Ray Dawe: Yes, please, to more decision-making at a local level

editorial image

Among all the pronouncements in the political world over the past few weeks, the two that probably affect us most as a district are those that concern the ideas of English devolution and the allocation of money to make major improvements to the A27.

Not just economics, but emotion will play a part in how power is devolved across England from Westminster and Whitehall. September’s Scottish independence referendum showed how governance issues can inflame passions. And although few people in England’s regions would challenge the view that their area’s potential is not best tapped by the current London-centric system, there seems to be little cross-party unanimity on an alternative.

The Prime Minister has spoken of giving more powers to English regions and taking them away from Westminster and this strikes me as a positive way forward.

There has been a lot of talk about localism but the reality has not been borne out by action to allow this. The most notable example being decisions made about planning applications which are turned down by us at a local level then appealed and put before a government appointed inspector who gives it the go ahead.

The Government answer to this is that it can be stopped by councils producing a local plan showing the number of houses to be built over a 20 year period which must be agreed by a government appointed inspector.

However, if that number is too low then it will have to be increased. In Horsham district we are currently waiting to learn whether our planned number has got past an inspector.

If it is too low - and many councils have been told by inspectors that their numbers are too low - then we will be forced to increase them. Until we have such a plan developers can continue to put in applications to build and the reality is that we have little power to prevent them.

The news about the A27 will be of considerable interest to those who live in the south of the district or indeed to anyone who travels along the south coast between Eastbourne and Portsmouth.

The A27, which for us in West Sussex has huge bottlenecks at Chichester, Arundel and Worthing has long been discussed as a major problem.

It was originally part of a whole highway upgrade that was called the South Coast Trunk Road or Folkestone-Honiton Trunk Road and was to be part of the major expansion in British road building from 1975 onwards but stopped after 1997. It was designed to give another efficient east-west link south of the M25 and M4 route. The most notable part that was actually built was the Brighton bypass.

The rest was then postponed and cancelled by the incoming Labour government in 1997, which had a policy of getting greatly increased use of public transport, though it seemed to make little difference in West Sussex other than leave us with the existing problems.

For Horsham district residents in particular and those who live in the Amberley, Pulborough and Storrington areas a solution to the A27 bottlenecks would mean that the huge volume of traffic that passes through the South Downs and their villages in order to avoid Arundel and Worthing, much of which then goes around Steyning and onto Brighton, would be heavily reduced. Storrington has 18,000 vehicles a day passing through it and as a result, the air quality is so bad that there is a special low emission zone plan which might well not be needed with a greatly improved A27.

These seem like positive ideas from the Government. So yes please to more decision-making at a local level and let’s see the details of the £350m promised for the A27.