Last year, it put forward six colour-labelled options for the A27 bypass that the public could have their say on. Thousands responded to the consultation, and today (October 15) Highways announced that the 'grey route' has been picked as the one it will be hoping to build.
What is the 'grey option'?
This route, shown in the video above, sweeps south of the South Downs National Park and includes a new dual carriageway between Crossbush in the east and a new junction near Tye Lane in the west.
It is the longest and costliest of the six routes put forward, estimated by Highways last year at £320 to £455million, cuts through the least amount of woodland - 1.49 hectares, compared to 20.57 for the most impactful option - and is the only option not to pass through at least part of the national park.
It would also save the most driving time: six to 11 minutes per journey, Highways previously estimated. It is expected to deliver benefits for 60 years.
But it will heavily impact the villages of Binsted, Walberton and Tortington, which have fought against bypass plans for years. The new road would cut through Binsted Valley, passing close to the village’s 12th Century church, natural wetlands and a rare chalk stream, campaigners said.
Environmental campaigners have also been extremely vocal in opposing any bypass.
Both Arun District Council and West Sussex County Council originally backed the 'magenta route' option, which was similar to the grey route but went through ancient woodland and the South Downs National Park and went through more of Binsted than Walberton.
What benefits does Highways England claim a 'grey' bypass will bring for drivers?
Aside from the reduced journey times, Highways England said it will:
Make journeys safer - the A27 at Arundel has an above average collision rate. In the five-year period January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2017, 81 personal injury collisions, resulting in 121 casualties, were recorded between Crossbush junction to the east and the Fontwell (East) junction to the west.
Reduce congestion – the existing A27 through Arundel is operating at up to 150% capacity, with around 21,000 vehicles using the A27 through on a daily basis, this is predicted to increase to 26,300 by 2041.
Support economic growth – businesses across the region will benefit from efficiencies and improved journey times, while the additional capacity will enable the authorities to better manage population growth.
How has West Sussex reacted?
For residents of Binsted, Walberton and Tortington, this is the worst-case scenario.
On Twitter, Binstead Village said: "Horrific for Binsted, Walberton and Tortington. ‘Avoids the National Park’ but will wipe out our village completely. Binsted Rife Valley, trashed. St Mary’s Church, almost 1000 years old, utterly ruined. We are desperate."
It added: "Grey route is so bad we thought they’d never go for it."
Extinction Rebellion Chichester replied: "Madness, cruel devastating madness. Time to lie down in front of so called progress."
Suzanne Clark, chairman of Walberton Parish Council, said it was the 'worst possible option' for the villages.
Emma Tristram from Binsted, who previously blocked bypass plans with a High Court challenge, felt Highways England had ‘ignored public opinion’ as ‘only seven per cent of responders voted for [grey] in the public consultation’. “A majority of the responders – 64% – wanted Beige or Cyan [routes that followed the current path of the A27] or ‘do nothing’”, she said.
In contrast, The Woodland Trust said it was 'delighted threatened ancient woodland has had a reprieve' and Arundel mayor Tony Hunt, speaking on behalf of Arundel Town Council, welcomed the news as it would stop drivers ‘rat-running’ through the town centre.
Environmental campaigners are also not happy. The countryside charity CPRE Sussex said it was 'appalled' by the news and the Arundel SCATE community group said it wanted all bypass plans to be scrapped.
Politicans have also spoken out following the news. Andrew Griffith, Conservative MP for Arundel & South Downs, supported the project but was disappointed alternative routes that had less impact on the villages had been 'blocked'. He said he was 'committed to supporting residents in getting the best noise mitigation, road design and, where appropriate, swift compensation'.
Paul Marshall, Conservative leader of West Sussex County Council, said he would also be lobbying Government for support for the residents affected and the council would now examine the reason for this decision.
Dr James Walsh, Lib Dem leader of Arun District Council, backed the plans, saying it was 'a crucial part of the A27 major national and regional south coast route, of crucial importance to business, tourists, and residents'.
This was echoed by the Transport for the South East partnership of business leaders and local Government figures, which welcomed the news as it would aid the South East's economic growth.
How has Highways England responded to concerns?
Jason Hones is programme leader for the Arundel Bypass. Since the public had its say on the six options last year, which has informed Highways' decision, the pandemic struck - leading to a massive fall in the amount of cars on the roads and an increase in working from home which could have a long-term impact.
In response, Mr Hones said: "Coronavirus hasn't really impacted on our decision-making as it will be a relatively short-term blip when we are designing a road with benefits for 60 years.
"In the future, people will be using hybrid and electric cars and with the forecasted growth in the area, the road still needs to exist."
