The long-awaited opening of the Hindhead Tunnel has had an unexpected backlash for the Midhurst area – after it found itself wiped off the map.
And now fears have been expressed for the future of tourism in an area which is at the heart of the new South Downs National Park.
Parish, town, district and county councillors have joined forces to call for immediate action to improve road signs to Fernhurst, Midhurst and all the tourist attractions along the A286 as far as Chichester.
Chairman of Midhurst Town Council John Etherington said: “It doesn’t seem as if any thought has gone into these signs, which may have been planned long before the national park came into being.
“But we need new signage to flag up the road to Midhurst and the national park.”
Travellers coming south used to pick up signs to Midhurst at the infamous Hindhead traffic lights on the old A3. But since the opening of the new tunnel, the stretch of road has been bypassed.
Now the first signs to Midhurst do not appear until the Ham Barn roundabout at Liss and take travellers even further south to Petersfield and along the A272.
Both Midhurst and Haslemere have been wiped off the signage on the slip road south of the tunnel which now directs travellers only to Hindhead and Grayshott, and the main tourist route to the south coast through the national park is no longer signposted there at all.
Midhurst’s West Sussex county councillor Nola Hendon said she supported any moves for improved signage.
“Midhurst is home to the new national park headquarters and it is right at the heart of the park,” she said.
“It’s perfectly reasonable to want signs directed to it.”
And John Self, chairman of the highways committee at Fernhurst Parish Council, said he had concerns about motorists finding their way to Fernhurst since the opening of the tunnel.
“You have to go through the tunnel, off at the slip road, over the bridge and loop back to the traffic lights on the old A3,” he said.
He believes Fernhurst, Midhurst and Chichester all need better signage from the A3.
“I shall be raising this at our next meeting because they are not explicit enough for all the areas they have to cover now.”
Midhurst’s Chichester district councillor Gordon McAra has written to the Highways Agency calling for a ‘rapid reassessment’ of the signs.
He told the Observer: “There is a whole corridor of visitor hot spots on the A286 which will now be affected by the unfortunate A3 signage.
“Midhurst with the Ruins, Singleton with the open-air museum, West Dean Gardens, Goodwood and Chichester itself could all be affected by reduced visitor numbers. And it certainly will not help the national park build up its tourist trade, vital to the area economy.”
A spokesman for the Highways Agency said the scheme designers had been asked to look into the issue and a full response would be made to concerns raised.