Saturday, 21 March 2020

Easy peasy

The junior engineers of WSP, the global transport consultants, doing the bidding of the East Sussex road lobby and their chums in the construction industry. Put some dots on a map, to destroy large and invaluable parts of a National Park, and take out houses in Southerham, Beddingham and Glynde. Their dots, overlaid on Google satellite image. 

Friday, 20 March 2020


We've been after Highways England for information about its evaluation of schemes to drive a new dual carriageway between Lewes and Polegate since August 2018. We've now got some transparency, and a report, by consultants WSP, that is high-level codswallop.

It suggests a new road of up to 16km between Southerham and Copthall, with between 8 and 12 major over-bridges, at a cost of up to £530m could be open by 2030, and save just over 9 minutes per journey by 2045. Attached to this is an utterly bogus Benefit Cost Ratio of between 2.2 to 2.5. It claims it is evident there will be no more investment in rail and bus services.

Here's a paragraph typical of the consultant' balderdash that peppers the 68 pages. Do you think we'll ever see this qualitative assessment and get the name of the people that wrote it ?

"A qualitative assessment of the anticipated environmental impacts of the A27 east of Lewes off-line scheme interventions was undertaken and concluded that there would likely be a large adverse impact on landscape for all interventions, and moderate adverse impacts on noise, historic environment and biodiversity."

And below are the routes they have been considering.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Learning time

It was an entertaining performance by new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, at the despatch box for his first Budget. But for environmentalists, there was relish in this paragraph which rings real alarm bells. 

"Today, I’m announcing the biggest ever investment in strategic roads and motorway – over £27bn of tarmac. That will pay for work on over 20 connections to ports and airports, over 100 junctions, 4,000 miles of road."

Tarmac, is, of course a trademark, so let's consider the impact of this amount of asphalt/bitumen/tarmac style construction.  13,000 hectares of the stuff adds to water run-off, in a country slowly sinking under water we can't clear quickly enough to sop flooding. Alongside that water we get the particulate run-off created by tyres acting on the surface (both elements add to that pollution), plus oil, petrol, cadmium, zinc, rust and copper. The creation of asphalt creates particulate pollution. 

In 2017, the Office for National Statistics reported that greenhouse gas emissions from the UK road transport sector counted for one fifth of our UK total. Looking at major roads, the total of dual carriageway and motorway miles in the UK is 31,800 - Mr Sunak and Mr Shapps are looking at a 12% increase.  New roads induce more traffic, travelling at higher, more polluting speeds. 

The re-education of Messrs Sunak and Shapps on the issues facing our environment is a priority for 2020. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

The struggle continues

Our local MPs Maria Caulfield, for Lewes, and Caroline Ansell, for Eastbourne, have kept the prosect of a new road between Lewes and Polegate alive, if on life support, with the support of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

"A27 Lewes to Polegate" is listed as in the 'pipeline' for the third tranche of strategic network roadbuilding, called RIS3, which should run from 2025 to 2030. These are proposals that "Highways England will develop during up to 2025, so that they could enter construction in RP3. Funding for construction of these schemes has not been committed."

"The development process is not a commitment to construct particular projects. Many proposals are likely to gather views from stakeholders and local people who might be affected by a potential proposal, including through a non-statutory consultation. For front-runners, this process could include
taking a proposal to a full planning inquiry before the publication of the next RIS."

Our MPs, Mr Shapps, and Highways England can be certain that any plan for a new road will be fought with logic, determination and vigour.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Modal shift ?

Caroline Ansell, now back as Eastbourne's MP, was one of the prime movers behind plans for a new dual carriageway between Polegate and Lewes; Maria Caulfield only got to chair the notorious A27 Reference Group when Caroline lost her seat in 2017.

So it's entertaining to see her newly-discovered green credentials...

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Build on

Mood music coming from Tory MPs lobbying for new dual carriageways in their various parts of the country suggests that the the five-year programme known as RIS2 will be announced by the Government before the end of the month.

In theory, some £23bn is available, taken from Vehicle Excise Duty income. It seems roads may not have got entangled with other infrastructure promises made by the Conservatives. Selfishly, we hope it's the North and Midlands that get investment in new roads that they don't really need....

Friday, 3 January 2020


The activity of politics attracts people who think they're clever.

Many politicians claim the result of the 2016 referendum was flawed, because people simply didn't understand what they were voting for. At the end of 2019, it may be that people who voted for Boris Johnson didn't really understand they were getting Dominic Cummings.

Dominic has posted a blog inviting emails from very clever people, data scientists, economists, communications and policy experts, project managers, researchers, and "weirdos and misfits with odd skills" to join him at the heart of government.

It's an article bursting with forward-thinking about artificial intelligence, machine learning, physics, chaos theory and more.  Yet the only specific project mentioned is, wait for it, a road. He wants to recruit 'legendary builders' who work at speed: "If you think you are such a company and you could dual carriageway the A1 north of Newcastle in record time, then get in touch!".

This gives an unpleasant edge to Dom's quest for brilliant thinking. It exposes our hero as an impatient, entitled, local resident, who just wants this bloody road done. (Dom's family own a farm just south of Durham, on the Darlington Road). Most intelligent project managers will tell you that speed of construction and money go hand in hand.

The idea of dualling the A1 between Newcastle and the Scottish border started in the 1930s. In the 1970s, sections around and to the north of Newcastle were dualled over a 15-year period. Further north there were some bypasses and junction improvements, but all largely sticking to single lanes. There was more dualling in 2003 and 2004; other schemes were dropped in 2006 for lack of funding. In 2011, the route was declared one of national strategic importance, meaning future funding would come from central government. Road building had moved from simple policy, to a quest for value-for-money, and that has dogged the project - many would argue quite rightly.

In 2002, a 'multi-modal study' declared there was no economic justification for further dualling. In January 2017 Transport Secretary Chris Grayling promised to dual the lot; the route is some 59 miles long; 23 miles are dual carriageway, with 36 miles of single carriageway.

In 2015, the Department for Transport said that dualling north of Berwick was of 'low economic value', but the southern section could be improved - the justification was 'future traffic growth', and a low take-up of rail services. There are 86 trains every weekday from Newcastle to Edinburgh, taking 1hr and 35 minutes, and starting at around £25 single - advance tickets £10.90. The car journey, of 120 miles takes over two hours - estimated petrol cost £23.12.

 In 2018, Highways England produce a scheme to upgrade 13 miles for £290m, set to start in 2020, and complete in 2023.

Dom is clearly engrossed in deep physics, but unmoved by clear evidence that new roads create new traffic, largely commuters, and that more roads mean more carbon production and more pollution from tyre-shredding. Someone needs to move him from transmitting to listening, fast.