ROAD bosses never learn.

That was the parting shot from Dr Tony Whitbread as he stepped down from his post as long-serving chief executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Renewed proposals from Highways England for a bypass around the town of Arundel have raised a familiar ghost for the man who has spent much of his 27-year career at the trust fighting the expansion of the A27.

“We seem to go through a cycle every eight to ten years of thinking building roads is going to solve our problems,” he said.

“But it will make congestion far worse by drawing more traffic into Sussex.

“We have to reduce the need to travel and encourage people to use public transport.

“It’s about making what we have better rather than bigger.”

Central Government has set aside a budget of between £100 million and £250 million for an off-line bypass running parallel with the four-mile section of the dual carriageway that passes through Arundel.

But the route is likely to bisect either the village of Tortington or near neighbour Binsted, driving a wedge between two villages historically separated only by a water meadow.

Dr Whitbread said: “Roads pitch communities against each other.

“We should be looking at proper strategic development, not just throwing tarmac at the problem.”

He said the bypass would carve up Binsted Woods, a 250-acre area just inside the South Downs National Park (SDNP) which he helped identify as ancient woodland.

SDNP volunteer archivist and Binsted resident Emma Tristram published a paper last year arguing against the building of a bypass through her village. Calling it “a village on the edge of extinction”, she said the National Park Authority would not be honouring its mission statement if it allowed the bypass to go ahead.

All ten of the authority’s parks are duty bound to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area” and “promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the park’s special qualities by the public”.

Meanwhile the Tortington Local Community group has also weighed in to the debate.

On a website set up “in response to encroaching roads, pollution and the destruction of the English countryside”, it says: “If a fully offline bypass is built, Tortington as a community will be severed from Arundel and the most extensive area of woodland south of the A27 will be devastated.”

In a blog post written after the consultation process began last year, Dr Whitbread wrote: “We appear to be entering another road-building bonanza where, ignoring the evidence of the past, the dewy-eyed romantics of the Highways Agency believe road building will solve all our congestion ills.

“Let’s stop the pretence. New roads will bring more traffic and more congestion.

“We know this from pure common sense and from decades-old evidence that road-building generates more traffic.”

Now the ecologist, who was instrumental in the designation of the SDNP in 2011, fears the damage could be psychological as well.

“As a society we are getting more and more disconnected from the natural world,” he said.

“There are children in Hastings and Brighton who have never been to the seaside.”

He said urbanisation was to blame.

He said: “Sussex is very heavily developed.

“We need more fingers of green going into our towns and cities, like the Green Circle around Burgess Hill or Wild Park in Brighton.

“I do have grave concerns about the way development tends to trump conservation.

“Some of the presumptions we are given need to be challenged.

“Delivering a wildlife benefit should be an expected norm in planning applications.

“We have challenged developments at the trust, but it’s not simply a case of stamping our feet and saying no.

“What I would like to be known for is having a positive vision.

“As an organisation, the trust wants to appreciate and look after what we have got, and expand areas of woodland where we can.”

Fifty per cent of woodland across the SDNP is at least 400 years old and therefore qualify as ancient.

A striking example of this is The Mens reserve, near Billingshurst.