Personal reflections on National Highways consultation event
Our communities’ opportunity to participate in National Highways’ long anticipated consultation process on the proposed Arundel bypass began in earnest on 11th January.
This weekend (23rd-24th Jan) I went along to Walberton Village Hall to see what National Highways had to say about the route. As one would expect, National Highways’ presentation materials were impressive, their representatives looking equally as polished, dressed in their casual business attire.
But I don’t believe anyone who attended the event was convinced by their slick CGI video playing in the foyer which presented a sterile toy-town image of a road full of soundless vehicles weaving serenely across a sterile CGI landscape, like a cheap videogame its representation devoid of life.
It created the impression that the road will arrive damage free and sit pristine in a digital landscape. It was, of course, a poor representation that bears little relation to the reality of a real road and no similarity at all with the lived reality and trauma that people, nature and landscape will inevitably experience with the arrival of the mega diggers and land shifting apparatus. No CGI presentation can prepare us for the true impact of the construction process.
For a more realistic representation of the road impact take few minutes to watch this YouTube video: YouTube/watch
As I viewed the National Highways’ meandering route map showing the planned road snaking across our countryside I was approached by a National Highways’ consultant who asked if he could answer any questions I may have.
I said, I had a sense of utter despair about the route, could he help with that? He smiled wryly, and said I wasn’t the first person he’d met to express those sentiments. Then, quite unexpectedly, he listened patiently to my monologue of concerns, about our primary school childrens’ health, given the inevitable increase in pollution from vehicles travelling less than 150 meters from their playground in Walberton.
He listened to my disquiet about the inevitable increase in traffic noise, my fears for the destruction of our natural environment and the loss of access to feeding grounds for rare bat populations. He was aware of the spiralling financial costs and the reality of the cost/benefit calculations that show the recklessness of the project.
He nodded when I mentioned the price of all this decimation for a projected saving of just 9 minutes on a journey time. He didn’t disagree either when I mentioned the gridlock that will be experienced at either end of the route. He listened too as I spoke about the madness of the historic dismissal of less destructive alternatives to Grey and he seemed interested in the way that the proposal flew in the face of current thinking on climate change and road construction.
When I eventually drew breath, much to my surprise, he was still listening. When I caught his eye I didn’t see an arrogant consultant staring back at me. The look etched on his face was one of a man who knew he was on the wrong side of history, but could not quite bring himself to admit it, and therein lies the problem.
National Highways’ A27 agenda flies in the face of all current wisdom and is inherently divisive. There were moments at Walberton’s consultation event when even the Highways consultants sounded confused by their own plans.
As I looked around the village hall there were moments of pathos too when the National Highways representatives looked like they had been asked to attend their own funerals rather than a consultation event. My takeaway sense in Walberton on Saturday was that, at the gut level, National Highways’ employees didn’t really believe in their own narrative.
It’s embarrassing when one is forced to publicly represent and sell a product unfit for purpose. We know it and National Highways know it too. So, it’s out there now, everyone knows, even National Highways, that the Grey Route option is simply not the best solution to our local traffic needs.
In the end, National Highways sole reason is to build more roads, but at what cost? The sign of a mature organisation is one that possesses the ability to pull itself back from the brink of a disaster, to change direction before it’s too late, to see the interconnectedness of things. It would be nice to think that National Highways has such maturity.
Sadly, history shows us that powerful organisations don’t often pull back from the brink unless forced to. If you disagree with National Highways plans, your opposition to the Grey route puts you on the right side of history.
The route is far from a done deal. I remain optimistic that good sense will prevail, but to be heard we must follow the consultation process. Please make your opposition known and ensure National Highways realise they have a fight on their hands.
Yours Faithfully, Mike C Davis – Walberton Friends and Neighbours