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Combe Haven: once a lovely landscape.

Link road: what’s to like about it?

Proponents of the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road argue that it will relieve traffic congestion on the Bexhill Road and help create new jobs. Andrea Needham of the anti link road group Combe Haven Defenders begs to differ.

  • “[The Link Road] will create 2,000 new homes and 3,000 new jobs. And would [the people opposed to the road] deny that to the most deprived community in the south east of England? They want to take away people’s jobs and homes.”  Peter Jones, then leader of East Sussex County Council, October 2012.
  • “Road construction is bad value for money as a way of creating jobs. Its rationale is seriously flawed, its performance rarely audited and such benefits as do materialise are rarely maintained into the future, as congestion builds up and eliminates the time savings of the flawed model of economic development.” John Whitelegg, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of York.

Ask most people locally, why the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) is being built and they will say it’s to relieve congestion on the A259 Bexhill Road. This is how the road was sold to us: East Sussex County Council (ESCC) knew that people were fed up of sitting in traffic jams and shamelessly promoted the BHLR as the solution.

But look today at the ESCC website and you find this: “The main reason for building the road is to regenerate the most deprived area in the south east and one of the most deprived in the UK.” It’s all about the economy, stupid. But do ESCC’s claims for economic stimulus and job creation stand up to scrutiny?

How many jobs?

According to Peter Jones, leader of ESCC until last year, the road will create 3,000 new jobs and bring £1 billion of benefits over the next 25 years. On the face of it, this is a powerful argument. Build a road, create 3,000 new jobs, in a very deprived area of the country. What’s not to like? But unpick those figures a little and a different picture emerges.

Combe Haven Defenders' first camp: looking over the same view as in the main picture.

ESCC’s claim of 3,000 jobs is calculated by extrapolating from the square footage of industrial units to be built around the road (on greenfield land to the north east of Bexhill) and is based on 100% occupancy rates. However, in reviewing the case for the road, the Department for Transport (DfT) stated that in its opinion the likely number of jobs would be around 900. ESCC’s own figures suggest that up to 39% of the jobs would be taken by people from outside the area.

So: £113m to build the road (and very likely more by the time it’s completed), and it might create around 550 jobs for local people. That’s over £200,000 per local job. According to the DfT (http://tinyurl.com/kpohayr), the average cost per job of other government schemes is around £20-30,000 – that is, up to ten times less than the BHLR. Does the road still seem like the economic miracle ESCC is claiming?

In fact, the available evidence suggests that building roads is a very poor way of stimulating the economy and creating jobs. For many years, claims have been made for the job creation benefits of various new road schemes; these have often been taken at face value, with no attempt to verify whether the jobs ever materialised in order to provide guidance for future schemes. Like ESCC, many councils seem to have plucked figures out of the air in order to boost their case. One example is the £123m Heysham M6 link road, approved last year. Lancashire County Council originally said it would create 6,000 jobs, but over the following three years that number was reduced by a factor of 10 to a mere 600.

Indeed, a government committee (the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment), set up in 1999 to look at the economic impacts of road-building, concluded that there was no “convincing general evidence of the size, nature or direction of local economic impacts” from completed transport projects.

Value for money?

Let’s look at it another way. The BHLR represents, according to the DfT, low/medium value for money. In fact, the Campaign for Better Transport redid the calculations following last summer’s £13m increase in cost and found it to be now firmly in the low value for money category. But the DfT’s own guidelines state that transport projects of less than ‘high’ value for money should only be funded ‘in exceptional circumstances’.

Ostracising Osborne: Kate Evans' take.

What the ‘exceptional circumstances’ are in this case, nobody is willing to say. It’s likely that Chancellor George Osborne’s mania for infrastructure projects, with the BHLR being conveniently ‘spade ready’ at a time when he wanted to splash the cash, played a role; and there are suggestions that it was a gift to Amber Rudd, MP to boost her chances of re-election in a marginal seat (Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, was promoted to Parliamentary Private Secretary to Osborne shortly after funding for the road was announced). But what is clear is that if the DfT had adhered to its own guidelines, the low-value BHLR would never have been funded.

What of other reasons to oppose the road? We are emerging from a winter dominated by rain and floods; according to the Met Office’s chief scientist, “all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change”. Of all the 42 transport schemes funded by the DfT in the funding round between December 2011 and March 2012, the BHLR was by far the worst in terms of increased carbon emissions. Road transport currently accounts for 22% of the UK’s domestic carbon emissions and ESCC admits that the BHLR will increase overall traffic by 10% by 2028. To be building new roads and locking us into car dependency at a time when it is imperative that we all reduce our car usage, is utterly irresponsible.

