Campaigners win release of secret Link Road documents

April 29, 2013 by combehavendefenders

Campaigners outside the Department for Transport earlier this month. Photo: Guy Bell.

Campaigners outside the Department for Transport earlier this month. Photo: Guy Bell.

Press Release
Combe Haven Defenders [1]
29 April 2013

Alternatives to controversial £100m road project had ‘not been fully worked through and tested’, documents show

Monday 29 April: Campaigners against the controversial £100m Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) won a significant victory today, forcing the Department for Transport (DfT) to release [2] its formerly secret recommendations about whether or not public money should be used to fund the scheme – the ‘first and the worst’ of over 190 new road projects that the Government, big business & local councils are pushing across England and Wales [3].

The release of the documents is result of over a years’ efforts by groups including the Hastings Alliance [4], the Campaign for Better Transport [5], and the Combe Haven Defenders [1], culminating in a two-day attempt by campaigners to enter the DfT to get the documents themselves earlier this month, during which one person was arrested [6].

Among other things the documents reveal:

A) That the DfT fudged the question of whether or not public money should be used to fund the project, noting that one ’emerging option’ was to ‘decline funding approval’ [7]. (The other ’emerging option’ was to approve funding.)

B) That the DfT noted that ‘possible, alternative road-based solutions ha[d] not been fully worked through and tested’ at the time of the decision [8].

C) That the DfT assessed the BHLR as being of “low or medium value for money” – and was therefore not a project that the Department would normally consider funding [9].

D) That East Sussex County Council (ESCC) had “significantly overstate[d] the benefits of the scheme”, “double count[ing] productivity improvements” and exaggerating the number of jobs that the project would create [9].

Under strong pressure from the Treasury, the DfT announced its final approval of £57m of central goverment funding for the BHLR on 3 April [10]. Last week, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) confirmed [11] that the recommendations were among the “incorrectly withheld” information that the ICO had ordered the DfT [12].

Gabriel Carlyle, a spokesperson for the Combe Haven Defenders, said: “Today’s release of the DfT’s recommendations about whether or not to fund the BHLR – documents that the DfT have wrongly withheld from the public for over a year – is a significant victory for anyone who cares about either the environment, the public purse or the public’s right to know. These documents show that, despite intense pressure from the Treasury, the DfT’s own civil servants suggested that the Department should consider cancelling the project, and were highly critical of the exaggerated picture of the Road’s merits put forward by East Sussex County Council. By forcing the DfT to give £57m of public money to fund this environmentally disastrous white-elephant project George Osborne has now lit the touchpaper for national peaceful resistance to the project.”

[7] (Para 2)
[8] (Para 28)
[9] (Para 5)
[11] Email to Derrick Coffee of the Hastings Alliance, 25 April 2013

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