Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Is the ‘Road to Nowhere’ really the Road to the Future?

HOT reporter Chris Cormack thinks that Hastings people have a variety of ideas about the new Bexhill Hastings Link Road and that there may be some like him who actually want to see it built!  Since HOT has aired the views of Combe Haven Defenders on several occasions, Chris wants to take this opportunity to examine each and every reason against building the road and hold it up to scrutiny, and what is more, HOT readers should have the opportunity to add their comments (politely of course!!).

On its website, the ‘Combe Haven Defenders’ (CHD) argue that the the Department for Transport (DfT) and East Sussex County Council (ESCC) have largely made the arguments against the Link Road for them in their reports. This is interesting in itself, because it shows that the authorities have considered all the arguments advanced by CHD against the road and balancing the pros against the cons, concluded that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

CHD decry the fact that the road would carry up to 30,000 vehicles a day across a valley, Combe Haven, described by ESCC as ‘probably the finest medium-sized valley in East Sussex outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. This conflicts with their view put forward that there is no demand for this “Zombie” road “to nowhere”.  The road is single carriageway and avoids the  designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that would have been crossed in an earlier dual carriageway plan.

CHD criticise the building of roads as it creates more traffic. The fact is that the road is needed to divert heavy lorry traffic away from built up areas in Hastings and Bexhill to service the new commercial districts of Queensway, Hastings and North East Bexhill and provide reasonable access for the new housing developments. Bexhill residents presently need to join the national road network to London and the rest of the country via a congested residential district on the A259, which also pollutes the air of the affected residents.

A beautiful shoe was found

CHD states that, of the 45 transport schemes approved by the government over the past year, the Link Road is by far the worst in terms of the projected increase in carbon emissions. In the view of the inspector, the ‘overall air quality impacts of the scheme are on balance to be characterised as beneficial, as submitted by ESCC’. Furthermore ESCC also submitted that the road will not prevent the Council from meeting its overall carbon emission reduction commitments.

CHD state that most of the traffic on the Bexhill road is local, with 80-95% of vehicles starting and finishing their journeys in Bexhill and Hastings. The new road would merely move traffic around and cause congestion in other areas: traffic is forecast to rise by 81% on Queensway if the road is built, and by 26% on the Ridge. This again ignores the main beneficial purpose of the road, namely to provide easier access to future building developments around Queensway and North East Bexhill.  It is axiomatic that if you expand the towns of Bexhill and Hastings, then access roads to the new areas are needed.

CHD argue that DfT forecasts suggest that the Link Road would “only” save drivers five minutes on a journey along the Bexhill Road.  This is an implied admission that the road will relieve congestion generally.

CHD argue that public transport improvements in the last 12 years have been limited and will now lag further behind other Sussex towns.   Planned improvements have been refused government money because Hastings and Bexhill have received £56m for the BHLR. The DfT inspector’s report examined the alternatives for improving public transport and concluded that none of the suggestions could obviate the need for the Link Road. It is not an “either/or” option between the Link Road and better public transport and options such as building a station at Glyne Gap could still proceed, but some suggestions, such as bus lanes on the A259, were considered unworkable. The inspector stated that public transport and smarter choices on their own were “unlikely to adequately deal with development in NE Bexhill”.

CHD state that by the DfT’s own analysis, the Link Road would be ‘poor’ value for money.  Again the DfT has examined the alternatives in terms of value for money and concluded that they are less good value. The inspector concluded that lack of land for business and housing development in Bexhill-Hastings was a “significant constraint on the growth potential in the area; geographical constraints mean that NE Bexhill seems like the only place where significant development can take place – the supply of alternative brownfield sites being limited.”  Money needs to be spent in economically disadvantaged Hastings to provide jobs and meet the aspirations of our young people without their having to leave the borough.

CHD contest claims that the road would lead to regeneration by opening up greenfield areas for development, because there are no firm commitments from employers to occupy the new sites. This is to take the cart before the horse and runs counter to all the current pleas to government to be more proactive in the job creation process especially in areas such as Hastings.

CHD state that no alternatives have ever been properly considered.  ESCC’s ‘consultation’ merely consulted residents on the preferred route of the road; this is the most laughable of the protestors’ arguments.  The protestors have spent the last 20 years opposing road developments in the area but never produced joined up proposals to offer a convincing alternative that passes public scrutiny.

CHD say that the road would devastate a valley which contains: a site of special scientific interest (SSSI); the largest reed bed in East Sussex; badgers; uncommon species of dragonflies; dormice; bats; barn owls; newts and other reptiles; water meadows;  and areas of ancient woodland. Dormice, bats and great crested newts are European Protected Species. I do not understand why a single carriageway road should cause such “devastation”, especially considering the measures to be taken to mitigate the environmental impact. In fact the Link Road is instrumental in enabling more environmental protection measures at the Combe Valley Countryside  Park to the south of the road which becomes eligible for European Union environmental grants.  It is not reasonable to expect the area between Hastings and Bexhill to remain “tranquil” given the growing population in the UK including East Sussex and the strengthening of the environmentally protected park concept to the south helps to ensure that urban sprawl between Hastings and Bexhill does not overwhelm the local ecosystems.