Combe Haven destroyed

Anything else? Well, for local people who know and love Combe Haven, there is a gut reaction to the terrible destruction going on. According to ESCC, ‘The scheme has been carefully designed to minimise impact on the countryside and protected areas’. It fails to say how building a road to carry tens of thousands of vehicles each day through an area of great tranquillity and biodiversity can be anything other than a disaster.  Go out there now and you will find vast areas of hardcore, where once there was marshland, roaring machinery where there was silence, a half-built road slicing through what ESCC itself admits was once “probably the finest medium-sized valley in East Sussex outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

So, the road will lead to increased traffic (some slight reduction on Bexhill Road will come at the cost of vastly increased congestion elsewhere), increased carbon emissions and the destruction of a valuable and rich river valley. It will cost us, the public, at least £113m, at a time when we’re being told we have to accept cuts in vital services such as social care. It may create some jobs, but far fewer than should be created with such a large sum and at the cost of loss of a huge area of greenfield land.

Eviction of a road opponent from a tree.

So, who benefits from this road to nowhere? Not the unemployed, who would have been far better served by more efficient and less costly job creation schemes.  Not the people of East Sussex, facing a huge bill for the road at the same time as seeing their services cut.  Not Combe Haven, completely desecrated. Not the environment, as the new road will create more traffic, more emissions.  Not even, by and large, motorists: those who benefit from some slight (and temporary) reduction in congestion on Bexhill Road may well be outnumbered by those who face increased traffic elsewhere (26% extra on the Ridge, for example).  Not those who can’t or don’t want to drive, who could have had a decent public transport system, but are now condemned to an ever-worsening service because there’s no money left.

True beneficiaries

Why then is it being built? To answer that, you need to look at the land around Glover’s Farm, north-east of Bexhill. This is going to be the Bexhill Enterprise Park, Sea Change Sussex’s seven-hectare business park (including 650 parking spaces). Much of the land is owned by Trinity College Cambridge, who stand to make a killing from selling for development what was previously low-value agricultural land.

In the end, the true beneficiaries will be the developers and the landowners. It’s all about money – and greed – and worship of the god of a top-down model of economic ‘development’. Given the backgrounds of the key players, this should come as no surprise. Peter Jones – former stockbroker; Amber Rudd – used to work for JP Morgan; George Osborne – multimillionaire aristocrat; Greg Barker – multimillionaire Bexhill MP with close connections to Russian oil companies.

That these people were presenting the road as solving all our local problems – both transport and economic – should have set off alarm bells.

Whatever happens – whether jobs are created or not, whether congestion is relieved on Bexhill Road or not – one thing is for sure: the BHLR is a disaster for the precious Combe Haven and a disaster for the wider environment. At a time of huge declines in biodiversity and catastrophic climate change, those who pushed this road through should hang their heads in shame.

 

All photos: Combe Haven Defenders.

See also Bexhill’s road to prosperity.

“The Lady Doth Protest” : Cartoons on the topic.

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Posted 16:25 Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 In: Campaigns

4 Comments

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  1. paddy stephenson

    I find it very difficult to drive up Crowhurst Road and Queensway now. It is a heartbreaking sight. And still the felling of trees continues all along Queesnsway – and one wonders why this has been necessary. Great swathes of the verges have been felled. This road has created an environmental massacre of huge proportions.

    Comment by paddy stephenson — Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 @ 18:28

  2. Chris Cormack

    I am very sympathetic to the view that it is inequitable for already wealthy landowners to stand first in line to benefit from the Bexhill Hastings Link Road. It is true that all publicly funded infrastructure development projects have the effect of increasing land values and the obvious remedy is a significant tax imposition on the annual economic rent of all land.

    Such a tax would have the extra benefit of counteracting the increasingly widespread custom of registering land property in anonymous offshore companies in tax havens – the land itself can not be exported to avoid tax!

    However I do not endorse the continual impugning the motives of people wanting to see the regeneration of our Hastings and Bexhill, as if profit is a dirty word. The Combe Haven Defenders are interested in sustainability and I contend that any economy that does not seek to sustain profits is unsustainable.

    This was the reason for the unsustainability of the Soviet economy and the jury is still out as to whether China, with all its loss-making industries being kept alive by state subsidy, will pull through the vicissitudes of future global economic disruptions. I am certain that the British economy would have suffered systemic collapse, if it had not been for a change of heart among the British after 1979.

    Profit is the obvious source of income to fund the pensions of the workers. The size of pension funds, although still inadequate, already dwarfs the size of funds controlled by those billionaires that generate so many accusations of greed.

    Comment by Chris Cormack — Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 @ 13:56

  3. DAR

    I think that sums it up very nicely.

    Comment by DAR — Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 @ 23:07

  4. David

    Too many arguments. It’s a ludicrous scheme that will almost certainly achieve virtually nothing. Ironically, the parlous economic health of this backwater will not be improved without better transport links but the Link Road is no part of what is needed.

    In case you had not noticed, however, it is happening. You are not going to win this one. It is unlikely that anyone will believe that it is a success once it opens and Mr Barker and Ms Rudd will gain no kudos from it. Will Bexhill folk turn away from the Tories? Never!

    Comment by David — Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 @ 17:40

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