COMMENT: Why we decided to publish the A27 route maps

Today we took the big decision to publish on our website all seven maps showing the draft route options for the A27 at Chichester.

A congested A27 coming into Chichester from the west
A congested A27 coming into Chichester from the west

In tandem with Spirit FM as part of our campaign for transparency, we released the documents at 3pm online.

Two of the maps show a possible new northern bypass through Lavant, while one shows part of a new southern route straight through villages including Runction, Oving and Tangmere.

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Option Five, the second of two draft bypasses north of Chichester. ©Crown copyright 2016 Ordnance Survey. Media 013/16

The maps were leaked by an anonymous source. They are genuine, having been commissioned by Highways England - though that is not where they came to us from.

Highways England did not want the public to see these draft maps ahead of its six-week consultations to take place in the spring.

Yet prior to us releasing them, they had been widely circulated at parish council meetings, amongst various councillors and to members of the public.

It caused a ridiculous situation where ‘private’ maps were in the public domain, causing all sorts of speculation amongst concerned residents all over the Observer patch.

It led to West Sussex County Council cabinet member Jeremy Hunt (Chichester North) calling both Highways England and consultant Mott MacDonald ‘inept’ and ‘not all that bright’ at a packed council meeting this week.

We asked for the maps repeatedly but were turned down.

When we finally received them from another source and told Highways England we planned to publish the draft maps, they had the audacity to call us ‘irresponsible’.

What is irresponsible is releasing so-called private maps to stakeholders, as they have admitted, and no doubt others, expecting them not to be shared.

The Observer broke the news last year that the northern route option was suddenly back on the table, after Highways England had dropped it from its plans only in 2005.

Had it not come out at a parish council meeting, we doubt if Highways England would have told people ahead of its paltry six-week consultation in the spring.

Now we have had to release these maps (which are drafts and subject to change), because of their repeated insistence on secrecy despite so many people being affected.

In truth Highways England has shown nothing but utter incompetence in its whole handling of what is the biggest transport development the Chichester area has seen for decades, and as a result we firmly believe heads should roll.

It has said, in us publishing these maps, we are causing ‘needless concern’ - but if it’s not evident enough by the fact that nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition against a northern bypass - many, many people are already concerned, and that worry has not been helped by a continuous shroud of secrecy.

And then a project which is so massive is to only have a six-week public consultation (which itself has been repeatedly delayed) simply beggars belief.

Senior county councillors have criticised those plans, and now we are calling for those consultations to be extended.

Now that people have a greater idea about where any new A27 routes may go, their opinions deserve to be heard, in full, before any option is taken forward.

We all agree something urgently needs to be done to improve our major trunk road, and that there is no easy option.

But in trying in vain to withhold every bit of information, Highways England has only evoked fury and frustration in equal measure, before the public even get to have their say.

Do you agree with this comment piece? Have your say in the comments below, or join the debate on our Facebook pages.

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