A stretch of the A27 between Brighton and Worthing could become as congested as the M25 by 2016, according to the Highways Agency. So what is the real cost of doing nothing on the A27?
Alistair Smith, chief executive of West Sussex Economic Partnership tells The Argus that business will continue to suffer if nothing is done.
The recent headline “A27 – worse than the M25” was smart journalism in catching attention.
But, sadly, it also reflects a genuine fear among businesses and economic developers that serious hopes of creating longterm sustainable economic growth on the coast could be dashed without improvements to this major trunk route.
There has been a 30-year war of words about the A27 and, if we don’t get our act together, it could end up being a hundred years war.
The fact of life is that the A27 is letting the coastal economy down.
I speak to businesses all the time and they say the congestion is a big threat.
Most want to stay on the coast, with all its advantage of quality of life and value, but if nothing much happens, there is a danger of energy being sucked out of them.
Their message has been very clear – the A27 is forcing them to consider moving away.
But it’s not only the threat of losing the companies here – it’s also mighty hard to attract new investment in a highly competitive global economy.
West Sussex does not enjoy the opportunities other areas of the country do, in being able to to offer large subsidies to incoming companies. It has to compete without incentives and the state of the transport infrastructure means it’s a bit like competing with one hand tied behind one’s back.
Imagine a potential investor travelling to Worthing via the M23/A23, cruising around Brighton on the A27 before reaching the traffic lights at the Sussex Pad. From there, it can be a long crawl through Lancing and Sompting before joining the Lyons Farm queue. (How did this large retail development obtain approval?) With the patience of our potential new employer ticking away and frustration growing, he or she could be forgiven for deciding not to invest in the town despite its desperate need for new investment. Another inescapable fear is the increased housing for the coast projected in the South East Plan.
We have consistently argued that in the hurry for houses, important as that is, local authorities must ensure that there is sufficient employment space so that there are new jobs for the new households.
Otherwise there could be a vicious circle of thousands of people who cannot get jobs because there are insufficient businesses, deterred by poor infrastructure, causing massive out-commuting – making the whole situation worse.
The coast desperately needs investment in the emerging regeneration schemes but as long as we delay and argue about transport solutions, a more prosperous coastal economy will be but a distant dream.
We need to get all the partners together to look at the whole problem. The great sadness in all of this is that while we’ve been talking about it for so long, possible solutions have drifted away.
The whole climate of the infrastructure debate has changed – not only have road building costs grown unimaginably but we now have a whole new environmental agenda to address.
So what should the priorities be for this partnership?
First let’s make sure the improvements at Chichester and at Arundel are progressed by inclusion in the region’s transport programme to 2018. Then we should look at every aspect of the Worthing problem and agree a compelling solution to be put forward by the public sector collectively and fully supported by the business community.
We must avoid squabbling between ourselves, as this has been the downfall of all previous efforts to resolve this problem.
At the same time we ought to try to work out how the train could take some of the strain.
The coastal service is good for short journeys but with so many stations progress is slow. What about some passing places to speed things up? And, with the number of trains on the line set to increase, waiting at the many level crossings could become interminable. One case I heard of suggested a level crossing was closed 25 minutes in a single hour – so having more trains could effectively close some main roads unless the technology can keep the gates open longer. Next, we should provide more parking at stations and try to get bus services to link. We also need a complete rethink on bus services to meet future needs – they need to be fast, reliable and not stuck in jams. The Crawley Fastway would be a good model. Lastly – and I know this isn’t always popular – but we do all have to use our cars less if we possibly can.
Improvements to the A27 and investment in public transport could bring success but only if there is an all-party effort to cut out unnecessary car journeys.
Should the Highways Agency make improvement work on the A27 a priority? Tell us your view below.