Monday 13 November 2017 18.51 GMT
Like most motorists passing the West Sussex town of Arundel, I spent some time last week in a jam at Crossbush, one of the most bizarre road junctions ever. A child could design a better way of moving traffic into the single-carriageway A27.
I then spent several hours in the countryside that grown-ups hope will alleviate this jam. Highways England proposes building a dual carriageway through a landscape filled with bluebells, orchids, historic hedgerows, a pond where a thousand toads gather in spring, and ancient trees where 13 of Britain’s 17 breeding bat species fly.
Engineers are now deciding between three routes, all of which destroy precious water meadows and woodland (one option obliterates a massive 24 hectares), and pass through the South Downs National Park. Trees that have been alive since the Norman conquest have less legal protection than listed buildings, and ancient woodland – designated as over 400 years old – urgently needs specific legal protection. However, Arundel’s bypass illustrates the hazards in such “conservation” designations. They simply encourage developers to let rip on unprotected land.
West Sussex county council favours the most southerly route, which avoids the largest incursions into the national park. But the bluebells don’t stop where woodland becomes less ancient. Nor do the rare bats, bees or butterflies. The whole of our countryside is greater than the sum of its parts, and new roads not only bring pollution – noise and light, as well as air – they fragment and isolate the species we share our world with.
Are we prepared to trade such wealth – peace, space, clean air, dark skies, other species – for a road that will save motorists, at best, 10 minutes in 2041, before they hit the A27’s next pinch-point at Worthing or Chichester?
I once asked for directions when I was lost and was told: “I wouldn’t start from here.” So, too, with utterly futile road-building, which only drives more traffic and more pollution.
Start here instead: no new roads.