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Could a ‘Pothole Promise’ manifesto ultimately derail the A27 plans?

The main concerns at this election are certainly the cost of living, the NHS, sewerage and immigration, but there is something else that has been put on the agenda of Sussex voters: potholes, those major scars on our roads that can resemble a lunar surface.

A Spanish journalist is surprised, given all the enormous problems facing Britain, “…that filling the gaps is an actual election promise from a national party in a G7 economy”. But Labour has joined in public concern about the disintegration of our public services and infrastructure, and I am sure it is using its promise about gaps to point to its broader intention to ‘fix things’.

West Sussex election candidates are submitting a petition about potholes. On the other side of the county, the potholes are even worse. Check out this aptly named Facebook page: Hastings & Rother Potholes, the great zigzag drive. Our Sussex motto We don’t want to be druv takes on a new meaning.

Image of Action Man doll surfing in a hole
Action Man surfs a particularly nasty pothole in Hastings Old Town. Credit: SinkySnap on Facebook page Hastings and Rother the amazing zigzag ride

A million potholes…

Labor has set out with a manifesto promise to plug a million potholes a year. Louise Haigh, who will become transport secretary if Labor wins on July 4, blames the Conservatives for the neglect. She says the cost of pothole damage shot up to £500 million last year. This is based on research from the Pothole Partnership, which has released its own five-point manifesto plan. Repairers Kwik Fit estimate the damage is even higher at £1.48 billion, based on their annual Pothole Impact Tracker (PIT) report.

And it’s not just motorists who are suffering. Some cyclists are paying with their lives: according to British Cycling, 118 cyclists have been killed or seriously injured by defective road surfaces.

Whatever it costs, it’s a lot. Haigh’s offer to solve the problem is modest: a total of £320 million will be made available to local authorities responsible for road maintenance. Clearly more will be needed, but it is at least a start, and typical of Labour’s position to accurately fund every spending commitment.

But this is where things get interesting for Sussex road campaigners, as the money will come from ‘delaying’ the controversial A27 bypass around Arundel. Villagers hardest hit by the National Highways plan – in Walberton, Fontwell and Binsted – will be relieved. The proposed 8km stretch of dual carriageway south of the current A27 would pass through hectares of picturesque countryside. The current government has shelved the plan. It now appears that it is permanently shelved.

Will other duplication plans be abandoned?

The duplication of the A27 west of Eastbourne is another unloved proposal with a long history. Former Lewes MP Norman Baker is a passionate opponent of the plan, which would cut through an area of ​​outstanding beauty – Rudyard Kipling’s ‘whale-backed Downs’. He recalled 30 years of opposition in a very early article for Sussex Bylines. Baker returned to the issue again in 2021 when our outline of what the proposed road could look like dramatized the damage it would cause – with very little gain for drivers.

Supporters continued to refuse to rule this out, including Baker’s successor in Lewes, Conservative Health Minister Maria Caulfield. But with a razor-thin majority in 2019, Caulfield could well lose to the Lib Dems on July 4. James MacCleary, her likely successor as MP for Lewes, is, like Baker, not keen on the highway.

The scheme was discontinued in 1996 due to costs and negative environmental impacts. It has resurfaced over the years, according to detailed analysis by East Sussex SCATE (South Coast Alliance for Transport and the Environment). Bill Rogers, from SCATE East Sussex, told Sussex Bylines: “We are not clear from any manifesto on the future of road construction – we believe new roads drive more cars – but there has been a welcome emphasis on repair.

“Whoever votes, we will write immediately to call for an end to National Highways’ ongoing campaign for this unnecessary vanity project.”

He added: “As a non-political alliance, we urge voters to consider investing in multi-modal transport, placing housing close to employment, protecting the environment and our heritage landscape, and the route to net zero. And to ask questions about this to the candidates.”

I agree with Bill. As a regular user of this stretch of the A27, I certainly experience delays from time to time, but not enough to make me want to see the beautiful landscape I’m driving through ripping through.

Haigh has stressed that Labor is “on the side of the motorists”, so if Labor wins on July 4 as predicted, we may not see the end of these types of plans.

But let’s hope that the pressure on government spending and, if Labor forms the next government, the need to deliver on their ‘gap promise’, will ultimately spell the end for further doubling of the A27.

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