I am in and out of local businesses each and every week in Eastbourne and Willingdon. Without doubt the top question I get asked is ‘What is happening about the A27?’
There has been an enormous amount of work behind the scenes and I thought today I’d give an update on the current state of play.
Last year there was £75m allocated in the current spending round which is earmarked for the A27 Polegate to Lewes. Importantly though, the door was left open to ‘pitch’ for a much higher level of investment should the government support Gatwick’s plans for a second runway. That decision is still to be made.
Nonetheless Highways England is currently undertaking work to establish how the £75m can be spent. They are looking at a small scale measures comprising various junction improvements along the route; what should happen at Selmeston and a revised signalised junction or roundabout at the A27/A2270; and improvements for pedestrians/cyclists. They will report later this year. This money needs to be spent, or at least work started on the spend by 2020.
However, the A27 reference group, which I sit on, has requested of the Secretary of State that a parallel piece of work is undertaken, that of working up plans to deliver the new road that almost everyone locally wants to see between the Beddingham and Polegate roundabouts.
Not to get too technical but on the last round we failed to come through strongly enough on the cost/benefit ratio to justify the potential £400m needed. When Highways England were questioned on this last week, this was the position they reiterated.
But! We absolutely believe we can present a new business case which more faithfully reflects our potential locally. Their stance is entirely challengeable too - the Department for Transport’s own projected figures show that the current road will be run at 150% capacity by 2030.
I am frustrated that this work hasn’t been commissioned as yet, although I heard from the county council this week to say that they are in the process of commissioning it. So soon they will be coming to local business leaders and others to gain information to establish this case.
This does all sound very ‘process driven’. I’m afraid it is, but in the end it’s all about the business case for a new road. Frankly upgrading a few junctions on the existing road is not the improvement we need to secure the economic benefits a new road would unlock, or deliver on safety. It is the scary mix of traffic - horses and HGVs which makes this road particularly dangerous.
It was always unrealistic to think there would be ‘spades in the ground’ anytime soon - even with the case won, funds secured, the planning process with all the important public consultations required, a decade would not be unrealistic.
The aspiration for a new road has been a campaign for 30+ years and the economy locally would be transformed - so it remains a battle and one we will fight to win.