Wednesday 2 March 2022

Response to the 2022 A27 Arundel bypass consultation

Once again the Sussex countryside is threatened by a major new road development around Arundel.  Below is my response to Highways England.

Highways England.  A27 Arundel bypass consultation

I write in my capacity as a resident living between Storrington and Pulborough.  However, I have had a long career with the Sussex Wildlife Trust including a 12-year period as Chief Executive.  I am currently the Trust’s President.


I wish to register my objection to the proposed A27 Arundel bypass.  The reasons for my concern are as follows:


In broad outline, whilst the environmental damage caused by a road is clear and severe, the benefits are at best illusory and at worst counterproductive.


Local environmental damage

The direct ecological damage from the road in this area has been well articulated on numerous occasions over the last few decades.  The current “grey route” will disrupt flood plain grassland in the Arun Valley, sever habitat connectivity south of Binstead woods and disrupt valuable grassland and wetland habitats.  Many rare and protected species would be impacted.  It has turned out, for instance, that the area is of high value to bat populations, something that is not entirely unexpected bearing in mind the proximity of the road to one of the largest areas of ancient woodland on the coastal plain.   Alongside ecological disruption there will be severe damage to three villages, turning a quiet rural area into a wide transport corridor.  The noise and disruption to these villages would make life there virtually unliveable.  Even the town of Arundel itself would suffer 24/7 increase in noise levels from 70mph traffic as it crosses the raised section over the Arun Valley.


Wider environmental damage

The road will drive up car use.  Indeed, by “increasing capacity”, the inevitable consequence is to significantly increase traffic, hence the real aim of the road must be to increase traffic.  This will increase carbon dioxide emissions.  It is government policy, indeed a global necessity, to radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the very short term.  This urgency has only been increased by the recent publication of the IPCCs 6th report stating that we have “a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future”.  We need to rapidly bring greenhouse gas emissions down to zero.  The transport sector is already the worst failing sector in terms of delivering climate objectives and roads like this are pushing things quickly in the wrong direction.  Roads policy in general is in direct opposition to wider national policy and global requirement.  A roads-based approach to access is completely at variance to the needs of society in the 21st Century.


Lack of benefit

An aim of the road is to reduce congestion and speed traffic flow, and in so doing boost the economy.  The logic of this is deeply flawed.  Traffic may be able to speed round Arundel but will only be met by increased congestion at Worthing in one direction and Chichester in the other.  Even ignoring these bottlenecks, the increase in traffic will increase overall journey times more widely throughout this part of Sussex.  Towns will become more congested, road intersections more crowded and villagers more pressured.


It is claimed that the road will reduce traffic flows through surrounding villages, such as Pulborough and Storrington (in which I live).  This has been claimed for many such roads throughout recent history.  However, as is shown by many studies (such as the government’s own Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment, 1994), this hoped-for relief of areas near the road development, almost never happens.  The more usual effect is of increased traffic on roads that were supposed to be relieved.  SACTRA reports average increases of around 10% on roads supposed to be relieved, and even more in the long term.  This effect has been identified over and over again, not just in the UK but around the world.  In short, the claimed benefit of a road will not take place, certainly not in the long term.  Contrary to the optimistic claims of the consultation document, villages like Storrington and Pulborough should ready themselves for increased traffic, pollution, and congestion, should this road be built.


The lack of benefit is reflected in the benefit to cost ratio of the proposal.  The road is hugely expensive.  Even using rather optimistic figures for how small savings in time might be reflected economically, the costs hugely outweigh the benefits.  Benefit-to-cost ratios are unlikely to deliver even 1 for 1.  This is particularly galling when full cost accounting for natural capital investment shows that investment in nature can often deliver benefit ratios of 6:1; and there is a case of river restoration in the West Country where 65:1 has been estimated.  This grey route proposal is a huge waste of public money delivering little benefit and much harm.  The concept of public money for public good should mean that these significant sums of money should be redirected into sectors, such a natural capital investment, where return on investment can be demonstrated.


The alternatives

First do no harm is perhaps the best starting point.  So doing nothing is better than the damaging road proposed now. 


