From time to time the question of a Rye bypass, and the woes of those living within sight and sound of the A259 are raised in these columns. One cannot but help have some sympathy for residents along this route who regularly (and rightly) vent their frustration at the noise, pollution and sometimes danger, that affects their daily lives- it is clear to all (except successive governments and the Highways Agency) that the road, particularly in the region of Rye, is totally inadequate for both the quantity and nature of the traffic that uses it.
The problems of a south coast east to west route were recognised over one hundred and twenty years ago when the Monkbretton bridge was built over the Rother. The object then, was to facilitate the journey across Romney Marsh and provide a more direct route than using the alternative of winding lanes and byways. This was of benefit not only to travellers but doubtless also to local businesses, as well as giving better access to Rye market for farmers to the east of the town.
However, at the end of the 19th century horsepower meant just that and the internal combustion engine, although in existence, was a long way from making its mark on the country. Certainly, no one would have even dreamed that one day the roads through Rye would be carrying lorries weighing up to 40 tons, a myriad of cars, vans and motorcycles throughout the 24 hours of the day.
A bypass has been considered in the relatively recent past but the plan was not carried through because, as readers often like to tell us, the town could not come together to agree on the route, with every suggested route meeting opposition. This may well have been part of the cause, but it is certainly not the whole story.
In the late 1980’s an east-west trunk road was proposed from Folkestone through to the New Forest and beyond and in a white paper of 1989 it was announced that, in addition to improvements and road widening elsewhere along a route from Ashford to Honiton (the Folkestone to Ashford section was already catered for) there were to be bypasses around Ham Street and on the A259 around Rye, Winchelsea, Icklesham, Ore, Hastings and Bexhill.
The only section completed was the road around Ham Street which takes traffic at high speed out of Ashford only to dump it at Brenzett – a near-deserted roundabout in the middle of nowhere. The Hastings/Bexhill section was later formally rejected (although, curiously and despite this, Bexhill, which arguably, and from an environmental point of view, needed it the least is now the only other, albeit modified, section to have been completed).
The original scheme was supported both by the SE Regional Assembly and the then deputy prime minister, John Prescott. It was opposed by English Nature who used the usual argument of damaging an SSSI and obliterating a few great crested newts (who are a declared endangered species, but nevertheless seem to pop up wherever a development of any sort is proposed). These objections together with, it must be said, a change of governmental policies over roads and transport, won the day and the scheme was abandoned.
In the time since then some upgrading has been done – mainly between Bexhill and Eastbourne, once regarded as the most accident-prone road in the country, and, of course, the Bexhill bypass (although it is officially a “link” road and not a trunk road). This link road was built following a proposal by East Sussex County Council (ESCC). The current leader of ESCC is Rye’s own county councillor, Keith Glazier.
So regardless of routing disagreements within Rye, it seems unlikely that the town would have seen a bypass by now and in view of the current general economic situation affecting town, district and county councils as well as central government, the prospect of funding for a new scheme being made available in the near future, would appear to be slim.
Nevertheless, that need not stop our town council from starting to lobby ESCC with, if necessary, a joint approach to Highways England. Although, on past performance of both councils, it would probably not be a good idea to hold one’s breath while waiting for this to happen.
Image Credits: John Minter .