The minutes of a secretive group trying to persuade the government to build a motorway-style dual carriageway from Lewes to Polegate have finally been published revealing some decidedly odd goings-on. Members include Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes, and Steven Lloyd, Lib-Dem MP for Eastbourne..
Here Bill Rodgers of the South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment group (SCATE) analyses what the minutes tell us
“After nearly three years of planning in secret, a few facts are beginning to emerge from the politicians who want to drive a new dual carriageway across ancient weald land between Lewes and Eastbourne. The A27 Reference Group, a self-selecting committee of MPs and local councillors, has published four sets of minutes after pressure at public meetings; and HIghways England has confirmed that a bid for funding is with the Department of Transport, with a top range ‘most-likely’ estimate of £528m.
NOT TAKING NO FOR AN ANSWER
From the minutes, the frustration of the MPs is clear. Back in 2016 they were told that their first bid was too expensive (at £450m), and too damaging for the environment. The smaller-scale plans, currently underway, to improve the existing A27 were simply not good enough for them, and they lobbied new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling directly. He authorised £3m of the £75m set aside for A27 improvements to be spent on new studies for an off-line route.
In July 2016, former Conservative MP for Eastbourne, Caroline Ansell and Councillor Bob Standley, Leader of Wealden District Council lobbied Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Jones MP; they said he was “very positive about the proposed larger scheme”. The A27 Reference Group claimed ‘it has been agreed with the DfT [Department for Transport] that ESCC [East Sussex County Council] will take the lead in developing the scheme.’ That’s not how things should be done – Highways England is the body which is responsible for the Strategic Road Network.
MASSIVE GROWTH AROUND POLEGATE
In October 2016, the Reference Group met again, and an unnamed council official said he had ‘reviewed the impact of the proposed increase of housing and employment in the Hailsham/Polegate area. It is showing that offline dualling of the A27 is necessary to support the planned growth.’ He had employed consultants to work out a new benefit/cost ratio out of ESCC funds. So, with a press of a calculator, bingo ! A new longer dual carriageway, more complex at Copthall and Southerham, is suddenly value for money, because of unapproved housing plans in the ‘South Wealden growth area’ – Greater Eastbourne, to you and me.
The key ACTION from this meeting ? ‘The East Sussex MPs will approach Chris Grayling MP and the Treasury Team to put forward this information and lobby for the scheme to be in RIS2.’ RIS2 is a pot of £23bn, taken from Vehicle Excise Duty, now in the safe hands of Mr Grayling – so good with railway franchises, drones and ferries.
The A27 Reference Group met again in September 2017, and the politicians’ cavalier attitude to environment issues becomes clear from the minutes. ‘In terms of timescales for delivery, start of construction of an offline dual carriageway would be towards the back end of the RIS2 period. It is likely it would require a DCO [Development Consent Order] which includes a public inquiry. The negative environmental impact is where issues with a DCO would arise.’ You betcha.
A MEGA ROAD? WHAT ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT?
From the February 2018 minutes, we get more detail on the size of their plans for a new road. ‘Scope includes the section between Southerham Roundabout and Beddingham Roundabout (online widening), Beddingham Roundabout to Cophall Roundabout (new offline route), and Cophall Roundabout (at-grade or grade-separation for east-west movements).
‘Cllr Hollidge asked what could be the likely objections. XXXXX advised that as long as there is clear mitigation around the environment they don’t foresee major objections and the National Park are currently engaged. MC [Maria Caulfield] mentioned that Gatwick Airport is supportive as it helps their case for a second runway.’
We’re all looking forward to the ‘clear mitigation around the environment’ for a road that will add at least 25% to pollution, and drive through sensitive wildlife habitats and landscapes largely unchanged since Roman times. How amusing that our in-touch politicians ‘don’t foresee major objections’.
Let’s prove them wrong. Unless and until there’s an independent study of all transport options between Lewes and Eastbourne, this half-baked scheme must be firmly opposed. “
You can find more details of SCATE at http://scate.org.uk/
article dated 20/2/2019