality farmland and, not least, the important and classic views of the Weald that are enjoyed by thousands of visitors annually to the top of the South Downs and the famous Long Man of Wilmington: he already complains regularly about poor air quality!

In our view, the smaller scale schemes on the A27 already consulted upon will bring quick wins at reasonable cost, making substantial difference to the lives of residents and visitors alike, while protecting some of the UK’s finest landscapes – a priceless national asset. Put simply, the minister should give the £3m back to enable Highways England to ‘get on with the job’. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Secretary of State Grayling’s pronouncement is an apparent total ignorance of the unrealised potential of the parallel railway line to accommodate more and better train services. This would make good use of existing infrastructure, increasing accessibility for all at little environmental cost. He can’t have spent more than an hour or two in the area. Secretary of State – do come again (by train) – and talk to a true cross section of residents, not just the roads lobby, aka the secretive A27 Reference Group.

Derrick Coffee

(County Officer – Campaign for Better Transport – East Sussex)