Passing Rye

The A259 at South undercliff - coping with traffic for which it was never designed

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 .


  1. Any significant improvement to roads in the area risks diverting commercial through traffic (ie very large trucks) from the M20, M25 and M3. This would be a disaster. Beware of unintended consequences…… The local road network is fine for our needs, with the exception of one or two pinch points which could be improved.

    • “One or two” pinch points:
      Monkbretton Bridge
      Skinners Roundabout
      Fishmarket Road by the building merchant
      Fishmarket Road any time people park on a single yellow
      The road alongside the quay
      The roundabout by the fish and chip shop
      etc. etc.
      And that’s before you consider the whole Winchelsea road-scene.

      What do you propose to improve these pinch points?

      • Peter, when I was on a local council not so long ago, we described these as “natural traffic calming”. You iron them out, all you get is more traffic travelling faster. I make a living two ways, first is driving a commercial goods vehicle all over the country based in Rye Harbour, about 50,000 miles a year, second is a business also out of Rye Harbour which relies on being able to deliver anywhere in the UK in 24 hours. Neither is at all affected by the local infrastructure. From both angles I would rather not attract more traffic to the area.

  2. The Bexhill link road is not a bypass – it opened up the whole Coombe Valley (a nature reserve) for major housing development. This was the stated aim of the road and the whole point of it.

    Alternatives to long-distance road freight are critical when it comes to decarbonising our economy, and the obvious solution from an infrastructure perspective is better rail links from our major ports (including for our needs, from Dover). A Rye bypass would be a sticking plaster at best. This is 1980’s thinking – and it didn’t work then!

  3. Its been happening for years mark, many large companies like marks and Spencer, always come through Rye due to the appalling A21, nothing will change on that front, whether the greens, and the rest of the Nimbys in Rye shout no way, its the only answer to this ever increasing pollution problem, especially around south undercliffe.

  4. John, apologies but you need to modernise your thinking. The bulk of the problem in Rye and other towns comes from heavy road freight. This is a national (international?) problem that needs to be dealt with at source given the urgent need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Rail freight transport is entirely feasible but our railway network is currently at capacity. Investment in the railway can bring significant opportunities to move a far greater proportion of goods around, well away from our town centers.

    Dungeness is connected to the railway network for good reasons. Why isn’t the port of Dover? Why are thousands of lorries heading East/West every day, but only a handful of railway carriages? Why are we building huge lorry parks at Ashford, but not huge rail distribution hubs? Outdated thinking, that’s why.

  5. As a resident of South Undercliff since 1979 I have seen a steady increase in the amount of heavy traffic over the years – some of the lorries coming by now are like two lorries in one – the front part
    tows the second part. I live on the cliff side of South Undercliff (along with seven other houses) and there is no pavement on our side of the road. This means we have no option but to cross over to the pavement (only 3ft wide in some places) on the other side immediately we leave our house.
    Every day we see lorries mounting the pavement if two lorries meet at certain points. Motorists do not abide by the speed limit which makes it a very dangerous exercise to cross the road. We badly need road signage to remind drivers it is a 30mph speed limit through the whole of Rye.

  6. The traffic problems in Rye is not all about heavy lorries,its about all traffic coming through Rye on the south east trunk road and the popularity of Rye as a tourist attraction, which has not been helped by the expansion of Rye Nature reserve, with no thought or improvements to Rye harbour road, or the junction with the A259.Time some people moved into the 21st century, and accepted the only answer to Ryes ongoing road problems, is a bypass for the long suffering residents of our town.

  7. Talking of “pinch points” has any body noticed how impassable the Military road has become from the Globe Inn to Salts? It’s shocking, and compounded I believe by commuters parking on both sides of the road. Parking on the South Undercliff road also causes severe hold-ups leading to idling vehicles throwing out pollution. Perhaps a combination of resident parking permits and yellow lines might at least keep traffic flowing.

    • Be careful what you wish for. The exacerbation of the parking situation on Military Road by the Globe is a direct result of the parking scheme implemented in Rye. Military Road is now full of commuters and shop keepers who don’t want to pay for their parking.

      • Even worse on Thursdays when the Cattle Market carpark isn’t open, but pretty much any day one can find cars parked across driveways, in front of people’s gates, and blocking dropped kerbs. Communication with our councillors and with the Sussex Police has yielded zero results.

  8. We can all diagnose the innumerable problems, it’s harder to put our fingers on one silver bullet solution. It’s partly that we’re victims of our own good fortune to live in Rye; it’s partly due to the limitations of bus and rail transport, partly a problem of logistics and commerce, and partly a problem of infrastructure. And of course, it’s always an issue of investment and finance…
    It’s also inertia. We’ve found that during the on-going pandemic, that when things have to change, they can change. It’s a matter of will and the acceptance of new behaviours. There probably isn’t one solution, but a combination of many.
    I think we also have to entertain every option and every advantage of our location – even those that may seem absurd or fantastical. Rye’s an attraction – should you have to book online and choose a slot? Like a theme park, should we have out of town parking and electric buses or Heathrow-style shuttles transporting people in to Rye and down to Camber? Maybe the Camber hub should be back at Brookland or East Gulford? Could the wharves at Rye Harbour provide any logistic support? Could tourists and day-trippers arrive there??!? I know, it sounds crazy… Or does it? Could some of these elements provide one of a jigsaw puzzle of options? The other thing to consider re road haulage is what we’re buying and where it comes from. It’s a problem of consumerism. To be frank, re-shaping our consumer tastes and tendencies is probably a bigger challenge than the logistics, but it might be part of the eventual solution. How much of what’s in those trucks are cheaply-produced fast-fashion items that will shortly be returned to origin on our same congested roads? What do we really need, and what can we produce locally? It’s a huge, complex solution that has to be nibbled away at energetically but incrementally. But we all have to be on board and we have to think the ‘unthinkable’.


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