CHD criticise the £100m cost of the road and predict cost overruns, but this is part of the necessary infrastructure expenditure if we are to build new modern city districts. Such expenditure is balanced against future commercial business rate and Council tax income from new residents.

CHD doubt the jobs forecast by ESCC as it is over three times the official DfT analysis. Although looking at ESCC estimates with some scepticism, the DfT still concluded that the project should proceed.   The CHD argument, that many of the jobs would be taken by people outside of Hastings or simply be existing jobs moving out of town, damaging the town centre economy, seems to be advocating that nothing should change and that we should not prepare for a better future. Change is an unavoidable fact of life and the most worrying aspect of this point of view is that it provides no accommodation for successful businesses in our town to expand locally. This subject has been well aired in the local business community who are convinced that without the provision of modern facilities in which to expand, the many successful local businesses (and their jobs) will be driven elsewhere.  Do we want to accelerate the trend of driving our ambitious young to look elsewhere for the job to suit them?

Sea Change Sussex, a new not-for-profit economic development company,  is drawing up major proposals for business developments on the north east Bexhill sites  which have the potential to accommodate over 3,000 new jobs and give a £1 billion boost to the local econom(this figure comes from a study by economic consultants Genecon) by enabling local businesses to expand and attracting companies in to the area. Sea Change says the road is essential to provide access to these sites – without the road there could be no such developments.  

While people are understandably anxious about impact on the countryside,  East Sussex County Council is investing £21m in a wide range of measures to protect the environment – from drainage systems and sensitive landscaping down to tunnels for dormice and the re-homing of newts.  Job Creation is the most important factor , says  Sea Change,  and the sooner the road gets built the sooner the area will start to reap the economic benefits. If there are no further delays, the first new jobs on the commercial park could be generated by 2015.

For more information on environmental conservation plans in Combe Valley, download this document.

For more information on economic development plans and regeneration of Hastings and Bexhill, read this, and download this document, or visit the Seachange website.

For the Combe Haven Defenders’ arguments, you can visit their website.

You are welcome to add your comments in the box below


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Posted 09:57 Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012 In: Campaigns


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  1. Stephen Harries

    I come rather late to this discussion, not having previously had strong feelings about the road initiative. The protests stimulated me to look at the arguments in detail, and I am now a strong supporter of the road.

    Andrea Needham is completely incorrect to say that DfT did not recommend proceeding on the proposal. The documents are very clear on this. It is the job of DfT officials to subject such proposals to a very rigorous critique to ensure value for money (vfm) and they have done this. They categorise the project as delivering medium to low vfm, with a low risk of it falling at the low end of the scale (i.e it’s likely to be medium value): the majority of government projects are in this medium vfm range. They detect a degree of optimism bias (i.e. some overestimation of benefits, and underestimation of risks), find the environmental factors hard to quantify, and in particular identify that it is the planned complementary activities (to successfully create jobs and housing) which will deliver the actual benefits, and these must not be allowed to slip. They recommend some risk mitigation measures, brisk and regular progress reviews, and say that on balance the initiative should proceed.

    In a former career, I spent many years reviewing such government projects, and this DfT advice is quite normal practice to apply to viable initiatives; it is just saying that the project should be properly managed to deliver results; positive criticisms to ensure success not a debunking. The suggestion regularly made by protestors that, as the Greenpeace director stated last week, the DfT said that it is “a complete waste of taxpayers money” is either naive or specious – a piece of black propaganda. Indeed, I can’t imagine any situation in which one government department would say that about another – just doesn’t happen.

    I suspect that the documents Andrea Needham is referring to are those published at which include some email correspondence, the DfT reports to their Transport Minister, and the Evidence Review. It is standard practice to redact policy advice to Ministers in all released government documents, because it is exempted within the Freedom of Information Act: I stress, it’s done every time (it would be a bit of a give-away to just cross out the embarrassing bits, don’t you think?). No implication can be drawn from this except, I suppose, by those who seek conspiracy everywhere.

    Protestors make much of the amenity value of Combe Haven for walkers, dogs and horse riders, etc, along with supposed “desecration” of the mysterious ‘sacred springs grove’. As a resident of Crowhurst, I’ve always found it a quite muddy, mosquito-ridden place, overlooked on one side by the county waste disposal site (which no-one seems to mention), but each to their own I suppose. More to the point, there’s been little if any recognition by protestors of the socio-economic problems in the area that regeneration aims to tackle, or any realistic counter-proposals from them for doing so. Here’s some facts to consider:

    Hastings is the most deprived community in the South East.
    28& of children live below the poverty line; almost one third of people live within neighbourhoods that are among the 10% most deprived in England, and 2 of those are in the 1% most deprived neighbourhoods; a child born in Hastings can expect to die five years earlier than one born in Lewes, 25 miles away.

