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12.22 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) on having secured this debate, and on using it to highlight a matter which is obviously of very real concern to his constituents. He has highlighted the particular problems on the stretch of the A27 that runs through his constituency--a road with which I am not entirely unfamiliar, although I have not given it the same detailed

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attention as my colleagues the Minister for Transport in London and Baroness Hayman, to whom he kindly referred.

The A27 forms part of the strategically important south coast route, linking the channel ports and the channel tunnel with Brighton and Worthing, and, westwards, with Portsmouth, Southampton and beyond. The five-mile length of the A27 to which the hon. Gentleman has referred goes through the urban area of Lancing, and acts as a boundary to the residential area at Shoreham. Most of the length is dual carriageway, with the exception of half a mile in Lancing.

Traffic flows are between 40,000 and 50,000 vehicles a day. The length west of the River Adur is lighted, and the speed limits vary from 70 mph on the dual-carriageway sections to 40 or 30 mph on the single-carriageway sections.

In the east, the new Brighton bypass, with the Southwick tunnel, was completed in spring 1996 and links with the existing dual carriageway north of Shoreham. Continuing westwards, the A27, including the River Adur viaduct, was completed in 1970, when the dual carriageway around Sompting was extended. Most of the dual carriageway is to a reasonable standard, but the road has side road accesses, particularly on to the existing single carriageway at Lancing. If I may be allowed a personal observation, it is not the most attractive example of motorway construction, because it makes a substantial impact on one of the most attractive parts of the Sussex countryside.

Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the provision of more major improvements to the A27 between Sompting and Shoreham. The A27 Worthing-Lancing improvement scheme, which was designed to improve the flow and safety of traffic using the road and to improve the urban environment by removing through traffic from unsuitable roads, was withdrawn from the trunk road programme by the previous Administration in November 1996. The reasons were numerous.

First, the scheme was very expensive and the economic case for it was weakened when induced traffic was taken into account. Secondly, its cost meant that it could not have been constructed for many years. Thirdly, it would have had a serious adverse effect on the surrounding area. Finally, there was a lack of broad consensus on the appropriate route.

Following the withdrawal of the major improvement scheme in 1996, the then Secretary of State for Transport agreed to set out terms of reference for a study to consider what could be done to identify alternative, smaller-scale improvements to the existing A27, and to explore ways in which discussions could be taken forward with local authorities and the business community. However, no action was taken before the general election, and it has been overtaken by this Government's launch of our fundamental review of the roads programme and the role that trunk roads should play in an integrated transport strategy.

One output from that review will be a programme of studies to consider the most urgent problems for which schemes in the inherited programme are either inappropriate in the light of the integrated transport policy or not available. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot give any commitment to

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including the A27 in his constituency in the list of highest-priority studies in advance of the publication of the review. Nevertheless, he made a forceful case for measures on the route.

West Sussex county council already receives funding from my Department for a transport package for Worthing, through the transport policies and programmes system. The county council has already drawn attention to the difficulties caused by the withdrawal of the Worthing-Lancing improvement proposal which make it necessary to review the package objectives.

Once the roads review is completed and the position concerning this section of the A27 is known, officials in the Government office for the south-east will be looking to work with West Sussex county council, Worthing borough council and the Highways Agency further to develop measures such as park and ride, improvements in public transport, and improved facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, aimed principally at encouraging the use of alternative transport to the motor car and so reducing congestion and improving the environment.

The personal accidents, injuries and fatalities along this stretch of the A27 are an obvious cause for concern. The hon. Gentleman drew attention to several harrowing accidents. The accident rate over three years there is higher than the national average, and I understand his wish for urgent action. The Highways Agency assures me that it is well aware of the problem over this section of road, and is doing all it can to improve safety for pedestrians and road users. It has taken some significant steps over the past few years to improve safety.

To take the various sections in turn, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of accidents over the past few years at the River Adur-Shoreham flyover, in particular where the eastbound and westbound slip roads join from the A283, which goes under the viaduct. I am told that, since the opening of the Brighton bypass in the spring of 1996, the number of accidents has fallen, probably because some of them were associated with the disruption caused by the building of the new road.

