The recent statement by Margaret Paren, the chairman of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), seeking to justify the authority’s decision to seek a judicial review of the Highways England preferred route for the proposed A27 bypass at Arundel has a very hollow ring to it.
What Ms Paren failed to say was that the decision was made behind closed doors at a hastily arranged and poorly publicised single-agenda-item SDNPA meeting that was not advertised, that the officer’s report was not published and that the discussions took place in secret under the Part II procedure which excluded the public.
The OneArundel A27 Bypass Support Group notes that this is typical of the SDNPA, which seems to use, or possibly even misuse, the Part II procedure at almost every meeting when proposed improvements to the A27 are discussed. It is quite clear that the SDNPA is determined to oppose any improvements to the A27 in the vicinity of Arundel and elsewhere, despite the fact that this important national trunk road already passes through and along the edge of the national park.
However, whilst the SDNPA is entitled to its views about the several routes proposed by Highways England, it is appalling that such a public body, which is funded by Government and which claims to be committed to openness and transparency, should operate in such a thoroughly undemocratic fashion when it suits.
It raises the questions ‘what are they trying to hide and why?’ and ‘whither public accountability’. This is especially disappointing because the SDNPA was given every opportunity to have its say during last year’s public consultation exercise.
Also, the authority was treated as a special case by Highways England and was party to a very great deal of private one-to-one consultation between the two organisations well before the public was invited to become involved.
The members of the SDNPA should therefore be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for ignoring the weight of local views, as well as the overall national and regional benefits that the option 5A route will bring, including to the people who live within the SDNP. To use public money for a judicial review instead of adhering to the statutory process which will in any event include scrutiny by the independent Planning Inspectorate seems to be an abuse of the powers of the SDNPA.
The OneArundel A27 Bypass Support Group therefore joins with our local MP Nick Herbert and with the West Sussex County Council Liberal Democrat councillor Dr James Walsh in voicing strong condemnation of the SDNPA’s actions, and appeals to Ms Paren to stop acting as yet another environmental pressure group, and hiding behind the Part II rules when discussing and taking decisions about the proposed improvements to the A27.
Read the letter online here.