    It has the highest unemployment rate in East Sussex at around 6% registered JSA claimants, and over 8% among young people; researchers suggest the hidden rate of real unemployment is more like 13%. There are 10 applicants for every vacancy, twice the national average, and 1 in 5 homes have no adults in employment. Much of the employment that exists is part-time, casual, and precarious minimum-wage work.

    Contrary to Andrea’s conclusion, it seems clear that the protestors have lost the argument, but are now attempting to impose their thwarted will by force. They have had many chances to put their point of view, and their arguments have been considered and rejected in the democratic process; although the predominantly middle class among the protestors are an articulate, educated bunch, who know the media ropes and have the necessary contacts, it is not true that those who shout the loudest have the most valuable things to say – often the reverse.

    Time for them to get over it, and stand aside. My sense is that the road has widespread local support; it’s just that those people don’t shout about it much. Let’s hear more about helping those trapped in poverty and deprivation to get out of it, and less about the denial of their modest hopes and dreams for a decent life by a privileged elite.

    Comment by Stephen Harries — Saturday, Feb 2, 2013 @ 15:08

  2. Chris Cormack

    Hi Dean
    The statistics regarding Queensway and the Ridge are not mine but those of Combe Haven Defenders – I don’t know their origin and would not dispute them. I sympathise with you on your daily rush hour journey but to me it only signals the need to improve the intersection between Queensway, the Ridge and the A21 to London.

    I dispute that it is the building of more roads that increases traffic – people like you have necessary journeys to work during rush hours and they obviously seek the easiest and quickest route. People are looking further afield to find the more fulfilling and lucrative jobs when the transport links improve – that is what increases traffic. I have lived in London almost all my life and understand this well. I would not want to deny people the possibility of having these better jobs, and better job opportunities is what the BHLR is all about.

    As a cyclist and frequent public transport user, I am all in favour of the improvements you suggest, but can you seriously see how such improvements would make a significant difference to your particular daily journey?

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 @ 20:43

  3. dean robinson

    Chris you state “traffic is forecast to rise by 81% on Queensway if the road is built, and by 26% on the Ridge.”.
    Well i cycle and drive every day to work on the ridge to battle. It’s already over-congested at and at times, at standstill. where’s the extra 26% + going to go? hire military choppers to taxi the cars and lorries over the new bottlenecks? And in my view, it will be more than 26%. I believe that once the ‘existing bottleneck’ is apparently gone from their sat navs, more traffic will decide to go thru hastings. from kent for example (eg rye/folkstone) to destinations west of hastings. In addition, it’s been shown time and time again that building more roads increases motor vehicle use locally and otherwise. The solution is that money spent on sustainable infrastructure. Safe cycle and people routes, better more regular and cheaper public transport etc the list is endless if you are open enough to see it.

    Comment by dean robinson — Tuesday, Dec 18, 2012 @ 16:17

  4. Peter Sherwood

    I thought this road proposal started out as a by-pass for the A259 to facilitate easing traffic through Hastings. It diverted north of Hastings to connect with A28 and would be relief for through traffic also Hastings town. Now it seems like half a road, which is where the “road to nowhere” presumably comes from. All discussion now seems to feature access to north Bexhill industrial development and construction of housing. I do wonder how much traffic will use this road and how much will congest the narrow roadways along The Ridge and the A2100? It does seem like half a road and half a plan. New residents of any new local housing will not necessarily work locally and to exhaust traffic onto Queensway with nowhere to go but onto already congested roadways seems peculiar at best.

    Comment by Peter Sherwood — Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 @ 21:01

  5. Nick Hanna

    I think what bothers me most is that there is no mention of the word ‘sustainable’ about any of the developments taking place. It is simply growth at any cost – which is really a discredited economic model in view of climate issues. Nothing suggests that ESCC or RDC are doing anything but produing bog standard industrial and housing developments which will just make the situation worse, rather than having a coherent plan for a low-carbon future for Hastings and Bexhill. The fact that it is growth at any cost, “driven” (excuse the pun) by increased vehicle traffic is really locking us into 20th century development models. This displays a total lack of vision from the leadership of ESCC and RDC.

    Comment by Nick Hanna — Saturday, Nov 24, 2012 @ 09:08

  6. Fred Anderson

    Until there is complete transparency we won’t know the truth, but I believe that the relationship between George Osborne and Amber Rudd is key. Remember this road really was written off. It can also have done Amber no harm to have Roland Rudd for a brother – the most powerful financial lobbyist in the country.

