Campaign groups protested outside Eastbourne Town Hall this morning (January 28), where a closed meeting was taking place about the A27.
Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin arrived at the meeting at 10am, alongside local politicians including Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd (Liberal Democrat), Lewes MP Norman Baker (Lib Dem), Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby (Conservative) and Conservative parliamentary candidate Caroline Ansell.
Eastbourne borough councillors and East Sussex county councillors were also present at the closed meeting.
But the group faced a picket of local community groups on their arrival, with representatives from Eastbourne and District Friends of the Earth, the Campaign for Better Transport - East Sussex, SCATE, The Green Party and local 38 Degrees members.
What the campaigners said
Speaking for Campaign for Better Transport – East Sussex, Derrick Coffee said, “We want to send a strong message that it is not acceptable to exclude the community from these sorts of discussions.
“We’ve seen what democracy means in East Sussex where the cabinet has overruled the Full Council to force through cuts of £1.9 million to essential bus services. At the same time, little or nothing is done to improve rail services along the coast.
“Wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on a new A27 will create more congestion and pollution, particularly in Polegate, Hailsham and Eastbourne, and to a lesser extent in Lewes and Brighton.
“Already, East Sussex’s ‘big roads’ focus has led to serious delays in improvements to public transport. Meanwhile, in traffic clogged town centres, pedestrians and cyclists still face hazardous conditions. This ‘business as usual’ approach is harming the county’s economy. Rather than promoting more urban sprawl which consumes our countryside and damages our health, planners need to be looking at smart growth and intelligent design.
“The wider community has today been excluded from this important opportunity to present valid arguments for less costly and better value transport measures to the Secretary of State – measures that would strengthen the local economy and deliver very significant health and environmental benefits.”
Green Party candidate for Eastbourne Andrew Durling joined campaigners, and said, “We are against the massive road building project for the A27 because it will just increase the amount of road traffic causing congestion in Eastbourne. We are happy to support the protest with environment and community groups at the Town Hall today.”
What the politicians said
Following the meeting, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said, “I am pleased to see the overwhelmingly positive reaction to our first ever road investment strategy, which includes a £350 million upgrade to the A27. This is part of an ambitious £15 billion plan to triple levels of spending on England’s roads by the end of the decade. This includes within it a commitment to spend around £75m on the right scheme to deliver improvements East of Lewes, irrespective of any decision on Gatwick.
“This government has a long term plan to secure the country’s future and improving connectivity across the south east is a key part of our vision.”
However, MP for Lewes Norman Baker, said, “I will be asking the Secretary of State why the meeting is taking place in Eastbourne, when it effects my constituents.”
He said he welcomed ‘ the fact there is money for improvements’ but would not support a ‘dual carriageway designed by the people of Eastbourne and Brighton’.
He also said he did not agree with ‘unelected politicians drawing lines on maps without even discussing it’ with the community it directly affects.
Stephen Lloyd MP added, “I was delighted to hear that the Dft Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin was to visit Eastbourne to discuss the A27, though truth to be told slightly surprised, as the promised £75m represents only .0005% of the £15bn Infrastructure Bill road spend. He had nothing new to offer at the meeting, none of the money is to be used anytime soon as the Department hasn’t made up its mind what to actually spend it on, and an official confirmed to me that even if it is spent, it will be in the second tranche of work after 2020, with further consultation! Afterwards I did wonder whether his visit was more to do with the Conservatives spending a fortune trying to win Eastbourne back at the General Election than anything constructive around trying to actually deal with our dreadful road. We’ll know soon enough, but I am pretty confident Eastbourne will shortly be seeing numerous pictures of Mr McLoughlin and the Tory candidate in the leaflets they are flooding our town with. On the basis that nothing new came out at the meeting and the Secretary of State was accompanied by, if memory serves me right, at least four departmental officials, I will be writing to the Head of the Civil Service to clarify whether or not his visit was at the expense of the taxpayer or Conservative Central Office?”
Conservative candidate for Eastbourne Caroline Ansell, said, “The Secretary of State was able to give – again - absolute assurance that the £75m set aside for A27 improvement Polegate to Lewes is in no way dependent on a decision (due in the Spring) in favour of a Gatwick second runway.
“We were able to confirm that game-changing local plans such as the development of the port in Newhaven or our own ambitions around a new conference centre complex at the Devonshire Park, could open the door to additional funding. We need to build the case around visitor numbers and I’m pleased to say we have already made an excellent start on this.
“What was apparent around the table is that there are two distinct schools of thought on how to improve safety and journey times – a new road or improvements to the existing road. What we need is consensus and partnership. Work needs to start on options.
“There are concerns, voiced by those who came in protest, that improving public transport is not being factored in – it is. And, as the Secretary of State said, ‘buses need good roads.’”