Who’s in charge of what then?

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The Saltings, one of a number of companies expanding along Rye Harbour Road

The debate about the safety for walkers and cyclists amidst growing congestion at the junction of the A259 and Harbour Road continues and, in a curious move, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) appears to have intervened and put pressure on the national body, Highways England, to revise its opposition to allowing more development along Harbour Road.

As previously covered, in August 2020 Highways England made an unusual intervention into the debate around safety and traffic build-up along Harbour Road at the junction of the A259 when Highways England’s representative, Mr Bowie, said, “My view is that a junction upgrade is required to both mitigate the potential safety impacts as well as deal with the congestion on Harbour Road.”

A factor in the congestion is that the Brede Sluice road bridge is only wide enough for single traffic and is very close to the junction, while also having a very sharp corner on its Rye Harbour side which presents problems for very large vehicles like the one shown in the photo below.

An unfavourable response likely

Mr Bowie went on to recommend that the companies along Harbour Road who had recently submitted planning applications to expand their operations, including The Saltings, Old Mears, and Churchfields Industrial Estate, should work together with the relevant authorities to come up with a solution to make the junction safer or, “If, in the event, joint working to mutual benefits is not achievable’ Mr Bowie said, ‘then regrettably some if not all of the … applications are likely to receive an unfavourable response from Highways England.”

Jump forward only a few months, and after what looks like an intervention from ESCC, but could be budgetary pressures from Whitehall, Highways England have changed their tune and say they “do not now seek to improve the junction’” Their assessment of the junction though is far from positive and Highways England still believe that the junction is unsafe saying in their recent submission to Rother District Council (RDC), “There is a possibility that the queuing (at the junction) could lead to increased driver frustration which in turn could increase the potential for accidents at the junction.”

Busy A259 Harbour Road junction

In addition, Highways England squarely puts the responsibility on to ESCC to make the junction safe – something Council leader, and Rye’s elected representative on ESCC, Cllr Keith Glazier has denied in the past. Highways England’s response goes onto explain, “… several current planning applications along Harbour Road have highlighted that there is a capacity issue at this junction. However, the problem is associated with the Harbour Road arm (in the PM peak), which is under the stewardship of ESCC as Local Highway Authority.”

This flatly contradicts what Cllr Glazier said only a few months ago, “The A259 in this part of the county, including the junction at Harbour Road, is part of the Strategic Road Network and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of Highways England. This means that it is not for the county council to plan for any improvements to this junction.”

ESCC’s own report criticises junction

Highways England say the junction is unsafe, as too do Natural England, RDC, and ESCC itself in the recent publication of their Walking & Cycling Strategy for Rye, produced for them by Sustrans. ESCC lists the junction as a barrier to walking and cycling saying, “Challenging junction from Harbour Road to the busy Winchelsea Road, with poor pedestrian crossing facilities”.

And its report goes on to say: “Busy Harbour Road with footway to one side, limiting safe cycling. Poor signing and crossing points to join shared use path. Insufficient width of cantilever bridge, which is signed for shared use. Shared use path on inside of blind bend, with no verge separation. High dense hedge overgrowing path, high speed heavy vehicles are intimidating to path users.”

The report goes on to say that improvements to the route were “supported by local stakeholders and was discussed during the stakeholder consultation.” So, it begs the question – what is ESCC’s “official” view ?

Local councillor’s support for Harbour Rd business expansion

One clue that may help unravel the situation is a letter from County Cllr Keith Glazier to the planners at Rother District Council. Writing in his capacity as the local County Councillor for the area, Cllr Glazier throws his support behind a planning application by John Jempson & Son Ltd to develop land along Rye Harbour Road. Jempsons’ application (which you can read here) is for the demolition of the existing building on the site and the construction of 12 new industrial units totalling 4,238 sqm in size.

In his letter of support Cllr Glazier writes, “Jempson’s currently operate from the application site, as well as sites at Winchelsea Road and Slade Yard. These latter two sites have recently been allocated for residential development in the Rye Neighbourhood Plan and hence, there is a clear community aspiration to see these sites come forward for much needed housing in the town. However, this can only happen in a sustainable way if Jempson’s are able to remain in the town, which approval of this application will allow.”

Cllr Keith Glazier, East Sussex County Council Leader and Rye’s elected representative on ESCC

But not everyone though agrees with Cllr Glazier’s assessment. One local resident of Rye Harbour has written to RDC saying, ‘As this application comprises 12 COMMERCIAL/ INDUSTRIAL units in total, only one of which is for the use of the applicant (Jempsons) the application is based on speculative financial gain before any notion of consideration for residents of Rye Harbour, or what the other units may become.

“I oppose this application on the grounds of over-development of the site on the approach to a residential area that in addition is adjacent to the nature reserve edges and a site of special scientific interest … A balance has to be decided between retention of jobs and reasonable living conditions for residents. We are at that balance now.”

Discovery Centre opening in 2021

As the Discovery Centre at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is set to open in 2021, and the A259 junction likely to become busier, the ability to access the reserve via walking and cycling will probably become more difficult.

The Nature Reserve have said it wants to encourage more people to visit the Reserve by means other than driving, saying in a tweet in February 2019, “We’re keen to encourage visitors to the Reserve to come by train … It’s just under 3 miles to the Nature Reserve. On the flat!.” However the flat includes the dangerous junction where there is no controlled pedestrian crossing or traffic lights.

As matters stand, with numerous traffic generating developments along Harbour Road being consented, it remains an aspiration on the Reserve’s part that people will walk.

Rye News has contacted Howard Norton, one of Rye’s two elected representatives on RDC, who also happens to be on RDC’s planning committee and on the Management Board of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, to ask him for his views on how RDC, the Nature Reserve, and the various developers and stakeholders are working together to make the junction safer. At the time of writing, we have yet to receive a response, but we will publish it once it is received.