    Comment by Fred Anderson — Friday, Nov 23, 2012 @ 11:18

  7. Chris Cormack

    Andrea, to recommend or not recommend funding is really to do with deciding priorities when there are limited resources.

    It does not mean that the DfT is against the road in principle and you should not continue promulgating this myth, when the DfT has come out unequivocably in favour of the road in a long and detailed report.

    As regards the redacted document, I can not reach a meaningful conclusion on a document I have not seen, especially when you are asking me to guess what may have been deleted, but nothing you have written so far leads me to think it is anything other than a question of priorities.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Thursday, Nov 22, 2012 @ 21:46

  8. Andrea Needham

    Chris, in your comment, you don’t answer my question: if the DfT had recommended to the treasury that the road be funded, why on earth would they redact those recommendations when campaigners requested the document? There’s only one credible reason: that the recommendation was not to fund.

    (Incidentally, the document was nothing to do with deciding priorities between competing schemes: funding for all the other schemes had already been announced. The document was specific to the BHLR and its purpose was to answer one simple question: should the road be funded or not. The answer was clearly no, and to let campaigners see that would have been a disaster, hence the redaction)

    Comment by Andrea Needham — Thursday, Nov 22, 2012 @ 21:11

  9. David Stevenson

    Once again politicians try to gain support (and votes) by saying “This will create jobs”. Even if this were true, will it ever compensate for the loss of jobs resulting from successive British governments allowing manufacturing to be transferred to other countries? Rather like trying to fill a bath with the plug out.

    Comment by David Stevenson — Thursday, Nov 22, 2012 @ 19:52

  10. Chris Cormack

    I based my arguments in this article on the DfT Inspectorate Report produced after an inquiry from November 2009 to March 2010. This is a publicly available document which all can read:

    This is the most comprehensive recent summary of the pros and cons of the road and confirmation that the DfT considered both and decided in favour of the Link Road. The DfT Report clearly comes out in favour of BHLR stating that there is a “compelling case in the public interest for the new road”.

    It is therefore disingenuous for Andrea Needham to suggest that the BHLR does not have the support of the DfT and that it is some whim of George Osborne’s that caused the go ahead. The scheme is the result of local democratically elected representatives following due process.

    I assume that the redacted documents of which Andrea writes was part of an internal process within the DfT to decide priorities among the many road schemes the DfT has recommended. I for one salute Amber Rudd for succeeding in getting Hastings and Bexhill a little higher priority than is usually the case.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Thursday, Nov 22, 2012 @ 19:33

  11. Fred Anderson

    With regards to employment it should be noted that the project is getting off to bad start with approximately 100 migrant workers being brought in to build the road for the French/German contractors and housed on six acres of farmland at Upper Wilting for the next two years. As they say actions speak louder than words.

    With regard to the new housing and the possible increased council tax revenue it might be worth considering the recent articles in the Guardian and Observer which state that because of the Tory’s new capping policy, London Boroughs are already re-housing poor and unemployed families in Hastings. With the further cutbacks this is set to snowball in the coming years. If indeed Hastings and North Bexhill have a massive influx of London unemployed families remember that we will be paying the council tax on these new houses not they.

    Last week it was announced £60million is to be slashed from Social Services in Sussex. That says it all.

    Comment by Fred Anderson — Thursday, Nov 22, 2012 @ 14:49

  12. Andrea Needham

    In the paragraph talking about jobs, you say, ‘… the DfT still concluded that the road should proceed’. This is wrong.

    The Hastings Alliance applied, under the Freedom of Information act, for the advice given to transport minister Norman Baker by the DfT during the final 3-month review period before funding was announced. Norman Baker had asked for a report on whether the road should be funded.

    When the HA received the report, the section headed ‘recommendations’ had been completely redacted. If the DfT had recommended funding, why on earth would they have redacted this information? The only conclusion one can reasonably draw is that the DfT recommended against funding, which makes complete sense given their evaluation of the road as poor value for money.

    So basically, the road is being built not because it’s a good scheme (the government itself clearly thinks it’s not) but because George Osborne wants to throw money at infrastructure projects, and with Amber Rudd as his parliamentary private secretary it was hardly surprising that the BHLR was first in line for money.

    Basically, the argument has been lost, but we’re having the road anyway.

    Comment by Andrea Needham — Thursday, Nov 22, 2012 @ 11:00

  13. Barbara Rogers

    It seems to me a circular argument that the road is needed to service new building projects, commercial and residential – and those projects will need a road! Hastings and St leonards have a lot of actual and potential sites which should be developed first – simply sticking new developments onto the fringes of towns does not solve the problems of the towns themselves, it simply creates urban sprawl of which we have far too much already.

    Comment by Barbara Rogers — Wednesday, Nov 21, 2012 @ 16:29

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