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Looking eastwards along the Queensway Gateway Road where it has been joined to Whitworth Road (photo: Seachangewatch).

Road project still a headache for Sea Change and ESCC

Despite its short length, the Queensway Gateway Road continues to be a major headache for Sea Change Sussex and its client, ESCC. The opening of the temporary link, originally expected in early 2021, is now mooted for August, while the original scheme may only come on stream in July or August 2023, almost seven years behind schedule. Nick Terdre reports.

Any hope that a firm date for opening Sea Change Sussex’s Queensway Gateway Road as originally envisaged would emerge at the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (Selep) Accountability Board meeting on 12 March was soon dashed due to the uncertainties surrounding the future progress of the project.

Instead the meeting decided that an update setting out a “clear delivery plan and associated milestones” should be provided to its meeting on 10 September.

And because of the risk that the project – a short road linking Queensway to the A21 just south of The Ridge – may not be delivered, it also ruled that an update should be given to Selep’s Strategic Board in June “to make them aware of the issues faced by the Project.”

According to the report to the board, the earliest the permanent solution could be operational is January 2022. Before Sea Change can undertake the works needed to finish the road as originally planned, it has to acquire the land over which the final stretch will run.

This is primarily the land on which Bartlett’s SEAT showroom stands. Sea Change is actually the freeholder of the land but Bartlett is understood to have a long-term sub-lease.

Two other adjacent parcels of land are required for the road, one of them currently occupied by Sainsburys, HOT understands.

CPO a last resort

If the negotiations with the parties occupying the land are unsuccessful, the report says, East Sussex County Council, on whose behalf the road is being built, will as a “last resort” consider a compulsory purchase order to acquire the land, a process which could delay completion by between six and 18 months – to as late as July or August 2023.

ESCC confirmed to HOT this week that a compulsory purchase process has not been initiated. HOT understands that the county council is reluctant to take this step as such a move could be vulnerable to legal challenge.

Instead, as the report says, “ESCC have clearly indicated to SCS that their preference is for SCS to continue to pursue acquiring the necessary land for the permanent connection by negotiation.”

Negotiations with Bartlett have been under way for years without an agreement being reached. This caused the project to stall, obliging ESCC last year to agree to an interim solution. While there is still no sign of a successful conclusion to negotiations, HOT understands that the county council is far from satisfied with Sea Change’s efforts and has suggested that if progress continues to falter, it should bring in an arbitrator to set the terms of an agreement.

The report acknowledges that there is a risk that the project may not be completed, in which case it will seek the return of its grant. “If it is not possible to deliver the final section of the permanent connection…steps may be taken by the Board and Accountable Body to recover the £10m LGF [Local Growth Fund] allocation to the Project from East Sussex County Council,” it warns.

Grant nearly spent

That pot is nearly empty, £9.63m having been spent by February on building the section of road from Queensway to where it now links into Whitworth Road, plus two roundabouts. As the estimated cost of the project has been increased to £12m, Sea Change has undertaken to provide the balance of £2m, and to cover any further cost overruns.

“If any cost increases are identified over the £12m budget currently available, these costs will be met by SCS,” the report says.

The Queensway Gateway Road is now linked to Whitworth Road, which is currently used to park cars from Bartlett’s SEAT concession.

Sea Change originally intended to complete the project by March 2016. But the original planning permission was quashed following a legal challenge relating to air pollution.

After revisions were made to the projected air pollution levels – an exercise which also drew criticism – planning permission was again granted in January 2016, at which point Sea Change’s aim was to complete the road by the following November.

In the worst-case scenario, then, it may take the best part of seven years to implement a road a few hundred metres long.

Critical voices

This prospect has prompted criticism, though not from any elected representatives at either ESCC or Hastings Borough Council. ‘This is yet another appallingly mismanaged SeaChange project,” according to Andrea Needham,  spokesperson for Seachangewatch, which monitors Sea Change’s activities.

“Millions of pounds of public money have been poured into this unnecessary, environmentally destructive project. It beggars belief that SeaChange could be seven years late completing a 600-metre road.

“And as usual, not a single elected councillor of any party is willing to speak out about the lack of transparency and accountability of this company, and the tens of millions of pounds of public funds that have been wasted in our town on projects that have utterly failed to deliver the benefits promised.”

Some supporters are also unhappy with the state of affairs. Hippolyte Grigg, who lives in Park Wood Road, which runs off The Ridge close to Conquest Hospital, welcomes the project, the chief benefit of which he sees as relieving the time-consuming traffic congestion at Junction Road by allowing traffic on The Ridge to access the A21 via Queensway and the Queensway Gateway Road. He regretted Sea Change’s failure to meet targets and lack of responsibility. “They are accountable to the taxpayer and need reminding of that,” he told HOT.

The spokesman for the Park Wood Road residents’ association on this matter, Grigg also wants to see the local council get more involved. “HBC’s failure to push all parties to get the contract moving, given they are the planning authority and have councillors who could have been more proactive, is outrageous,” he said.

“It is a wonder that when one votes for a Councillor, at the end of the day they do nothing. They are voted in to make a difference, to get things done. All this has led to a feeling of frustration that this mismanagement is letting the people of Hastings down. It is sheer complacency on the part of HBC.”

Map showing the section of the Queensway Gateway Road built so far, the temporary link, and the intended permanent solution.

Interim solution by August?

Meanwhile, according to the report, the interim solution for the road, linking it to the A21 via Whitworth Road and Junction Road, is expected to be “delivered and fully open to traffic by August 2021.”

However, this depends on various approvals and legal agreements being reached between Sea Change, ESCC and Highways England. Designs for the connection to the A21, which traffic consultants have prepared for Sea Change, are now being considered by Highways England and must be signed off before other required approvals can be sought.