The gap at Rye in the proposed England Coast Path

As previously reported, the dangerous junction at the A259 and Harbour Road remains a barrier to the completion of Natural England’s Coast Path through Rye, alongside opposition from Rye Golf Club but what is most concerning, aside from the safety of walkers and cyclists crossing the junction, is that there is no apparent sense of ownership or urgency as neither of the key agencies, Highways England nor ESCC, are taking responsibility for improving safety at the junction.

Image Credits: Kevin McCarthy , ESCC , Natural England .

10 COMMENTS

  1. The ongoing saga of who is responsible for improvements at the dangerous junction at the top of the harbour road, should have been resolved before permission was given to the visitor centre,on the Nature Reserve, as thousands more people are expected to visit after Covid. As for the John jempson application too build 12 new units, a promise that they have kept to accomadate the tenants they have on their winchelsea road site, i find admirable. I beleive the application is on the old Nerus site that has been derelict for years, and is an eyesore, as for bordering on the nature reserve,all the businesses on that side of the road are located close to the nature reserve and have lived in harmony for years, and too the newcomers to the harbour,if it wasn’t for the gravel extraction industry over the years,that brought many local people jobs, there would not be these man made lakes, that have made the nature reserve, such an attraction.

  2. It is no surprise to hear that Highways England have sidestepped responsibility for the harbour road junction, their response to requests to maintain the A259 New Winchelsea Road have been met with disinterest at best, “we know about it because you reported the problem – it will get fixed when we get round to it – it won’t be given priority – you can’t report it twice even if it gets worse – every road in England is a danger to the public”
    It’s time that all agencies worked together to solve this by setting aside their own agendas and finding a compromise – that means Highways, East Sussex, Rother, local businesses, Rye Town Council, Icklesham Parish Council and local residents.

  3. What would help would be double yellow lines from the junction to the bridge to start with, the parking the other side of the bridge outside the boat yard is also becoming a problem, it looks as though it’s now becoming a favourite free parking spot.
    Once again the various agencies missed a trick with the junction and allowed housing to take priority over any other consideration and this argument looks as though it’s going to go on and on.
    On the question of planning it does seem odd that all industrial plans are met with objection from the bird reserve who only added to the problem in the first place.

  4. Panto season is still with us! Highways England, responsible for trunk roads like the A249, rightly thinks the junction with the Rye Harbour Road is dangerous and needs upgrading.
    Oh no it’s not! East Sussex Highways (councillor Glazier in full panto garb) say it’s ours and Rother’s and we don’t think any upgrading is necessary, even considering the industrial businesses, Nature Reserve, residential area and expanding caravan/ holiday lodge Park. Any new developments can get on with it.
    Oh yes it is! Highways England, after some Westminster arm-twisting (by whom?) decides it is dangerous, but we haven’t got the money or inclination to do anything.
    ps When the Tollgate Lock development was built it was a requirement that sufficient space be reserved for a future roundabout or widening.
    Happy New Year.

  5. If the very old wooden fence on the corner were removed/replaced with one that could be seen through, eg wire mesh, the improved line of sight along Winchelsea Rd towards Rye would make a huge difference to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists turning right from the Harbour Rd towards Rye. I speak from experience – each time you have to make a dash for it hoping that nothing is coming from Rye. But if you could see just a few hundred yards further it would feel completely safe.

  6. I have been advised by Highways England that a fatal accident has to occur at the Rye Harbor junction before safety improvements will even be considered.
    No near misses which happen frequently, will do.
    Someone or several people have to be killed on the junction.
    Highways England have always been very courteous when replying to emails which contain photographs of the alarming deep cracks and potential holes which are appearing right across New Winchelsea Road. Apparently they have carried out inspections but their verdict is that the road surface is fine. The majority of the responses are cut and pasted and standard issue which may account for their courtesy.
    I’ve said before many times, that we are encouraged to walk rather than jump into our cars for short journeys. However who in their right minds wants to be that person who dies crossing the Rye Harbour junction. I’d rather walk elsewhere and drive into Rye these days (or not go at all) with all the increased traffic along Harbour Road.

  7. If additional traffic is going to come from new Harbour Road developments then why is ESCC saying in its role as consultee that they don’t see any impact on the A259 junction?

    And why is the leader of ESCC saying that Jempsons need to be able to relocate to the harbour in order to build housing on their current site in Rye? What does Keith Glazier know that the rest of us don’t?

  8. Its been common knowledge for years that jempsons were going to relocate to the harbour, and wished to keep the business owners with a roof over their head,and also if people kept up with the times, they would have known it was in the RNP, that this was one of the few key sites for new housing in Rye, I have never been a fan of Keith Glazer’s over the years,but in this instance he is right, to help keep these businesses and their employees in work, and i fully back his ambition to get jempsons plans passed.

  9. If the two storage containers that are positioned to block the view of the traffic coming from Rye were moved further back, the problem might not be solved, but it would improve safety for pedestrians and drivers, and could even save lives.

  10. John Tolhurst if Jempsons stand to make millions selling their land in Rye for housing, then they can also afford to contribute to the cost of upgrading the Harbour Road junction – in line with Highways England’s request.

    However ESCC have put the brakes on this plan, presumably with the enthusiastic support of Jempsons.

    As things stand Jempsons will make a packet at the expense of road safety and locals will have to put up with increased traffic at an already dangerous junction that ESCC takes no responsibility for – even though all the extra traffic is being generated on the Harbour road (ESCC’s jurisdiction) from all the new businesses that ESCC and its leader are enthusiastically cheerleading!

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