OBSERVER COMMENT: Has Chichester's A27 decision already been made?

The utter ineptitude Highways England continues to show in its handling of the A27 simply beggars belief.

Thursday, 3rd March 2016, 7:30 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:30 pm
Fields north of Chichester where a new bypass could have gone, before Friday's news

Village halls have been booked around the whole area for less than two weeks’ time - but despite this fact, Highways England is stubbornly refusing to release dates and locations for its already delayed public consultations.

Its whole handling of Chichester’s A27 improvement plans would be laughable, if we were not talking about the biggest transport decision the area has seen for decades, a decision that will affect everyone in the area and beyond for years to come.

Village halls have been booked in Lavant starting March 17, with many others also booked for events. But according to one district councillor, parish councils have not even been told any details about what is going on.

Motorists are well used to sitting in traffic around Chichester

We are just days away from supposedly finding out the final route options, likely two for a new northern bypass and one for a new southern route, but still we are all completely in the dark.

Highways England continues to treat Observer residents with nothing but utter contempt. Do the well-paid bosses think we will all just sit back and allow such a major project to be allowed to lurch from one disaster to the next?

As cllr Mike Hall has asserted, one cannot help but feel a decision has already been made ahead of the shambolic public consultations, details of which have not even been released yet.

I should stress here that the Observer, together with campaign partner Spirit FM, has repeatedly asked Highways bosses for an interview, requests that continue to be turned down.

A packed county council meeting where the A27 was the hot topic

Even this week we emailed Highways England asking for the dates of the public consultations, only to be given the most banal of replies containing nothing of note whatsoever.

We want to work with the people who will ultimately make the decision on such a major trunk road, which has seen motorists suffer decades of congestion and frustration as the population has grown.

But instead of accepting our offer to work together, I find myself continuing to bang my head against a wall in attempting to glean even the most basic of information from the government authority.

By law, Highways has to release details of the consultations through the local media, in good time. An advert from A27 consultant Mott MacDonald had been booked for this week but was pulled on Friday. Assuming this was to reveal the dates, it points to more dithering and chaos from those who have shown little else so far.

One of the seven options is for a part new southern route

Given the consultations are supposedly just days away, Highways bosses are running out of time to advertise them.

All this of course comes on the back of a catalogue of blunders and PR disasters.

The ‘secret’ draft maps of the seven route options were being widely circulated amongst councillors and some members of the public, before anything official had been released (they still haven’t).

Panic and confusion ensued, prompting the Observer and Spirit to publish them all on our respective websites.

Incredibly, Highways England has never, without prompting, released any information of significance at all about the entire project.

Have a look at the Highways England website, there appears to be nothing at all about Chichester’s A27 - looking at it you would think there was nothing to report, but that’s far from the truth.

Even putting the northern route back on the table was something that came up at a parish council meeting. If that hadn’t happened it’s perfectly plausible no one would know about it still as we head into mythical public consultations, still not confirmed, which are set to last just seven weeks.

And the consultations themselves were supposed to take place last year. Just ludicrous.

Like everyone, we are increasingly frustrated at what has been a complete mismanagement of the project, and although never nice, we feel senior heads should roll for these repeated failings.

It took Highways England months to resurface the pothole-riddled stretch of the A27 between Chichester and Havant, despite numerous accidents, an Observer and News campaign and scores of angry comments from motorists. The fact that it is in charge of this multi-million pound project does not fill me with confidence.

The government has pledged the money to make the much-needed improvements happen.

Everyone accepts there is no easy decision to make - but what we all expect, at the very least, is it will be a decision made only after Chichester’s long-suffering residents’ views are heard and considered.