The cash to pay for vital improvements to the A27 around Chichester is still available, a letter from Jim O’Sullivan the chief executive of Highways England seems to suggest.
Two months ago, the community was left stunned by the shock announcement by transport secretary Chris Grayling that funding had been withdrawn because the community could not agree on a suitable option.
Since then, led by the county council, residents representing all view points have launched a major initiative Build A Better A27 to develop the principles of a scheme that would work for all and have minimum impact on the environment.
Until now there has been a fear that even if they were successful in those workshops the money needed to pay for any solution might already have been lost.
But a letter, seen by this newspaper, and sent this month from Mr O’Sullivan to county leader Louise Goldsmith implies that the money is still available.
Today, Mrs Goldsmith said: “This is reassuring news but we still haven’t heard from the secretary of state who I am writing to for further clarification.
“But on the face of it, it appears to be a golden opportunity for Chichester – enabling the Build a Better A27 group to develop a solution which is community-led and enables the residents’ voices to be heard.
“The previous options were unacceptable to nearly half of residents who took part in Highways England’s consultation.
“The knowledge that the money has not been removed means that there is now a real incentive for the community group to come up with a plan that works for all – knowing that it can become a reality.”
Mr O’Sullivan’s letter makes clear that he seriously doubts that a northern route is deliverable for a number of reasons, including government policy on national parks.
His letter states: “I would reiterate that all the deliverable options were included in the final consultation document.
“The southern route, or some variation thereof, remains the only deliverable option.
“The funding for the A27 remains with in RIS 1 (Road Investment Strategy) and I would wish to be certain that all variants of our current scheme are unacceptable before the funding was used for some other purpose.
“Also we should discuss our plans for other parts of the A27 and their benefits and impact on West Sussex.”
Mr O’Sullivan says he would be happy to meet with Mrs Goldsmith to discuss the way forward in more detail.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “We have always been clear that we wanted a solution that all the community could embrace.
“The working groups are already making terrific progress toward this.
“Knowing that the money appears to be potentially available and Highways England is prepared to hold further discussions is the best possible news.
“However, we had always planned to make a fresh bid through RIS 2 but this looks as if we could move matters forward, earlier – subject to the community wishing us to do so.
“West Sussex County Council is not responsible for Highways England, its consultation, the options it put forward, or the decision that it and the secretary of state made.
“We have in good faith tried to do our best to get the right solution for Chichester and this looks like it may happen.”
Tony Dignum, leader of Chichester District Council said: “The Highways England chief executive’s letter gives heartening and clear confirmation that the £250m budget for improvements to the A27 around Chichester remains in the current Road Investment Strategy up to 2020.
“Mr O’Sullivan makes clear in the letter that only an on-line option is deliverable.
“This news makes the present county-led consultation exercise with the local community one of crucial importance.
“The challenge now for the community is to agree on an option which has minimum environmental damage and least restriction of current traffic movements, while also being acceptable to Highways England.”
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