Arundel and the South Downs National Park deserve better

Planning and Policy Officer for the South Downs Society. Steve Ankers and CNP's Fiona Howie have their say on the proposals for an Arundel bypass in the South Downs National Park. 

Steve Ankers:

Three cheers for Patrick Barkham's analysis of the muddled, discredited and highly destructive policies still pursued by Highways England, government's tool for maintaining and improving the trunk road network.

Its recent public consultation, on options for an Arundel bypass, was fundamentally flawed in taking no account of the role that public transport and other environmentally sustainable forms of transport should play in improving access to jobs, education, services and the protected landscape of the South Downs National Park. Nor do the traffic issues of Arundel play a part in the exercise. We are asked simply to choose which of three new bypass options will best take traffic off the existing bypass - and all three options would plough through ancient woodland, precious wildlife habitats, splendid views, historic settlements, close-knit communities and the nation's most recently designated National Park.

The South Downs National Park Authority has rightly stated its objections to all three options and set out in detail the environmental evidence on which those objections stand. To be fair, although there were errors and omissions in the environmental appraisal of the options offered by Highways England, it was honest enough to identify as "adverse and major adverse" the impact of the various routes on cultural heritage, landscape, nature conservation, geology, soils, road drainage, water resources, people, communities, farming and recreational businesses -- and that's from the organisation charged with building the bypass.

The nearby Arundel Castle and the River Arun, in the South Downs National Park. Photo Credit: Arun and Rother Connections.

A local MP urged the Park Authority both to show support for the new road and to ensure that its decision was "evidence based". You can't have both. Extensive research into the actual impact of major new highways shows a consistent picture - they led to increased traffic (in Arundel's case any temporary reduction in congestion will mean longer queuing times on the A27 to the west and east, at Chichester and Worthing), contributed nothing to the local economy and did lasting, and significant damage to the environment.

Residents of Arundel and a range of national and local organisations like ours have offered genuine solutions in the form of junction improvements and a more modest, single carriageway road which would greatly reduce congestion, facilitate more sustainable means of transport and minimise environmental damage. We cannot afford the waste of cash and permanent environmental destruction that are integral elements of major highway schemes. Not only Arundel and the South Downs National Park but the country as a whole deserve better.
 

 

Fiona Howie:

As Patrick Barkham’s article highlights, the South Downs National Park contains some of England’s finest landscapes, ecologically important ancient woodland and many threatened species. Campaign for National Parks is concerned that these special qualities have not been taken into sufficient account in Highways England’s proposals for A27 road development. We would also remind Highways England  that under section 62 of the Environment Act 1995 it has a duty to have regard to National Park purposes when coming to decisions or carrying out their activities.

 

Chanctonbury Ring, South Downs National Park. Photo credit: Richard Reed

Local residents and local and national campaigners have been promoting an alternative, more responsible approach. This alternative still seeks to reduce congestion while also promoting sustainable public transport and would minimise environmental damage. This needs more consideration before Highways England moves ahead with any of its damaging and irreversible options.

At risk is the integrity of the landscape in Arundel and the South Downs. A spectacular corner of English countryside, and a living landscape that contributes to the UK’s international reputation for its National Parks and wider countryside.

Fiona Howie is Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks. These letters were originally submitted to the Guardian in response to the article on 15 November.