The report envisages all necessary approvals and agreements being in place by the end of June, after which final construction work is expected to take a further four weeks, taking earliest start-up into August.

It may be necessary for the interim solution to stay in place for as long as 24 months, implying that the permanent scheme may not come on stream until August 2023, the report says.

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Posted 19:30 Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021 In: Home Ground

8 Comments

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  1. Hippolyte Grigg

    Dear Cllr Edwards,
    Whilst we applaud your unhappiness with the QGR’s contract progress we are at a loss to find any public protest that you have made.. You may have been expressing dissatifaction internally and among the Concservative Group but you have failed to express any view about this HBC labour run council who have not, thus far, done much to speed this contract on it’s way by contributing to efforts being made. As I have said HBC have a team on board non of whom have failed to contribute positively in public either as far as I can see. The resposbility for this contract lies with SCS. ESCC and HBC as the planning authority as I understand it. ESCC Administration have at least managed to get this far with the the extension to the new road. You have a local election coming up Michael, so there are votes in there if you want them.
    Yours.
    H. Grigg

    Comment by Hippolyte Grigg — Thursday, Apr 8, 2021 @ 09:33

  2. David

    This road development has been a joke. So poorly managed, and Seachange seem to try putting the blame on the Seat dealership, & other land owners, who have every right to be fight for their right to remain, or be offered a good reason to move. The truth is that land ownership should have been sorted before the first spade went into the ground.

    Bizarrely, the road is all but finished in its current guise. I read that the road cannot be opened yet as HBC have stated they want the junction onto the A21 to be widened and for traffic lights to be installed. Why? What will traffic lights add here? More traffic on the A21 & A28? Open the road now. The junction will flow as it does now, except it will free up traffic from the Ridge. The other alternative is to widen the junction, and place a mini roundabout in place for now. This would still allow a smooth flow of traffic for the smaller footprint. I genuinely wonder if anyone in charge of this project has any history in traffic flow or traffic management.

    Comment by David — Tuesday, Apr 6, 2021 @ 04:30

  3. Andrea Needham

    Cllr Mike Edwards says in his comment that ‘I do take exception to the assertion that no elected representatives have been willing to speak out publicly about the gross waste of public funds.’ Had he bothered to read my quote properly, he would see that what I actually said was ‘not a single elected councillor of any party is willing to speak out about the lack of transparency and accountability of this company’. That is, there appears to be a code of silence amongst both Labour and Conservative councillors when it comes to the utterly unaccountable, opaque and incompetent ‘regeneration’ company SeaChange Sussex. Why this is, is anyone’s guess. My own guess, for what it’s worth, is that all of SeaChange’s projects are funded with money from central government, so as far as HBC is concerned, they’re getting free roads and free business parks and don’t want to rock the boat by criticising SeaChange. That the business parks are empty, the road seems like it will never be finished, and that tens of millions of pounds of public money are being wasted on these vanity projects, appears not to matter to the council. If Mike Edwards would like to point to where he has made any effort whatsoever to bring SeaChange to account, I’d love to see it.

    Comment by Andrea Needham — Monday, Apr 5, 2021 @ 12:14

  4. Nick Hanna

    Cllr Michael Edwards is right to question the accountability of this road. ESCC and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership are currently rumoured to be bidding for £50m from the Government’s recently announced Levelling Up Fund. There is no transparency aroudn this process but you can bet that most of it is going to go on roads rather than the low carbon alternatives such as walking and cycling routes which we so badly need.

    Comment by Nick Hanna — Thursday, Apr 1, 2021 @ 11:58

  5. Bryan Fisher

    What a mess! Can I suggest that ‘Sea Change’ becomes ‘See No Change’ and the South East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (Selep) Accountability Board becomes ‘Sleep’ instead? The timely and well-presented article also highlights the lack of concern or management from ESCC and, more importantly, Hastings Borough Council (who after all represent those most impacted by this mismanagement). Both those parties should realise that ‘farming’ out planned works to commercial interests does not exclude them from responsibility!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Thursday, Apr 1, 2021 @ 11:32

  6. DAR

    This would be like some sort of Ealing comedy if so much public money and environmental destruction were not involved. Surely, all necessary land acquisitions should have been made BEFORE any roadbuilding. And we will be faced with even more traffic congestion/chaos at the Harrow Lane/Ridge junction for years to come if all HBC’s housing plans in the area (Focus Area 3) go ahead. These include large developments at Ashdown House, Harrow Lane Playing Fields, Holmhurst St Mary, and land adjacent to 777 The Ridge (this last one already under way). The Harrow Lane Playing Fields site (at least) should not go ahead at all, and the other sites not started should be delayed until this farce is finally sorted out.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Apr 1, 2021 @ 10:58

  7. Bea

    Er…wouldn’t it be a good idea to acquire the land before starting to build the road?

    Comment by Bea — Thursday, Apr 1, 2021 @ 10:50

  8. Cllr Michael Edwards

    The thrust of this article is correct however I do take exception to the assertion that no elected representatives have been willing to speak out publicly about the gross waste of public funds. As the Conservative HBC councillor for Ashdown Ward in which this road largely runs I have on many occasions voiced my horror at the delays, the excuses, the absence of accountability and the extravagance of this failed project. The difficulty lies in establishing who actually does pull the levers of power and anyway are they accountable to any electorate. I personally along with two colleagues was invited to see progress made on the road in February 2019 and we were assured that completion would be achieved by Christmas of that year. Even last October we were told that a temporary solution using Junction Road would be constructed but again, nothing happened. It is a lamentable disaster and gross failure of public administration and I simply don’t know at whom the finger of blame should be pointed.

    Comment by Cllr Michael Edwards — Thursday, Apr 1, 2021 @ 10:48

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