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Trenches at Combe Haven

Trenches at Combe Haven - first steps in building the road. (Photo: Hastings Alliance)

Link road not inevitable, says campaigner

Work on the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road (BHLR) is due to start in January 2013 and exploratory trenches are already being dug at the Combe Haven site.  However, for those who feel it isn’t an ideal time in humanity’s history for over £100 million to be spent on a road, there is still time to campaign. HOT’s Zelly Restorick spoke to nationally respected transport and environmental campaigner, John Stewart, who is due to speak at this weekend’s ‘Stop The Road’ rally at Combe Haven.

“It’s not over until the tarmac is actually down,” said John Stewart, a trustee of the national Campaign for Better Transport.

“I was involved in opposing the road scheme in the 90’s.  The BHLR was one of the proposed schemes back then.  I chaired ‘ALARM UK’, which was an umbrella group of 250 local groups opposing the building of new roads, including people from Combe Haven.  People were saying back then that this road was inevitable and there was no way of stopping it, but they’re still fighting.  My own view is that it’s not inevitable.”

Reading the Department of Transport reports, it would seem that there were doubts about the road’s value for money and the benefits it will bring to the area, yet in April the scheme was given the go-ahead.  This seems puzzling and contradictory.

“There was an interesting change in the 90’s,” said John. “The Department of Transport were pushing for the road to be built, then road-building went out of fashion.  It wasn’t good value for money.  The push is now, I believe, coming from the Treasury, as part of a desperate bid to try and build new infrastructure to increase economic growth.”

The Department of Transport’s website clearly defines their environmental objective as a reduction of the impact of transport on the global environment, particularly in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and the consumption of scarce and non-renewable resources.  Their objectives include the reduction of noise, improvement of the local air quality, reduction of greenhouse gases, protection and enhancement of the landscape, support for bio-diversity, protection of the water environment and the encouragement of physical fitness.  Do these objectives conflict with those of other government departments – or are they simply political rhetoric?

“There is conflict between the departments  – and between rhetoric, which sounds good, and reality.  They’ll say that they understand the environmental downsides, but the road is needed for economic reasons and must therefore go ahead.”

However, when “the Department of Transport is saying it’s a low priority and there is no big pressing need for this road, how can it be justified?”.

Combe Haven map including BHLR

Combe Haven - the BHLR route is marked by red dashes

Following the recent cabinet re-shuffle, the Secretary of State for Transport is now Patrick McLoughlin, replacing Justine Greening, who agreed the road link.  I asked John if this might make a difference.

“There is always new hope with a new minister.  He might take a different view.”

What about alternatives, such as much needed improvements to the current public transport system and improved infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians?  Would these also increase employment opportunities?

“Particularly public transport does create jobs,” John replied.  “I’ve always struggled to see how they justify this road.  It’s said it’ll reduce traffic in Bexhill and Hastings and in some way, it’ll link both towns to a wider road network.”  However, “with better public transport and better cycling facilities, people would use their car less.  Bexhill and Hastings would be ideal for a tram scheme, going from one town to the other.  Linked to better bus and cycling facilities, that’s the way to reduce the number of cars.

“I believe Bexhill and Hastings’ need isn’t for a new road link, but for a faster train link to London.  Hastings needs to be put on the map for regeneration reasons and to be attractive to businesses.  With a fast train link, this should be a priority.”

What can people do, if they feel the BHLR isn’t the best choice for regeneration and the spending of over £100 million?

Combe HavenAt the rally, “I’ll be saying to people that it’s never too late to do something,” said John. “I’ll be encouraging people to carry on doing what they’re doing, highlighting the destruction of the countryside with the building of a new road.  It’s unnecessary.  I encourage people to protest in whichever way they feel comfortable – writing letters, approaching MPs and decision-makers.  Just do SOMETHING.  Keep shouting and making a noise.  The road isn’t inevitable and it’s never too late, not til the tarmac’s actually down.”

John Stewart is chair of the Campaign Against Climate Change, of HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) / Clear Skies, and of Airport Watch, and a trustee of the Campaign for Better Transport.

Details of the ‘Stop The Road’ rally can be found here.

Hastings Alliance: Saving The Combe Valley website.

Campaign for Better Transport website.

 

Posted 20:33 Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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