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.”
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.”
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.
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 .