DIGGERS have "scarred" the fields close to a historic church as highway bosses continue to face a backlash over a controversial A27 bypass.

Dozens of residents from the villages of Walberton and Binsted gathered at St Mary’s church, Binsted on Saturday to protest against the eight-kilometre dual carriageway scheme.

Excavators have begun digging the archaeological trench works for the Arundel Bypass grey route, which avoids the South Downs national park.

The preferred route, announced in October last year, is the most expensive of the five proposed and is expected to cost more than £250 million.

The Argus: Excavators have begun digging the archaeological trench works for the Arundel Bypass Excavators have begun digging the archaeological trench works for the Arundel Bypass

Sally Ward, from the furious community group Walberton Friends and Neighbours, said the new carriageway would run just metres from the Grade II listed church.

She said: "Groups of Walberton residents walked to the church on Saturday to express their solidarity with Binsted and protest about the destruction of the Rife valley, with its rare chalk stream, by a four-lane highway running through it a few metres from the 12th-century church, now Grade II star listed.

"Residents are deeply concerned about the 300 children at Walberton and Binsted Primary School, Walberton Play Centre, Walberton Pre-School and Walberton Toddler playgroup.

"These spaces for children are less than 200 metres from the proposed dual carriageway.

"The pollution will affect all of them, staff and others nearby with poor health or with respiratory issues."

Arundel is a regular bottleneck on the A27, with 21,000 journeys made each day.

Original proposals to replace the stretch of single carriageway were met with protest in 2017 but after a consultation period, the grey route was deemed the best solution.

Five of the six options for the A27 near Arundel would have involved building roads in the South Downs National Park but the new preferred route will go south of the park.

More than 1,600 people attended the 2019 consultation exhibitions, with Highway England receiving 4,945 response forms as well as 113 other written responses.

Starting at Crossbush, the new route will reconnect with the existing A27 in the west near the A27 and A29 Fontwell (east) roundabout.

A spokesman from Highways England said: "Since the preferred route announcement last year, National Highways has been working closely with delivery partners to understand the impact of the scheme on local communities and the wider environment. 

"We have been working with local groups and communities to take their views into account to ensure our plans have as minimal impact as possible on the special environment and local communities around Arundel, and we deliver a bypass to meet everyone's needs.

"Over the last few months we have been reviewing the entire route through in-depth surveys. All of the work we are doing is entirely reversible."