A27 money ‘only available until September’ for ‘online option only’, says Highways CEO

Jim O'Sullivan, Highways England CEO
Jim O'Sullivan, Highways England CEO

Here are the full minutes of a meeting between Highways England, West Sussex County Council and Chichester District Council which were distributed at the end of last night’s A27 community workshop and caused such controversy.

They show that at the meeting on July 7, Highways chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said ‘in his opinion’ funding for the dropped Chichester scheme would only be available until September and an ‘online solution southern route would be the preferred option’.

Pushed by WSCC leader Louise Goldsmith and CDC leader Tony Dignum about a possible northern option being reinstated, Mr O’Sullivan said offline options ‘are being discouraged’.

The circulation of these minutes right at the end of last night’s meeting at Chichester College caused shock at the previously unknown urgency of the community at having to agree on a single scheme by September, when previous workshops had given no such timescale.

At the first workshop in March, shortly after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced the Chichester scheme had been axed, attendees were told all options for a community-led scheme, including north, ‘were on the table’.

Minutes of the meeting on Friday, July 7, 2017

The following attendees were present at a meeting between West Sussex County Council (WSCC), Chichester District Council (CDC) and Highways England (HE):

Louise Goldsmith (LG), leader, WSCC

Nathan Elvery, chief executive, WSCC

Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for highways & infrastructure, WSCC

Lee Harris, executive director, economy, infrastructure & environment

Tony Dignum (TD), leader, CDC

Diane Shepherd, chief executive, CDC

Jim O’Sullivan (JO’S), chief executive, HE

David Haimes, regional investment programme director, HE

JO’S gave a brief background as to the current Highways England position with regards to the A27 Chichester Scheme.

He confirmed that the funding allocated for an online option was still with Highways England and that an online solution southern route would be the preferred option.

JO’S explained that Highways England were about to publish their delivery plan with a table of schemes for RIS1 – currently, this scheme has been removed and will not be listed and its formal status is that it is cancelled.

However, the money is still available and LO’S stated that Highways England still sees the A27 as an important road end to end.

It was agreed that the purpose of the meeting was to clarify the funding position following the cancellation letter from the Secretary of State and to see if there is a way to reinstate a scheme for Chichester.

JO’S reminded the council that due to the consultation alterations, the scheme was already a year behind.

In his opinion, the funding would only be available until the end of September 2017 as the scheme needed to be on site by March 2020.

It was unlikely that RIS2 could accommodate a scheme of this size and a radically new scheme would not be ready for RIS3 in any event.

RIS2 (2020-25) was broadly committed and RIS3 (2025-30), WSCC could submit a bid.

Update on Community Action Group – To provide updates on work to date.

WSCC explained that there had been a positive move in bringing the community together and a business group would be taking place on 12th July.

LG confirmed that she felt the current Option 2 would not be supported by the community in its current form.

LG and TD pressed JO’S on the exclusion of the northern options and whether these could be reinstated.

JO’S explained that the Government’s policy direction is for online options and therefore, offline options are being discouraged.

He also confirmed that currently a northern route is not an option Highways England would be able to pursue quickly and in any event would be a RIS3 scheme at the earliest.

Chichester District Council stressed their concerns regarding local issues and proposed planning growth in the area, whereby the existing roads were not fit for purpose i.e. Portfield, Stockbridge, Manhood peninsular.

Conclusion

WSCC and CDC reminded JO’S of key community concerns e.g. with some of the flyovers and these issues needed to be addressed.

It was felt that feedback from the community and business workshops would be valuable to find a way forward.

Community engagement must continue, however it was important after the businesses workshop for both groups to come together to hear the detail about on-line options and that an off-line scheme could be delayed until 2030, and there would be a strong likelihood of the necessity to consider this as a ‘flagship’ national scheme, which drives greater controls and more competition for funds.

It was agreed that WSCC and CDC would write to JO’S outlining the feedback from the community and businesses to date for a response.

It was also noted that there would be a need for a meeting of the key community and businesses stakeholders to report back on the content of this meeting.

The meeting concluded at 1.15pm.