After this, however, the priority for addressing access should be by reducing the need to travel (for example through smart planning, increase of the delivery of needs and services locally and the use of shorter supply lines).  The next priority should be for active travel.  Most journeys are less than 5 miles long, ideal for walking and cycling if the infrastructure was provided.  Then comes modal shift – moving from car use to public transport such as train or bus.  Only as a last resort should be the construction of infrastructure and even within that, should be improvement rather than expansion.  The Arundel Bypass proposal has gone straight for the worst option in the transport hierarchy.


Even if it is concluded that investment in infrastructure is desirable, then a scheme that is designed to drive up congestion is the worst possible option.  A more considered scheme designed to ease flow but not increase car use (so not increasing “capacity”) would be far more appropriate.  One test for any scheme should be how it reduces road use, not how it increases it.  A more modest option would be far less expensive and have far fewer negative consequences and leave room in the budget for investment in things that might actually work, such as active travel and modal shift.  In this respect I am sympathetic to the single-carriageway Arundel Alternative.



An Arundel bypass has been proposed on numerous occasions over several decades.  Proposals always fall for the same reasons – the damage is clear and severe, yet the benefits are illusory.  This recent proposal fails in the same way.  Indeed, the failure of this scheme is even worst today than in the past as, with the climate and ecological emergency, the needs of society have moved fundamentally away from such a roads-based policy.  At a time when systemic shifts are needed in the way we deliver access to needs and services, we find road programmes diverting energy, initiative, and investment away from the much-needed changes that are urgently required. 


This proposal should be rejected.

Monday 29 November 2021

A Decade of Nature Restoration

On 20th October 2021 I gave a presenataion to the Sullington Windmills Womens Institute.  I was given a very warm welcome so I thought I'd share a copy of a summary of that talk below:


We are now at a unique point in human history.  Since about 1950 we have lived through a period often called The Great Acceleration; a period when many measures of human material wealth have increased exponentially.  This accelerated period of economic development has been matched by an accelerated period of the impact of that development.  So, for example, we see that as humans we have emitted more carbon dioxide since 1990 than we did in the entire history of the human race before 1990!  That is the nature of exponential growth.


Another impact has been the degradation of nature, hence the need for the United Nation’s “Decade on Nature Restoration”.  The World Wide Fund for Nature has estimated that since 1970 populations of vertebrate species (such as mammals, birds and reptiles) have decreased by 68%.  Common species have become uncommon and extinction rates have increased.  We are now in the earth’s 6th mass extinction event.


But does this matter?  To illustrate this, we can look at the evolution of life on the planet.  Before life evolved, our atmosphere was about 95% carbon dioxide.  Oxygen in the atmosphere only appeared after about 2 billion years, but since then we can truly describe earth as a living planet; the chemical and physical make-up of the air, sea, soil, water and indeed geology is now largely determined by life itself.  Humans have only been around for a tiny fraction of this time, yet our impact has challenged the very life support systems on which we all depend.  Before the industrial revolution, our atmosphere has remained stable at around 0.03% carbon dioxide, not 95% (it is now over 0.04%).


The great whales give a good illustration of the part nature plays in maintaining earth systems.  Whales eat deep in the ocean, but they defecate at the surface.  This provides ideal fertiliser for marine algae which then grow and multiply, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis.  This carbon is then locked up, eventually sinking to the bottom of the ocean.  Whales are effectively a carbon pump, taking carbon from the air and depositing it deep into the ocean, helping to maintain the low concentration of carbon dioxide in the air.  This is just one example of “earth systems” that nature maintains, so keeping the planet liveable for all life including humans.


The great whales are, however, an example of how real values are not reflected in our economy.    Our economy is flawed because of the poor way it attributes value to things that are vital to us.  Many economists now say that we need to refocus our economic compass so we can properly value those things on which we ultimately depend. 


