“I hate to use the pun, but it’s been a really long journey.”
County council leader Louise Goldsmith makes the comment as Systra this week announced a short-list of two possible options to improve the A27 – significant improvements to the current line and a mitigated northern route.
Early last March, at a community meeting at County Hall, Mrs Goldsmith told a packed room that ‘no options were off the table’. It followed the council’s and community’s rejection of Highways England Hobson’s choice set of choices.
She said then they would get specialists in to advise the community, we would leave nothing off the table and we would work together with the community to hear their voice – because it is the community that has to live with whatever option is chosen.
BABA27 signed their Agreed Guiding Principles in June last year and that has formed the basis of how the community has worked together.
Mrs Goldsmith said: “That’s the journey that we’ve been on. We’ve asked people to come out on sunny evenings. We asked them to come out on rainy nights. We’ve had some challenging conversations but throughout the driving force for people is to have their say, make the voice of their community known because they care passionately about where they live and work.
“I have been really inspired by the commitment and dedication.
“Perhaps this should be the model for consultations in the future – who knows but I would recommend this style of engaging with the community.
“When we began, there were really strong views on both sides of the argument but they have sat together, talked it through, and I would like to thank them all because it has been that support that has kept us together and inspired us all.
“We’ve heard what people do and don’t want on the environment and it’s been great to work with the support of Chichester District Council and our MP Gillian Keegan.
“What an amazing, collaborative effort. I am so proud of the journey we have all been on.
“Friday will be a really important meeting of Build a Better A27 where everyone will come together to see the fulfilment of their work over the past 14 months.
“We now have two options on the table – and we know that there will be some people that don’t like them. But we need to hear public feedback as both councils go into their own decision making process.
“I don’t know where that is going to take us but I can say that I don’t think we could have done more.”
When pressed, Mrs Goldsmith declined to express a preference for either option at this stage before the meeting.
“This was only ever going to succeed with community consensus and it has never been my intention to impose my own view on it – right back to the original Highways England consultation.
“I know some people find that position really hard to understand, but it’s the neutral position I have chosen to take.
“On an issue of this importance, it is the community voice that needs to be heard unfettered.
“But it’s not over yet. We’ve not only got to identify the right scheme we then have to persuade central Government to fund it.
“What is clear, is that we absolutely need a highways solution for Chichester. The past couple of weeks has exemplified this more than ever. We know there will be more houses built in the area.
“We want to maintain our economy and build on that and we are also encouraging people to come in and see this beautifiul county – but if they are stuck for hours on the A27 they may not be so keen to accept our invitation. So it is imperative that we get improvements.
“I am delighted to see the option going through for Arundel and now all efforts have to go into Chichester.”