Bafflement at Arun’s lack of transparency

The Villages Action Group has been made aware of a revised study, prepared for Arun District Council, concerning the re-alignment of the A29 through our villages.  This study was circulated to our Parish councils with a request to respond in a very short timeframe. VAG’s Vice Chairman, Louise Beaton, who was at the Parish Council meeting when the study was discussed, then wrote to the Bognor Observer with her observations, as quoted below:

“Dear Sir, 

I attended the Aldingbourne Parish Council meeting on 5th Feb to ask our local representatives what news there was of the study ADC had commissioned into re-routing the A29.  The response was a shock:  Parish Councils in the affected areas had been given just 2 weeks to comment on a stakeholder document from the consultants.  ADC had instructed them NOT to share it with the public and refused them more time.

This had clearly placed our Councils in a very difficult position: They are there to represent local people, they know this is a matter of grave local concern, they have worked closely with the Villages Action Group over the Local Plan consultation, and they would have welcomed informed comment.

 Our Parish Councils had also been threatened by ADC that if they released this “stakeholder” document to the public other documents would not be shared with them. This is intolerable.

The Government is encouraging democratic engagement through the Localism agenda and Neighbourhood Planning. Parish Councils are our most local and accessible form of democratic engagement. Local councillors are volunteers and they deserve proper respect: documents with reasonable time to study and consult parishioners in order to provide well informed response. This is what Government and society expects.  How can Parish Councils properly fulfil their potential without the ability to talk with people in the community about such an important matter?

 This attitude will fetter work on Neighbourhood Plans: Non-councillors  won’t have access to important information, decisions behind closed doors will make “fit” with the Local Plan impossible and a great deal of volunteer time and public expense will be wasted.   

 I asked ADC for a copy and was told it was not appropriate as it was only a draft working document.  But that is exactly when well informed local input is needed. Refusing to share information gives rise to suspicion, creates a “storm in a teacup”, whereas had ADC asked parishes to share but not publicise it, so that comments came through the parishes, it would have enabled informal public engagement without fuss.  

 Surely ADC want to avoid wasting money?  Without attention to detail a by pass could simply move the problem of delays at Woodgate further into in the villages, whereas the right solution could resolve a variety of problems.  

A “stakeholder” document for comment should be shared with stakeholders. The local residents in the affected areas, including properly constituted amenity societies such as the Villages Action Group, are THE main stakeholders in this case.

There may be nothing of consequence in this document, but the fact that ADC refused to allow it to be shared with interested residents has roused suspicion that it is because the brief consultants have been given for the scheme has “drifted” from that presented for public consultation as part of the draft Local Plan, that it is now “skewed” in such a way as to make one or other option appear cheaper, or that the consultants have not been asked – as they should have been – to examine more sustainable alternatives – or perhaps all these.

There are only certain prescribed situations in which a local authority is prevented from issuing information to the public (eg personal or commercial confidentiality) and I fail to see how this could possibly be one of them. We must have better working together between ADC and our communities, for the benefit of the whole District.

Louise Beaton, Vice Chairman, Villages Action Group”

An edited version of this letter appeared in the paper and is reproduced on the Bognor Observer’s website, along with comments from readers.

The confidential documents that make up this study are, at Arun District Council’s request, not available for public distribution, but the joint response from Barnham and Eastergate Parish Councils can be read here.

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About stopa29bypass

The Stop A29 Bypass Facebook Page allows people to have their say in the campaign for sensible housing and transport decisions in the area known as the Six Villages in coastal West Sussex. Our mission is to preserve the nature of our villages and farmland for future generations, working with the Villages Action Group to prevent large-scale development that would destroy the nature of the villages between Chichester and Arundel. (Views expressed may not be those of the VAG.)
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5 Responses to Bafflement at Arun’s lack of transparency

  1. Steve Corker says:

    The Highway authority for this area is WSCC, who will have to approve any new highway.

    Have you tried contacting them for help and also the County Councillor.

    Have you any idea what the alignment might take i.e. East or West of the existing A29.

    Kind regards

    Steve Corker

  2. stopa29bypass says:

    Thanks for your comments, Steve. VAG are aware of the existence of a new document, which we believe adds more detail to some of the routes already revealed in the Draft Local Plan last summer. If you haven’t already, take a look at the link at the bottom of the above post to Barnham & Eastergate Parish Council’s response to the study. This has been made public via their website and the comments on page 3 of their response allude to two routes; one passing west of Westergate with a junction to the A27 and one bisecting the villages of Barnham and Eastergate, with the implication that it would join the A27 at Fontwell. Hope this helps…

  3. Nick Harvey says:

    Please, where can interested parties view the proposed A29 ‘re-alignment’ options online?
    And official status on where the Highways Agency, WSCC and ADC stand on those options?
    There now seem to be many links to other websites (where that info seems to be hidden), I don’t know where to start…

    • stopa29bypass says:

      Nick – unfortunately ADC have still not made the latest re-alignment study public. This link is to a map showing the extensions to Routes A & D, which were originally proposed in last year’s Draft Local Plan. This original study is on ADC’s website. Together these should give you a fairly good idea of what is proposed.

      ADC want this realignment to go ahead, paid for by the developer contributions from the sale of the 2000+ houses, as they seem to believe that this will aid the regeneration of Bognor Regis.

      At a council meeting on 4 October 2012, WSCC prepared a document which stated, “The A29 is not part of the Strategic Road Network shown in section 1.4.1 of the West Sussex Transport Plan (2011-2026) and there are no plans to change the current status of the A29.” They also reiterated their response to the Draft Local Plan consultation, “WSCC is not aware of any guaranteed source of funding to deliver the A29 realignment and railway line bridging, therefore it is likely that development will need to provide it. Further evidence is needed to demonstrate that this scheme is deliverable to ensure the soundness of this policy. WSCC currently has no protected or preferred route for this scheme.”

      However, they confirmed at that meeting and in their written statement that they are “assisting in the preparation of a brief for the proposed project and would wish to be a member of the project team to ensure that the study reports are fit for purpose.”

      The brief of the Highways Agency is to manage the motorways and strategic A-road network and so would be unlikely to have any impact on such a local scheme.

      Hope this information is useful.

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