Concerns were also raised about how the project would be funded, given that the last budget figure was still around half of the £455million top estimate. Mr Hones said they were not announcing an updated cost for the project because they were in the ‘final throes’ of commercial negotiations, but Highways England had ‘rebalanced’ its entire national investment strategy to make sure it was fully funded internally.
Walberton Parish Council said Highways' announcement had not addressed the impact the bypass would have on Walberton & Binsted C Of E Primary School in The Street, Walberton. Mr Hones acknowledged 'each route option had its pros and cons, there was no clear out and out, slam-dunk decision' but they had 'taken all the potential impacts into account'.
Binsted resident Emma Tristram previously mounted a legal challenge to the bypass which led Highways England to go back to the drawing board over the reliability of its data.
When asked whether these plans would be robust enough to withstand any legal challenges Mr Hones said: "I would like to reassure your readers that we have done the utmost to make sure this is completely above board. Our decision-making has been open and transparent, and wholly defensible.
"We believe this is the long-term best option for reducing the problem of congestion, now and in the future, for Arundel."
What is the time frame of the next stage of the project?
Now a route has been chosen, Highways England will work with stakeholders and those impacted by the 'grey route' to fine-tune the design and flesh it out. In about a year, this finalised design will again be put out to the public for consultation. From here, the plans will go to the Planning Inspectorate for consent. Pending this approval, which they aimed to get in 2023 or 2024, work could begin soon afterwards.
A potted recent history of the bypass
Plans for a bypass in Arundel have been on the cards in various guises for decades. This announcement feels like deja-vu, as in 2018, following a public consultation of three routes, Highways England announced plans to build ‘option 5a’. But it was challenged legally by Emma Tristram on the grounds that traffic data used in the consultation was out-of-date and information in the brochure was misleading. The High Court was set to make a decision on this, but Highways England announced it would be going back to the drawing board after new information came to light. The consultation on six new routes took place last year, and it seemed the ‘magenta’ route was the favourite. But the South Downs National Park, a key stakeholder, refused to back any of the options – a factor in favour of ‘grey’ being chosen.
Here is the reaction in full:
Emma Tristram, secretary of the Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee and Binsted resident: “ABNC was shocked to hear that Highways England has announced that the grey route is its new preferred route. This is a long, expensive monstrosity which not only ruins the villages of Tortington and Binsted, but also seriously encroaches on Walberton village. It would also destroy rare wildlife (such as the bats and dormice that forage from Binsted Woods into the Binsted valley, and the wildlife in the wet valley itself which is a rare habitat). It would cut off areas south of Arundel from the national park and affect the experience of the park itself.
“This devastating loss of beautiful countryside is the wrong response to traffic problems in the time of Covid-19 and the climate and biodiversity crisis.
“Only seven per cent of responders voted for it in the public consultation. A majority of the responders (64 percent) wanted Beige or Cyan [routes that followed the current path of the A27] or ‘Do nothing’. Highways England has decided to ignore public opinion. The possibilities of legal action against this decision are being looked into, but it may be up to the Planning Inspector to decide whether Highways England’s case for the road scheme outweighs its unpopularity with the public.”
The Woodland Trust campaigner Nicole Hillier: “Nature is a necessity, not a luxury. Choosing the grey route means no irreplaceable ancient woodland – our rarest and most precious habitat - will be lost, which is a significant step forward. Infrastructure projects aimed at boosting the economy must always work alongside nature and ancient woodland, not against it.
“Investment needs to help us reduce our impact on nature and climate, not threaten it further. We are therefore welcoming today’s announcement as real progress, but the route chosen will still result in the loss of and damage to a small number of veteran trees, meaning there is still a net loss to the environment and we will continue to impress on Highways England the value of retaining these as a solution to climate change and havens for wildlife.
“While this option is a win for ancient woodland, it does not alter the fact road building schemes are not a sustainable transport solution but we are delighted that Highways England at last appears to have listened to our concerns and that of thousands of our supporters when it comes to this precious natural resource.”
Suzanne Clark, chairman of Walberton Parish Council, said: "Walberton Parish Council, which consists of Walberton, Binsted and Fontwell, is extremely disappointed at Highways England’s announcement of the A27 Arundel Bypass preferred route as being the grey option.
"How strange that our Parish with over 2,200 residents, who are likely to be the most affected by this choice, was not given any warning of this announcement by Highways England even though we are a key stakeholder.
"Our residents are in favour of an Arundel bypass but one that has the least damaging effect on our villages and, of course, Arundel.
"However, has anyone noticed the lack of hold ups at Arundel since Covid-19? Does Highways England have up to date traffic data?
