The Chichester Observer (December 22) congratulates Louise Goldsmith, leader of WSCC, on her ‘dramatic’ intervention – apparently in a private meeting with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and local political leaders – in the Highways England A27 consultation process: an intervention which could lead to a rerun of the process.
We know that there is considerable support – north, south, east, west – for some of the online options presented by Highways England. No matter: if what the Observer calls its ‘sources’ are to be believed, it would appear that, in Ms Goldsmith’s world, a private meeting may trump months of public consultation.
Ms Goldsmith is quoted as saying: “Regrettably, the Highways England Chichester A27 process has been marred from the beginning.” But where was the WSCC Leader herself at the start of all this – say, a year or so ago? She was busy telling everyone, in public meetings, that WSCC could not possibly offer any input until Highways England had presented a range of options for consideration.
However, in a letter dated March 23, 2016, the WSCC cabinet member for Highways wrote to the CEO of Highways England on behalf of WSCC and A27 Action, saying that Highways England should ‘consult only on those options which could be delivered. If an option has no prospect of delivery (for whatever reason) it should not be included in a consultation or form part of pre-consultation engagement/ discussions’.
Further, in May 2016, WSCC member Tony Kershaw clarified for me the role played by a focus group, which included officers from WSCC, in developing the options, saying: “...consultation must be real to be meaningful and so the County Council has sought to ensure that its role as consultee is constructive and effective in the development of proposals rather than reactive only after such proposals have emerged … the County Council has done what it can to discharge its highways authority functions in as positive a way as it can.”
So despite Ms Goldsmith’s claims to the contrary, from early on WSCC was involved, meaningfully, in the development of the proposals which Highways England presented for public consultation in summer 2016.
Throughout, it has been my impression that Ms Goldsmith has been less than forthcoming about the nature of WSCC’s involvement in the HE A27 improvements process. For her now to speak of the need to restore public trust, or ‘faith’, in that process begs some key questions. Contradicting the committed tenor of the contributions to that process made by her fellow elected members in WSCC, her intervention at this late stage may, sadly enough, prove most unfortunate. For it risks precipitating the sort of prevarication which could lead to no improvements being made at all.
Dr Michael Tucker