‘Hold off decisions on A29 realignment until end of consultation’

Proposed A29 realignment
Proposed A29 realignment

West Sussex County Council has been asked to hold off on any decisions about the realignment of the A29 until a public consultation has ended.

In an attempt to tackle the congestion along the road, plans are in place for a new 4.34km stretch east of the villages of Eastergate, Westergate and Woodgate.

The plans include the potential for a bridge to ease the pressure at the notorious Woodgate level crossing, where delays of 35 minutes have been known during peak hours.

However, concerns have been raised about the spiralling cost of the scheme, the route itself and the level of consultation with the public.

A decision to approve the scheme was made by Roger Elkins, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, but was called in for further discussion by members of the Labour group.

That decision included launching a public consultation, which led to questions from Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate & Gossops Green) at a meeting of the environment, communities and fire select committee, in Chichester on Wednesday.

Mr Jones asked how anything could be approved before that consultation was even finished and the views of the public taken into consideration.

It was an opinion shared by around a dozen or so residents, who made their views clear throughout the meeting.

The cost of the two-phase scheme raised a few eyebrows.

Budget up to £55.5m

In December 2017, it was estimated that it would come in at £35.1m – that figure is now £55.5m.

Mr Jones told the meeting that questions were being asked about whether the scheme ‘stacked up’.

He also questioned the wisdom of the council underwriting the cost of phase 2 of the scheme to the tune of £42.5m.

Mr Jones added: “I’m concerned that a few years down the line we may be regarding this as something that did not do the council any financial favours.”

Safety concerns

The safety of people living in Shripney was also raised.

While recognising the need for the improvements to the A29, Francis Oppler (Lib Dem, Bognor Regis East) said the lives of some of the villagers would be ‘put at risk’.

Some of their driveways back straight on to the road and his fear was the increase in traffic from thousands of new homes planned for the route would make leaving their own houses dangerous.

The current plan is for the new road to run from Fontwell Avenue, north of Eastergate, to the existing A29 Lidsey Road, north of Shripney.

Mr Oppler called for an alternative route to be worked out, which would bypass Shripney, cross Sack Lane and link into the Rolls-Royce roundabout.

Mr Elkins told members that the preferred route for the scheme had been put forward in 2014 and that the council was ‘not likely to make any substantive changes to it’.

Stressing the importance of the scheme on jobs and businesses, he said: “This is a significant scheme. It will provide a much-needed link from the Bognor Regis area and will ease the congestion around the [Woodgate] level crossing.”

He added: “There will clearly be environmental improvements in that area.”

The laughter from the public gallery suggested that not everyone agreed with him.

The committee told Mr Elkins that, while they supported the realignment scheme, they wanted him to withdraw the decisions he had made until all information from the public consultation had been considered.

The consultation ends on April 26. Details can be found at haveyoursay.westsussex.gov.uk