The need to reverse our current trend of nature erosion is the driving force behind the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.  This requires the massive upscaling of efforts that breathe new life into our degraded ecosystems.  We can pick this up at the local level with nature restoration on our doorstep, in our communities and in our Districts.  A good example is the “Nature Recovery Network” map that has been published by Horsham District Council in partnership with the Sussex Wildlife Trust.  This is a vision of a connected environment where we see better spaces for nature that are bigger, there are more of them, and they are joined up so nature can move around and be more resilient.  Hence “better, bigger, more and joined”, from Prof Lawton’s 2010 Review “Making Space for Nature”, are still our guiding principles.  In that way communities can support the places where we live and give us the higher purpose of restoring nature on which we all depend.

Thursday 11 February 2021

The Economics of Biodiversity


On 2nd February 2021 a major review was produced by Sir Partha Dasgupta, Professor of Economics and Cambridge University – “The Economics of Biodiversity”.


This is an expertly articulated 600-pagetome which does what it says on the tin – it looks at the economics of biodiversity, but it does so in a quite fundamental way.  Fortunately, there is also an abridged version (100 pages) and much shorter summary of headline messages.


Most media reports about this Review lead with the idea that it is “putting a price on nature”.  This has been picked up by both those promoting the concept and those opposing it, but as far as I can see this is a severe miss-representation of the Review.  Putting a price on nature implies reducing nature to tradable assets – putting a financial number against species and habitats so we can trade them for something else if something else has greater value for us.  This is the model of seeing nature as fitting within, and being subordinate to, the economy.  This is the opposite of what the Review actually says.  The Review develops the economics of biodiversity “on the understanding that we – and our economies – are ‘embedded’ within Nature, not external to it”.  So, the economy fits within the environment, not the other way around.


The leading message from the Review is therefore that we depend entirely on nature; it is our most important asset, but our demands far exceed the capacity of nature to supply the goods and services we rely on.  We should all know the problem – we “mine” what we want from nature with little respect for the repercussions.  The result is climate and ecological collapse. 


The Review concludes that we must change the way we think, act and measure success.  And this is perhaps its most important message.  At present societies measure their success by measuring GDP (Gross Domestic Product).  But this is just a measure of all financial activity and bears little relationship to the wealth of society.  Whether producing something, causing pollution, driving ill health, or clearing up the mess afterwards, this is all added together and counted as positive using GDP as a measure.  Instead, the Review says that we should develop a new metric – one of “inclusive wealth”.  This metric would measure wealth in terms of 3 capitals – produced capital (machines, buildings, stuff etc), human capital (knowledge, health, skills etc), and natural capital (plants, animals, soil water etc).  So, we measure our “wealth” in terms assets, not in terms of the speed of money turnover.


We have been thinking this way in Sussex for over a decade and the Sussex Local Nature Partnership, with over 25 member organizations, is based on exactly this premise.  Take a look at the Sussex Natural CapitalInvestment Strategy to read more about how this works at a local scale.


Currently, nature is considered to have zero value, so any extraction or development does not pay the price of the natural capital it is destroying.  This is skewed accounting that is inevitably to the unfair advantage of destructive industries.  In future, however, not only must decision-making consider that nature has a huge value, but it will also need to recognise that this value is often non-tradable.  Nature has value as an entire working system, however its components (species, habits, spoils, cycles etc) cannot be priced and traded away.  The concept is good but let us now see whether, in practice, the value of nature turns into price, the price then is reduced and the untradable is traded in order to carry on with business as usual.


The sceptic in me realises that this is not new, however.  The UK National Ecosystem Assessment back in 2011 came to very similar conclusions.  International reviews such as “the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” and the “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment” also said similar things up to 2 decades ago.  Our leisurely approach to the gathering ecological crisis has meant that we have wasted decades while the need for action has become ever more vital.  And it is not as though there has been no warning.  Why should this Review succeed while others lie gathering dust on the shelf?


Hopefully, however, there are differences.  First the climate and ecological crises have become impossible to ignore.  Skewed accounting can no longer hide the huge losses to humanity from the destruction of nature.  But perhaps most significant is that not only was this report written by a leading professor of economics (not ecology) but that it was contracted by The Treasury (not DEFRA).  Maybe we are now recognising that the ecological crisis is not only affecting humanity, it is affecting the economy – now we might take it seriously!  It’s a shame that it is money that talks, not human well-being.