"Grey carves through both Binsted and Walberton and Eastern Fontwell. It cuts our villages off from each other. Four of our villages’ lanes will be closed or dramatically changed.
"Has any thought been given to the residents of the 175 new homes of the Avisford Grange development in Yapton Lane? Some of these homes may certainly end up being compulsorily purchased despite having only just been built. The proximity to Walberton and Binsted primary school is of great concern.
"Grey will create an increase in traffic on Yapton Lane – already an identified Speed Watch location due to both the volume and speed of vehicles. This in turn will create rat runs through the country lanes of Walberton and Fontwell.
"The council has been receiving correspondence from residents almost every week for the last several months with traffic concerns and this is during the Covid pandemic so what will it be like with this bypass?
"The rejected Crimson route has the least damaging effect on houses in both our Parish and Arundel but it would appear that Walberton was the only council to put their head above the parapet and challenge Highways England to consider this with a cut and cover option.
"One also has to question why this decision has not been postponed until normal life resumes and current traffic data is available. The grey route was also estimated as being £384 million over budget – how can Highways England justify this additional expenditure in these challenging times?"
David Johnson, vice Sussex chairman of CPRE Sussex, the countryside charity: “CPRE Sussex is appalled at this decision. We know we are at a tipping point in terms of the climate and ecological emergencies so building a huge new road through and environmentally sensitive area is a regressive step.
“This unnecessary road is a new dual carriageway, trashing beautiful villages and countryside, and encouraging car use in a climate emergency - it is another example of central government diktats and the wrong algorithm.
“We need to innovate and problem solve if we are to repair the damage we are causing to the Earth.”
CPRE Sussex Director, Kia Trainor: “We are very concerned that the countryside is being sacrificed in order to move a traffic jam further along the A27.
“What we need is a more strategic approach to transport infrastructure – this is a grey choice not a green one.”
Jean Norton, secretary of Arundel SCATE: “This announcement flies in the face of all the evidence about what we need to do to tackle climate change and loss of wildlife. Highways England seem to be on a different planet, ignoring the warnings of Sir David Attenborough and others that we need to do things differently.
"Building bigger roads just increases traffic and carbon emissions. In this case it will also destroy valuable wildlife habitats, local communities and the setting of the South Downs National Park.
“We don’t need a new, highly expensive, dual carriageway. Highways England is a road building company. Why are we letting it dictate our travel choices? We need better transport and money earmarked for the road would be better spent on access for everyone.”
Andrew Griffith, MP for Arundel & South Downs, was elected in December and pledged to voters at the time that his aim was 'to ease congestion on our roads including building the A27 Arundel bypass which the next Conservative government has pledged to fund'.
Commenting on the news, he said: “The A27 Arundel bypass is a much-needed project which I support. It will reduce congestion, enhance air quality, improve road safety and support much needed employment and economic growth.
"This is one of the largest Government investments ever made in West Sussex and I am pleased to have worked with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor to secure the necessary support for Highways England to proceed.”
However, on the impact on residents of Walberton, Binsted and Tortington, Andrew added: “It is very disappointing that the alternative routes which would have had far less impact on the residents of Walberton, Binsted and Tortington were blocked by certain areas having protected status and by the failure of the South Downs National Park to endorse any route within its boundary. I am committed to supporting residents in getting the best noise mitigation, road design and, where appropriate, swift compensation although nothing can ease the pain on those whom it most affects.”
Finally, in response to potential opponents of road building, Andrew said: “Some question whether we need to improve our roads at all. Whilst I support a rapid switch to cleaner and quieter vehicles - and the UK is a leader in this respect - they will still need roads to drive upon and there is nothing environmentally friendly about pollution caused by congestion. The current pandemic highlights the importance of supply chains and whilst long distance commuting has declined, the usage of local roads has if anything increased.”
Dr James Walsh, Lib Dem councillor and leader of Arun District Council: “This has been a long time coming, some 35 years since the Poling-Crossbush section. It will bring much needed relief to many local communities, both from traffic congestion and pollution, and therefore widely welcomed across the whole of Arun District.
"The route protects the South Downs National Park, and the cutting/ acoustic fencing at Walberton will protect local residents and avoids all ancient woodland and other trees at Binsted. We are aware that this will have an impact on residents in the immediate locality and we will work with all agencies involved to ensure support for those affected.
“It is a crucial part of the A27 major National and regional south coast route, of crucial importance to business, tourists, and residents."
Paul Marshall, leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “We welcome the much-needed investment in our road infrastructure in West Sussex. We have said for many years that improvements are vital on the A27 at Chichester, Arundel, Worthing and Lancing to reduce congestion and ensure our residents and businesses can move around our county reliably and safely.
