Sea Change flee questions at Link Road exhibition

December 3, 2013 by combehavendefenders

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA spokesperson for Sea Change Sussex fled to the toilets and called the police after being asked some basic questions about his company’s projects at a Link Road ‘exhibition’ last Thursday (28 November).

A key promoter of the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR), Sea Change is now the main driver behind at least two more road projects related to the Link Road: the Bexhill Gateway Road and the Queensway Gateway Road.

The exhibition was supposed to be an opportunity for members of the public to ‘speak to representatives from East Sussex County Council and contractors’ (Hastings Observer, 15 November), but Sea Change were having none of it. Any questions that strayed outside the remit of their narrow public relations exercise  were verboten.

Sea Change's "John" with his company badge
Sea Change’s “John” with his company badge

Two Combe Haven Defenders attended the exhibition and attempted to ask “John” from Sea Change (handily identified by his Sea Change badge) about the company’s projects. So that we could not be accused of misrepresenting either him or Sea Change, we filmed the exchange.  The hand in front of the camera belongs to Bob Pape, the Link Road Project Manager, who was keen that ‘John’ should have his privacy protected.

What is the total cost of the Gateway Road, and how much public money has Sea Change received for it and its associated business park? Is the latter a purely speculative project, or will it be built only as and when companies sign up? How much will the Queensway Gateway road cost to build, and where is the money coming from? And why is Sea Change inviting tenders for the Queensway Gateway when its yet to be granted any funding by the Local Transport Board?

This was all too much for “John”, who fled to the toilets. After 45 minutes he still had not reappeared so we went looking for him. We found him closeted in a back corridor with East Sussex County Council’s “Stakeholder Engagement Officer” (ie PR flak) for the BHLR, Chloe de Renzy-Martin.

Sea Change's "John" freshly emerged from the toilet, company badge removed
Sea Change’s “John” freshly emerged from the toilet, company badge removed

“John” – who had now removed his badge, perhaps due to embarrassment – had apparently called the police, and we were soon joined by local bobby Jason, a familiar face from the anti-road protests earlier in the year.

We made our position clear – that while we couldn’t force “John” to answer our questions, we did have a right to put them to him – but “John” insisted that he was only there to answer “general” questions, and that anything else had to be submitted in writing.

Eventually – after an hour’s absence – “John” rejoined the exhibition, but his heart really didn’t seem to be in it any more. Meanwhile, opponents of the road were on standby to warn members of the public that there were certain topics “John” just didn’t want to talk about.

After 15 mins “John” disappeared again, and shortly afterwards the exhibition boards about the Gateway scheme were taken down. Like Elvis, “John” had left the building – but unlike Elvis, he left 45 mins before the show had ended.

For the record, here are some of the questions “John” (and by implication Sea Change) weren’t willing to answer:

1) Is the Queensway Gateway road what was previously known as the Baldslow Link? If so, why is Sea Change already inviting tenders to build it when the Local Transport Board has not yet granted it funding?

2) Sea Change’s CEO, John Shaw, was formerly the Project Director and Chief Operations Officer of a very similar company called Sea Space. Sea Space developed the South Queensway Enviro 21 business park, as well as Lacuna Place in Hastings. Both are now in receivership. Given this background, is John Shaw a suitable person to be spearheading a huge new development?

3) £4.6m of public money went into Enviro 21. Was Sea Space required to repay this when the project went into receivership?

4) Which companies have said they definitely want space in the proposed business park in North East Bexhill (ie the business park associated with the Bexhill Gateway Road)?

5) What is the total cost of the Bexhill Gateway Road? Has Sea Change received any money from private companies to build it?

6) Is the business park in North East Bexhill a purely speculative venture, or will it only be built as and when companies sign up? If it is speculative, what happens if the space can’t be filled? Who pays?

7) How much is Sea Change paying Trinity College for the land around Glover’s Farm (where Sea Change intends to build the Bexhill Gateway Road)?

8) On the NE Bexhill part of the Sea Change website it says ‘The Link Road will provide an easy route for employees in both Hastings and Bexhill to travel to work at companies based there’. What about people who don’t have cars? What is Sea Change doing to ensure that the development is accessible by public transport?

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