'˜Grayling is public enemy number one after cancelling A27 scheme'

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been branded '˜public enemy number one in West Sussex' due to his decision to cancel the A27 Chichester scheme and his handling of the Southern rail crisis.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling
Transport secretary Chris Grayling

The decision earlier this month to pull funding was blamed on ‘the withdrawal of support by local councils for the shortlisted options and significant local campaigns’.

Since then a community-led campaign to Build a Better A27 has been launched, bringing together elected representatives, campaigners, and business leaders to discuss a positive way forward.

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Labour county councillors suggested Prime Minister Theresa May should sack Mr Grayling as he had ‘walked away and washed his hands of the whole situation leaving us all in limbo’, according to Labour group leader Sue Mullins (Lab, Gossops Green and Ifield East) at last Friday’s Full Council meeting.

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) called Mr Grayling a ‘terrible’ transport secretary and labelled him ‘West Sussex public enemy number one’.

Meanwhile on the Tory benches Bill Acraman (Con, Worth Forest) said: “I do not think Chris Grayling has come out of this very well.”

Two amended motions were approved by West Sussex county councillors supporting the county council leader’s decision to lobby Mr Grayling to reinstate the funding for the A27 Chichester scheme and to initiate the Build a Better A27 workshops to unite communities and assess the correct options.

But a UKIP call to commission an independent review to assess the correct options for the A27 at Chichester was defeated.

One of the motions also asked leader Louise Goldsmith to seek reassurance from the transport secretary that projects for the A27 improvements at Arundel and Worthing/Lancing were not affected and there would not be a repetition ‘of the flawed consultation that happened in 2016’.

Bob Lanzer (Con, Maidenbower), cabinet member for highways and transport, said there was a strong public perception that he two northern options had been withdrawn from the consultation by Highways England ‘without adequate justification’.

He argued the way forward was to seek unity and present a compelling case to invest in the A27 around Chichester, adding: “I do not believe we have done anything wrong here. I think we have reflected the views locallly for the people who said ‘none of the above’.”

Both Mrs Goldsmith and Chichester District Council called for Highways England to re-run the consultation before Mr Grayling decided to scrap the scheme altogether.

This decision was criticised by James Walsh (LDem, Littlehampton East), leader of the Lib Dem group, who suggested the current position was due to Mrs Goldsmith’s ‘unilateral action’ and described how she was in ‘every possible stage of denial over her actions’.

He later added: “It’s important we unite as a council now. We are where we are and we need to make sure we present a united front, listen to our residents, and put pressure on the transport secretary.”

Peter Evans (Con, East Preston and Ferring) suggested Highways England had shown an ‘amazing lack of understanding of the A27 and its feeder roads’ with a ‘high proportion of the community wanting something else’. But in reference to Dr Walsh’s contribution, he explained how throwing mud ‘does not make it right or true’.

Meanwhile Margaret Evans (Con, Chichester South) felt the workshops would ‘get the right answer for the A27 and our beautiful city’.

She explained that it was not the leader but former cabinet member for highways and transport John O’Brien who fought for the consultation to be improved.

Mrs Goldsmith told councillors that she was determined not to have the same ‘clunky poor consultation’ when it came to improvements at both Arundel and Worthing/Lancing.

She explained how they had come together with other organisations so they could work with Highways England ‘to find a right solution for this area and for the people who live in it’.

Meanwhile Sandra James (UKIP, Bourne), leader of the UKIP group, suggested an independent review ‘free from political interference and bias’.

She added: “The answer is to have a consultation process which is inclusive of all the people, that will support and produce a unity which is sadly lacking at the moment.”

Ms James felt UKIP and Lib Dem motions calling for the creation of a community A27 improvement forum back in April 2016 had been rejected ‘due to political snobbery’.

The schemes for other parts of the A27 are still expected to go ahead.

Roger Oakley (Con, Worthing East) argued that the consultation for improvements at Worthing/Lancing had to be transparent and carefully considered, and suggested Highways England was the ‘bad apple here’.

Bob Smytherman (LDem, Tarring) added: “For Worthing we need something for our residents and businesses that are crying out for improvements.”

Mr Evans’ amendment to Dr Walsh’s motion was agreed by 37 votes to 16 with three abstentions, with the substantive motion then being carried by 49 votes to zero with six abstentions.

Mrs Evans’ amendment to Ms James’ motion was carried by 42 votes to nine with four abstentions, with the substantive motion passing by 51 votes to one with three abstentions.

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