“The County Council’s preferred scheme for Arundel was along a different route (the magenta route). However, we will carefully examine the rationale for this decision and look forward to receiving further detail and information about the much-needed mitigation package Highways England will put in place to, as much as possible, limit impacts on residents and the environment.
“I absolutely understand the concerns of the people of Tortington, Binsted and Walberton and the surrounding area and I want to reassure them that I will continue to lobby Government to make sure they get the support they need.”
Shaun Gunner, Conservative councillor and leader of the opposition for Arun District Council: "I welcome the announcement by Highways England that they agree with us that Arundel vitally needs a bypass. A bypass would deliver for Arundel and Arun, removing a major bottleneck on the south coast trunk road. Almost everyone now agrees that Arundel needs a bypass."
"We welcome the investment in Arundel and Arun which will provide much-needed benefits to the area, and we are pleased that the preferred route is an offline bypass that will properly deliver for the area and avoid Arundel. The grey route wasn't our preferred option, and we do have concerns about the impact on the village of Walberton in particular. But this does avoid the South Downs National Park and importantly this would give us the proper bypass that we've waited so long to see."
Brenda Pollack, south east coordinator for Friends of the Earth: “By ploughing ahead with this new dual carriageway at Arundel, Highways England is showing complete disregard for the climate and ecological emergency which is already having a dire impact across the world.
“This is devastating news for the villagers living in the beautiful and peaceful Arun valley. It will also have a big impact on the wildlife dependent on chalk streams, water meadows and woodland. Building a new road just beside the South Downs National Park is just plain wrong.
“Transport is the country’s biggest source of climate-wrecking emissions, but the Department for Transport seems to think it is fine to conduct business as usual. They need to make strides in investing in alternatives to the private car such as affordable train travel and safe cycling routes.”
Keith Glazier, chairman of Transport for the South East: “This announcement is good news for people and businesses in the South East. A better A27 will improve journeys between some of our region’s biggest cities and ports, supporting economic recovery and growth here in the South East and across the UK.
“A fit-for-purpose road network is vital to the South East’s prosperity – but we also recognise that investment is needed in other areas to ensure a sustainable future. That’s why Transport for the South East continues to make the case for schemes and initiatives to support the shift to electric vehicles, boost the availability and attractiveness of public transport, get freight off our roads and onto our railways and help more people choose to walk and cycle.”
Henry Powell, chairman of the Coastal West Sussex Partnership: “This announcement is excellent news for Coastal West Sussex. We face an unprecedented challenge in replacing the jobs and businesses lost during the pandemic. This vital improvement will significantly change travel times in the area and encourage a better flow of people, goods and services. This is a significant boost for the local economy and can only help create the jobs that we urgently need.”
Tony Hunt, mayor of Arundel: “Arundel Town Council welcomes the announcement of Highways England’s plan to build a by-pass
around Arundel. For over 40 years the A-27 has run straight through the town, dividing our community into two halves. With the growth of traffic, Arundel has become a bottle-neck, with 21,000 journeys made each day on the single lane section of the A27 that bisects the town.
“The result is long delays that encourage drivers to try and take a short cut, ‘rat-running’ down Arundel’s historic High Street which was never designed for through traffic. Arundel is recognised to be the gateway for visitors to both the South Downs National Park and the entire Arun Valley, and visitors are deterred by both traffic and the difficulty of driving to the town down the A27.
“This is not just a local issue either. The A27 is the major east-west road along the south coast of England, so the travelling time and unreliability of travel on this road through Arundel has a measurable economic cost.
“Arundel Town Council has been asking for a bypass for many years. In 2019 we made detailed submissions to Highways England, and many residents participated in the consultation. Most people who took part in the consultation believed that Highways England needed to increase traffic capacity and safety on this road. We are pleased that Highways England also recognised the need to protect the special qualities of the historic town of Arundel and its wonderful environment. We can understand why the grey route has been chosen because it has a number of significant advantages. It avoids the South Downs National Park and ancient woodland. It increases safety considerably and improves journey times more than the alternatives considered. Consequently whilst this route will cost more to build it will produce a higher payback.
“Having experienced the A27 bisecting our heritage town for decades, we will be asking that every step be taken to mitigate any adverse effects on those close to the chosen route.
“We recognise that some people will argue that we do not need any new road schemes. But there is nothing environmentally friendly about the pollution caused by the current congestion on the A27. We entirely support transport strategies which address the need to tackle the climate emergency but electric cars and public transport still need roads to drive on”.