March 15, 2013 by combehavendefenders
Government funding for the £100m Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) appears to radically violate the Department for Transport (DfT)’s new guidelines on funding for road projects. This strongly suggests that the DfT’s blacked-out recommendations on funding for the BHLR may well have been negative, which might help explain why they are so resistant to letting the public see this information.
In March 2012, after a request from Transport Minister Norman Baker, the Department for Transport (DfT) produced a review of the case for the link road.
The Department’s recommendations are currently being withheld from the public, but the rest of he report concluded that East Sussex County Council (ESCC) had ‘significantly overstated the benefits of the scheme’, “double-counting productivity improvements” and dramatically overstating the number of jobs that would be created.
It also found that the road offered ‘low/medium value for money’ (the DfT had earlier concluded that there was a “significant” risk of the scheme achieving low value for money).
How does this compare with DfT’s own guidelines, and with other schemes funded by the Department?
In its own literature, the DfT states that,
‘Securing maximum value for money from investment in transport schemes remains a high priority for [the] DfT.’
This is shown by the value for money categories of recent major transport schemes:
Of the 17 major transport schemes funded by the DfT in 2011, 63% were ‘high’ value for money, and the remaining 37% were ‘very high’.
How then did the BHLR, assessed as low/medium value (it was actually exactly on the boundary between low and medium) receive a provisional £56m of DfT funding?
Devolution of funding powers
From April 2015, funding for major transport schemes will be devolved from the DfT to newly set up ‘Local Transport Bodies’ (LTBs). In November 2012, the DfT released guidance for LTBs on funding large schemes such as the Bexhill Hastings Link Road (BHLR).
In its guidance to LTBs, the DfT notes that:
’72. The overwhelming majority of local major schemes funded in recent years were assessed by the Department as offering at least “high” value for money.’
It goes on to state that:
’73. We would like to ensure that the value for money of the programme is maintained and therefore would expect that LTBs would only in exceptional circumstances agree to fund schemes with lower than “high” value for money.’ (emphasis added).
And to make sure this point is fully understood, it summarises the situation regarding funding for major transport schemes:
‘The LTB must either; only approve schemes that offer at least “high” value for money, as assessed using DfT guidance, or; set out the limited circumstances under which schemes offering lower than “high” value for money would be considered.’
In other words, the BHLR should not have been funded under current DfT rules, and would not be funded under the new LTB funding protocols.
Less money in the future…
The LTB for East Sussex is the ‘South East Local Transport Body’. This body covers not only East Sussex, but also five other former Local Transport Authorities: Kent, Essex, Southend, Thurrock and Medway. A report to ESCC in October 2012 states that:
‘…the South East Local Transport Body (LTB) area could receive in the region of £25-30m per annum towards local major transport schemes from April 2015 onwards’.
That is, £25-30m/year to cover that huge area; what chance would the poor-value BHLR have had of receiving £56m of funding under this new arrangement? It would appear that ESCC has sneaked its vanity project in just in time.