‘Prove we can agree an A27 solution’, Chichester MP says

MP Gillian Keegan addressing last night's A27 workshop, organised by West Sussex County Council
MP Gillian Keegan addressing last night's A27 workshop, organised by West Sussex County Council

Gillian Keegan has urged the Chichester community to prove it can come together and agree an A27 solution to justify her request to the government for more time.

The Chichester MP has set up a meeting with transport minister Jesse Norman and Highways England bosses in early September.

The workshop took place at the Assembly Rooms in North Street, Chichester

The workshop took place at the Assembly Rooms in North Street, Chichester

Speaking at Monday night’s latest A27 workshop, Mrs Keegan said she will ask for up to a six-month extension to Highways’ September 17 deadline to get up to £250m of funding allocated before the scheme was cancelled.

She said she’d been told ‘they will listen to you, but what you need to do is tell us what is it you’re going to do differently to actually give us some confidence that if you’re given more time you will come up with a community agreed solution’.

She said: “Firstly we need to come back with a reasonable time frame and secondly convince them we’re going to go through a process that will help us come up with an answer that the community will settle on.”

She said she had told the minister the chances of community unity before September 17 was ‘nil’, especially if she failed to get an extension at their meeting, expected to take place between September 6 and 11.

She said transport secretary Chris Grayling cancelled the scheme in April because he ‘couldn’t contemplate spending all that money with half the community deeply unhappy’, describing it as a ‘catch 22’ situation.

She said ‘compromise on all sides’ would be needed to do ‘something we haven’t yet done’ in reaching collective agreement.

“We will need something that’s credible, if we want our own scheme rather than one of their schemes we will need a very good business case for why it will work,” she said.

“Most people don’t think we can come up with a community solution and I think that’s the challenge for us all.”

Mrs Keegan then took a range of questions during the three-hour meeting, including if residents would have to accept one of Highways previous five online solutions, to which she said: “We need to move away from different options...we need a process to show how we can solve what sees to be insoluble by basically forcing us to compromise.”

Mrs Keegan was congratulated by the various groups in attendance who agreed to back her call for more time.

She said the community might have to accept that there would be no further explanation for why two northern options were dropped shortly before the initial consultation was due to take place last summer.

The amicable meeting saw no repeat of the previous July community workshop, where there was fury when, towards the end, a letter was distributed from Highways’ CEO announcing a September deadline to secure the government funding with the suggestion that the community would have to back a previously scheme.

“I have to admit I was anxious about tonight, I felt absolutely gutted after the last meeting, but this has restored my faith,” West Sussex County Council leader Louise Goldsmith said at the conclusion.

Earlier the various groups continued to work towards a community-led solution under the principal that ‘no options are off the table’.

Tables were asked to carry out a number of tasks, including answering what the best and worst scenarios could be imagined for Chichester’s congested A27.

Many agreed the worst scenario was to do nothing, others said it would be to build flyovers such as in Options 1, 1A and 2, while some said online only solutions and others anything offline, suggesting there is a way to go before the various groups reach unity.

Cllr Goldsmith praised Mrs Keegan for ‘showing she is willing to shout for us at Westminster, saying the community was behind her but adding that ‘we have to get away from the perception that no one can do business with us’.

Reaffirming her desire to eventually bring in expert transport consultants to help with the process, to a round of applause she said: “All the names that have been on the previous documents for the last 16 years should not be anywhere near this.

“I feel really strongly this is our opportunity and if we feel we can at least give this a go we can say we have given it our best.”

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