Protest over controversial plans for new dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate

A socially-distanced protest over controversial plans for a new dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate was staged on Monday (June 22).

Wednesday, 24th June 2020, 4:14 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th June 2020, 5:38 pm

About 70 campaigners swooped on a field near Ripe after a ‘damning’ report from the South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment (SCATE) was published.

The report responds to a ‘business case’ submitted to Highways England to provide £450million of funding to dual the existing road.

SCATE argues in the report that the business case is ‘flawed’, with issues that have been skimmed over, left uncosted and hidden from proper public scrutiny.

Lewes Lib Dems' parliamentary spokesman Oli Henman (left) with campaigners

Lewes Lib Dems’ parliamentary spokesman Oli Henman joined protesters on Monday, arguing: “The project would likely cost much more than the £530million foreseen and the proposals take no account of the environmental impact of the proposed road-building, even though much of the route is inside or alongside a National Park.

“It is particularly worrying that this road would likely encourage more car use and only serve to increase traffic and pollution in surrounding areas, with a knock-on effect of causing significant tailbacks from the junctions into local towns like Lewes and Polegate.

“This approach is out of step with our new reality. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the benefits of clean air and reduced pollution. Any additional funding for transport could be spent in many better ways, such as delivering more frequent and longer train services, better cycle routes or local electric buses.”

The multi-million pound scheme to improve the A27 was announced in 2018, and received backing from all of the local MPs in East Sussex.

Lewes Lib Dems' Oli Henman with campaigners

The scheme would see the 10.5 miles of single lane A27 between Lewes and Polegate turned into a dual carriageway to improve journey times across East Sussex for the many thousands of people who use the road each day.

Lewes and Polegate MP Maria Caulfield has previously made clear that she welcomes any funding to dual the existing road and improve access for all road users – but is against any form of new motorway-style road through the South Downs or through any of the villages.

She previously told the Express: “It is why I support the funding bid of £450million to improve the vital link between Lewes and Polegate which is currently a busy, congested and dangerous road. The funding would see improvements for all road users and should have been done decades ago.”

This week, she said: “The A27 between Beddingham and Polegate is a dangerous and congested road that in recent weeks has claimed yet more young lives.

East Sussex Green Party members and councillors

“The Lib Dems and SCATE may want to ignore this issue but the A27 is a the only strategic east-west link in the area, and has an accident record exceeding the national average for A roads.

“It cannot cope with its present and projected future usage. A dual carriageway is the only option that will allow the level of traffic to safely use the road and allow safe overtaking of tractors and other slow road users.

“Residents and regular road users know this.

“I will continue to support the vast majority of local people in the Lewes constituency and further afield who know that we need the A27 to be a dual carriageway.”

Campaigners on Monday were also joined by East Sussex Green Party members and councillors.

Lewes District councillor Johnny Denis said: “This proposal, with all its flaws, highlighted by SCATE, represents an old world view. A fantasy view in which climate breakdown doesn’t exist and in which an ever-expanding road network keeps the economy growing. We’ve moved on. We now know that many need to travel less for work.”

He argued that plans to spend up to £1bn on a 16km stretch of road cutting through green fields, that is projected to reduce average journey times between Eastbourne and Lewes by nine minutes, was ‘not worth it’.

“The proposals would cross pristine species-rich countryside which, once built over will never recover and impact a number of villages and hamlets including Beddingham, Glynde, Ripe Arlington and Wooton and look set to create a car-dependent new town in the Low Weald North West of Polegate,” he added.

Countryside charity CPRE Sussex said the plans ‘show no respect for the landscape or the environment’.

It described the scheme as a result of an ‘outdated, hotchpotch of negotiations which have been ongoing for many years’.

David Johnson, vice chairman, said: “We cannot afford to use our land up needlessly. This road would create real problems for our villages and glorious Sussex countryside in the guise of solving imaginary problems.

“It is a faulty business case which massively underestimates the true value of what these road proposals would destroy for future generations.”