Twyford Down Anniversary

The M3 cutting through Twyford Down

This weekend sees the 20th anniversary of the controversial construction of the M3 through Twyford Down, now part of the South Downs National Park.  To mark this anniversary, the Campaign for Better Transport is supporting a rally on Saturday (29th Sept) on St Catherine’s Hill, overlooking the site.

Once revered for its natural beauty and cultural past Twyford Down is probably best known nowadays as a symbol of the folly and destructive nature of new roadbuilding.  It was where the Government’s roads programme was challenged in a way it had never been challenged before.

It set in motion a reappraisal of not just roadbuilding but the way we view travel and its interaction with planning.  But given all this happened 20 years ago, are we in danger of forgetting the lessons of the past?  As the current coalition Government grapples with the economic crisis there is increasing talk of building large infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy alongside relaxing planning laws.

Of course Twyford Down wasn’t the only place damaged by the Government of the day.  The tragedy of Brighton & Hove bypass (built in the 1990s) was that the Government Minister ignored the Inquiry Inspector’s recommendation that much of the road be tunnelled.  The one exception being at Southwick Hill where National Trust ownership provided the Department of Transport with a real headache unless it was prepared to put the road underground.

Other trunks roads have also impacted upon the South Downs such as the A3, the A27 Lewes bypass and more recently the A27 Southerham to Beddingham improvement.  Latterly, more care has been taken to integrate new roads better into the landscape.  But is that the answer?  Roads have a far greater impact that their immediate visual impact.  The traffic using them generates noise and there are precious few tranquil areas in the South East.  Building more road capacity can increase traffic levels, not just on the roads themselves but on surrounding areas.  Then of course there’s air pollution and climate change.

There are plenty of schemes remaining on politicians’ wish lists, particularly along the A27.  If built they would lead to a significant increase in traffic passing alongside and through the National Park.  Meanwhile the coastal rail service appears to have received comparatively little investment, apart from the compulsory lick of paint every time the franchise is renewed.

So on the 20th anniversary of Twyford Down, let us remember the mistakes of the past so we can tread a more sensitive path in the future.  The landscape is very different to the 1990s, but politicians still seem to favour the big infrastructure project over community based initiatives, even when the latter often offer better value for money.

Rampion draft Environmental Statement disappoints

The South Downs Network has responded to the consultation, which ended yesterday, on the draft Environmental Statement for the proposed Rampion offshore wind farm to express its disappointment and concern at the lack of good quality information within in.  The lack of data was a frustration with the first consultation earlier in the year and reassurances were received that this would be resolved with the publication of the draft Environmental Statement.

However, this has not been the case and detailed information on alternative cable routes is still missing and the quality and number of the photomontages and other data inadequate to properly assess the visual impact on the South Downs National Park.  The Network is particularly concerned that the effect on the Heritage Coast appears to have been downplayed and that mitigation of, and compensation for, any visual impact is not even discussed.

There are also issues around how the cable route goes through the South Downs Way and the importation and disposal of materials for the haul road, amongst many other concerns that have been raised.  In all, this has led the Network to the conclusion that E.ON has not fulfilled its legal duty, under Section 62(2) of the 1995 Environment Act, to have regard to National Park purposes.

The Network hopes that E.ON will take stock and work with local communities and organisations to improve the draft Environmental Statement, which should include discussion of possible mitigation and compensation measures.  This may require it to hold back from formally submitting its application in October but if that leads to a better outcome all round then that can only be of benefit.

2050 vision for Park approved

The South Downs National Park Authority has taken the first but important step in mapping out its vision for what the South Downs will look like in 2050.  While containing elements of motherhood and apple pie, the vision contains some clear statements about important aspects of how the Park should look and operate and how people will interact with it in 40 years time.

The vision will now guide how the Management Plan is developed and how the Park Authority prioritises its work.  It sits alongside the already agreed South Downs’ Special Qualities.  The South Downs Network hopes that the Park Authority will shortly publish its State of the Park report, in effect an audit of important features within the South Downs, that will help create the benchmark for judging the success or failure of the Management Plan.

For some, the Park Authority appears to have been slow to get going, but that is only natural when starting from scratch.  It has to develop its own priorities and strategies, and when done in an inclusive way that takes time.  Hopefully, the Management Plan will be completed next year and the Local Plan shortly after that.  Then the Park Authority can hopefully focus more on delivery than policy development and change on the ground will start to become more evident.

However, we must remain patient.  It has taken 80 years to achieve a South Downs National Park, so we must not fret over the relatively short time it is taking the Park Authority to get its house in order.  Equally, change does not come quickly as can be seen by how long it takes to re-establish species rich chalk grassland and other important habitats.  The same is true when challenging established ways of working and forging new partnerships.

In a sense this vision marks the start of something new, helping to shape a new mindset for the next 40 years.  At a time of economic gloom and international upheaval, the work of the National Park Authority offers us hope for the future: the glimse of something different, something better.

Transport funding success

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) have both been successful in securing funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund with their joint bids with

the South Downs National Park Authority.  ESCC has been awarded £1.571 million over the next 3 years for its travel choices for Lewes, while HCC has been awarded £3.81 million for sustainable transport in England’s newest national parks, the New Forest and South Downs.

Last month we reported that the decision on the funding for these projects had been delayed.  Now it seems the Department for Transport has satisfied itself that the schemes are sound and deserve funding.  However, neither project received the total amount that was bid for.

Both projects are very welcome and should help promote travel by means other than the car, while reducing carbon emissions and supporting the local economy.  However, whether ultimately they will be successful is very much open to question with rail fares rising above inflation, fuel duty rebate for public transport operators being cut in August (in sharp contrast to fuel duty not now increasing in August) and West Sussex County Council cutting back on bus services including the no 62 to Midhurst.