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A wise use of public money & resources?

Hastings Alliance, a sustainable transport group which has campaigned for 17 years against the Bexhill Hastings Link Road, lost their appeal for a Judicial Review at the High Court in London last Friday, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick.

Hastings Alliance sought permission from the court to have the funding decision for the BHLR reviewed by the judiciary on two grounds: the failure to apply the precautionary principle and the failure to give reasons for the approval of funding.

The first challenge, the environmental precautionary principle, concerns prevention and protection of irreversible damage to the environment, as stated in the United Nations’ ‘Rio Declaration’ of 1992 and in the UK’s Sustainable Development Strategy of 2005, ‘Securing the Future’.

The second challenge concerned the decision to grant approval.

“In the light of uncertainties about the scheme,” explains Derrick Coffee of Hastings Alliance, “the Secretary of State for Transport, [at the time, Justine Greening], had sought additional information on the scheme’s benefits and disadvantages. The Dept of Transport’s analysis of the scheme reported doubts about the proposal, but these were not referred to.”

The High Court judge refused permission to challenge the decision.

High Court anti road campaigners

Outside the High Court, London

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, environmental transport campaigner, John Stewart and the Combe Haven Defenders, who all oppose the link road, joined Hastings Alliance at the High Court.

Greg Barker, MP for Bexhill, enthusiastically supports the road, although one might question this enthusiasm, considering his other role as Minister for Climate Change. The government’s website states clearly that climate change is very real – as now agreed by scientists worldwide – and it is imperative we all respond. In light of this, Greg Barker’s response totally contradicts his ministerial role.

Amber Rudd explained to HOT journalist Nick Terdre that she is ‘committed to the economic development of Hastings’ and ‘the priority is jobs and housing’.

ESCC has suggested that anything from 3 – 4000 jobs will be created. However, this figure was disputed by the Dept of Transport, who suggested 900 jobs would be more accurate, only a percentage of which would be for local people.

Once the road is built, it is planned that houses and a business park will be developed. As of this time, no development companies have made a commitment to the scheme. In addition, the cost of constructing roads to link these developments to the BHLR is estimated at over £20million.  This factor is not included in the proposal’s ever-increasing budget.

The cost of the road is currently estimated at £103million, although it is highly unlikely this will be the final figure. An absolute maximum contribution of £56million will be paid by the government and the remainder will be covered by ESCC tax payers. When the road was initially proposed, the cost was estimated at £24million.

At this time of massive spending cuts and confirmation by the world’s scientific community of climate change consequences, do the people of Hastings, Bexhill and St Leonards need to consider whether this is a wise or ethical way to spend their money?

The Dept of Transport’s statistics in December 2011 showed that the BHLR was almost bottom of the UK’s 45 proposed transport schemes. In terms of value for money, it was the only one described as ‘poor-medium’ and was the worst by far for CO2 emissions. In their pre-budget analysis, the estimated cost in terms of environmental destruction and ‘loss of tranquility’ was £77million.

Might one question why the recommendations of the government department responsible for UK transport and road construction were ignored and over-ruled by the Treasury?

After the decision in the Budget was announced, Hastings Alliance requested a copy of the Dept of Transport’s report using the Freedom of Information Act. The report was sent to them, but with the Dept of Transport’s recommendations redacted. When asked why this information has been withheld, the explanation referred to the maintenance of inter-departmental confidence. The Alliance subsequently submitted an appeal to the Information Commissioner to disclose the withheld recommendations, requesting that they be received prior to Friday’s High Court hearing, but have not as yet received a response.

“The developments proposed have a strong and risky speculative nature,” say Hastings Alliance “and are not a good use of scarce public funds. The Department for Transport’s analysis of the scheme left it clearly sceptical of the overblown claims for it made by East Sussex County Council.”

“Put simply, this road scheme will be a needless blot on the landscape of a beautiful county. We will now consider our position and examine very carefully further options: the West Coast Main Line story reminds us government doesn’t necessarily make good financial decisions on transport.”

Work is due to start on the road at the end of January. However, as John Stewart states, ‘it’s not over til the tarmac is down’. Other roads, such as the one that threatened Oxleas Wood in South East London, have been stopped at the eleventh hour by campaigners and public protest.

Hastings Alliance website here.

Campaign for Better Transport here.

 

 

 

Posted 18:45 Monday, Oct 8, 2012 In: Home Ground

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