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DfT reveals BHLR recommendations

Following a decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Department for Transport (DfT) has now released the withheld recommendations from their report on the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR), writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick.

In March 2012, the DfT submitted its report to the Treasury assessing “whether to provide funding for the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road or alternative transport measures.” In the Budget a few days later, Chancellor George Osborne announced the agreement to grant East Sussex County Council a government grant of £57 million for the project, the remainder of the costs to be paid for by the county council.

At the beginning of April 2012, Hastings Alliance, who campaign for sustainable transport solutions and oppose the link road, submitted a request to the Information Commissioner’s Office asking for the DfT’s report to be released to the public.  The report was released, but the department’s recommendations, vital information, were redacted. Hastings Alliance then submitted a request for the withheld information to be released to the public.

Recently, the Information Commissioner’s Office gave the DfT a 35-day deadline to release the majority of the redacted documentation or to submit an appeal. On 29 April, after a wait of 10 months, the information, a topic of much heated debate and discussion, has now finally been released, revealing the DfT’s recommendations.

In a letter to Hastings Alliance dated 29 April 2013, the DfT states: ‘The Commissioner’s decision is that most of the material that was redacted by the Department was incorrectly withheld, as the public interest favoured disclosure of the information.’ As a result of this, the department will be publishing the redacted information on its website, replacing the redacted version published in May 2012.

The redacted recommendations

Combe Haven Valley

Combe Haven Valley.

Gabriel Carlyle, a spokesperson for the Combe Haven Defenders, said: “Today’s release of the DfT’s recommendations about whether or not to fund the link road is a significant victory for anyone who cares about either the environment, the public purse or the public’s right to know.

“Among other things the documents reveal that the DfT fudged the question of whether or not public money should be used to fund the project, noting that one ’emerging option’ was to ‘decline funding approval’, (the other ’emerging option’ was to approve funding); that the DfT noted that ‘possible, alternative road-based solutions had not been fully worked through and tested’ at the time of the decision; that the DfT assessed the BHLR as being of ‘low or medium value for money’ – and was therefore not a project that the Department would normally consider funding; that East Sussex County Council (ESCC) had ‘significantly overstate[d] the benefits of the scheme,’ ‘double-count[ing] productivity improvements’ and exaggerating the number of jobs that the project would create.”

Alternatives to the link road

Work on the road

Photo: Combe Haven Defenders.

Derrick Coffee of Hastings Alliance states that the revealed information proves there was no clear recommendation for the link road by the DfT.

“It is clear that pressure from Chancellor Osborne forced the decision, so it would be part of the 2012 budget statement. That also meant that another option – which never saw the light of day, but was revealed in the disclosed documents  – was not properly considered. This option was for development of a package of alternative transport measures that would benefit the area, and could provide a sustainable alternative to the car-based development model, now the only show in town.

“Instead, with the link road, rail and bus services will have to play catch-up for decades into the future, with a heavily subsidised ‘car commuter’ route encouraging short car trips, and a real possibility of more local taxpayers’ money called on to fund more roads needed to connect with the link road.

“Documents already released by the DfT show the link road as offering low value for money, and a quarter of the jobs claimed by the road’s promoters.

Newt fence“It’s a dirty road too: the worst for CO2 emissions of all 45 English schemes under development. In the next few days, CO2 levels are likely to rise above 400 parts per million for the first time ever. (US Earth Systems Research Laboratory, Hawaii). This is of no concern to the promoters – including Greg Barker, MP for Bexhill and Battle – our minister for climate change.”

According to the Campaign for Better Transport, the BHLR is the first of 190 roads to be built as part of the government’s national road building development plan, costing an estimated £30 billion.

Full details of the DfT report here.

For more information including details of the report and other substantiating evidence mentioned by representatives of the campaign groups, see the Hastings Alliance website here and the Combe Haven Defenders website here.

And the DfT’s website here.

And the Campaign for Better Transport’s website here.

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Posted 13:32 Wednesday, May 1, 2013 In: Campaigns

1 Comment

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  1. DAR

    Unfortunately, this information has been revealed rather too late to save the tree devastation which has paved the way for the road construction. No doubt that was the purpose of the DfT dragging its feet on the revelation of information.”You want to save the trees? Oh sorry, there aren’t any left to save – so what’s your beef?” I suppose the ridiculously large housing development could still be curtailed, but our local politicians are too cowardly to put a stop to it.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, May 2, 2013 @ 10:47

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