None the less, the agency has carried out an accident investigation of the junction, and has agreed to carry out some minor works to reduce the likelihood of accidents. Those include adding chevrons and painting the existing safety fence with reflective paint at the exits and entrances to the A27 junction, which should help to address some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in connection with accidents at night. There are other measures that the agency may implement if accidents continue--for example, additional road studs, improving the white lining, and signing.

The chief executive of the Highways Agency wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 9 March in response to queries about the strength of the parapets across the Adur viaduct and other issues. He confirmed that the broken parapets had been replaced with a new section. The parapets provided when the bridge was built continue to be safe, although, if the bridge were built today, the barriers would be stronger. He pointed out that the agency could not replace that short length of broken parapet with the latest design, as the joint between the old and the new would be difficult, the fixings to the bridge would not be in the same position, and the sections would not match visually. The alternative would be to replace all the parapets, which could not be justified on cost grounds.

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In response to the hon. Gentleman's query about the lack of direction signs and his request that lighting should be provided over the viaduct, the chief executive replied that it was not the agency's policy to light signs on unlighted stretches of road, and that to do so on the Shoreham flyover would set a costly precedent for the whole of the road network. In addition, there is a problem with the provision of lighting in that exposed location, partly because of the environmental context, but also because of the proximity of the airport--a point to which the hon. Gentleman alluded.

There have been a number of accidents around the Sussex Pad junction, several of which have involved students from Lancing college crossing the road to Shoreham airport, the Ricardos area and Shoreham town centre. The Worthing-Lancing improvement scheme would have overcome that problem with a grade-separated junction, but now that that has been dropped from the trunk road programme, the agency proposes to install improved traffic signals at that location, together with better crossing facilities. It will also keep the situation under review.

The hon. Gentleman drew particular attention to the Boundstone college area. There have been a number of serious accidents, including fatalities, at the pelican crossing near the college, which is situated immediately adjacent to the trunk road, and there has been a substantial campaign for action to improve the situation.

Representatives of the Highways Agency have had regular meetings with West Sussex county council, have attended a public meeting at Boundstone college, and have discussed what can be done with many parties, including the police, local councillors, and the headmistress of the school. The agency has recently implemented a low-cost safety scheme at the pelican crossing, comprising improved signing, new anti-skid surfacing and the relocation of stop lines further back from the crossing.

There is pressure to reduce the speed limit in the vicinity of the crossing from the present 40 mph, but the police do not favour that option. They prefer instead to reduce the overall speed of traffic by enforcement on a regular basis, and to assist that policy, the 40 mph repeater signs have been increased in size to help to get the message across.

Consideration has been given to the erection of speed cameras, not only in the vicinity of Boundstone college but elsewhere along the A27 between Sompting and Shoreham. The hon. Gentleman pressed that point, but I must tell him that the police have pointed out that cameras would be difficult to justify because of the high installation and administration costs, especially at a site

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such as the Boundstone college crossing, where the statistics suggest--I cannot comment personally on the situation; I am simply giving the figures--that none of the casualties resulted from accidents in which speed was a primary factor.

To reduce the possibility of vehicles jumping the lights at the Boundstone crossing, which may be a more serious factor in causing accidents, a "red light" camera has been installed on the eastbound carriageway.

The Highways Agency will continue to liaise closely with the police about speed limits and enforcement over this length of road, and it will take forward any measures that are considered to be appropriate. The agency hopes that, in the longer term, it will be possible to provide a segregated crossing, with either a footbridge or a subway. That option is being considered, but it would be extremely expensive, as it would probably involve the relocation of complex services and road closures, which would almost certainly involve a public inquiry.

The Highways Agency is also looking at other measures to improve the safety of that section of the A27 road by the provision of pedestrian refuges and other low-cost options. In addition, the agency hopes to initiate the study of options to improve traffic management and enhance junction capacity through Worthing and Lancing. That will include consideration of bus priority measures and any other worthwhile schemes, which will be taken forward as and when funds permit.

The hon. Gentleman expressed some concern about the extent to which the Highways Agency is aware of and sensitive to the problems he has highlighted. I understand that the Highways Agency's chief executive, Lawrie Haynes, has agreed to meet the hon. Gentleman on site to discuss the various issues.

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