Making a killing: how Link Road money has subsidised Oxbridge’s richest college

May 8, 2014 by combehavendefenders

A Hastings councillor has confirmed that public money subsidised a ‘dramatic’ increase in the value of land owned by the richest Oxbridge college.

In an email to a fellow councillor, Labour councillor and Deputy Leader of Hastings Borough Council  Peter Chowney stated that land around north east Bexhill – site of the proposed North Bexhill Business Mall and a massive new housing development – ‘was going to increase dramatically in value if the link road was built, as it would then have access for development’.

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‘The Hub’, Bexhill Enterprise Park. Photo: Sea Change Sussex

Trinity College: rich…

Much of the land is owned by Trinity College, Cambridge, the richest of all the Oxbridge colleges (and the one which admits a lower proportion of state school students than any other).  Trinity has a landholding alone worth £800 million, and also owns the Cambridge Science Park, the O2 Arena, and a 50% stake in a portfolio of Tesco stores, worth £440 million.

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Trinity College Cambridge

According to its website, it owns 109 acres of land in Bexhill, as well as several farmhouses and other properties.  It doesn’t say when Trinity bought this land; what is clear is that somebody must have been advised that if the Bexhill Hastings Link Road (BHLR) were to be built, the land would increase hugely in value.  Why else would an Oxbridge College be interested in buying agricultural land in East Sussex?  It has turned out to be a very worthwhile investment.

And getting richer…

Without the BHLR, Trinity’s land around Bexhill would be simply farmland.  A survey in 2012 by Savills found that the average value of prime arable land across Great Britain was £7,594 an acre – making Trinity’s holding worth a paltry £827,000.

If the same land, however, were earmarked for housing, it would increase exponentially in value.  The most recent data from the government’s Homes and Communities agency dates from 2010 (ironically, they have not produced any data since then due to funding cuts).  At that point, development land in the south east was estimated to be worth £2.3m/acre – and although Bexhill was likely to have been cheaper than many areas in the south east, prices have rocketed since then, rising over 7% in the past year alone.  At a conservative estimate, then, the value of Trinity’s land could now be in the region of £250m.

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Land east of Glover’s farm, destined to be the Bexhill Enterprise Park, with Gateway Road under construction

 More! More! More!

In order to further increase its potential profit, Trinity College has in recent years aggressively pursued a strategy of trying to persuade Rother District Council to allow as much development as possible.

In 2008, Trinity, through its property development company, Bidwells, put in a huge number of comments and objections to the Rother Council consultation on development strategies for Bexhill.  Their comments included:

  • Rother shouldn’t commit to a new country park at Pebsham, but should wait and see whether it was financially viable;
  • The council should not put a ceiling on the number of houses allowed to be built;
  • Greenfield land should be released for housing in advance of construction of the link road;
  • Even more development should be allowed than proposed by the council.

(see the end of this post for more details).

Land for the people

According to Peter Chowney, ‘as part of [Trinity’s] contribution to the project, they gave over part of their land for employment development (3,000 new jobs), while they will be developing their remaining land for 2,000 homes’.  Trinity, thus, can be presented almost as a philanthropic organisation, ‘giving’ land to the people, and in return accepting only a modest prize, that of making a vast profit from the land they had the foresight to buy before it was worth anything.

3,000 jobs – or perhaps not

As for the alleged 3,000 jobs, this figure has been repeated ad nauseum by East Sussex County Council (ESCC), and its mouthpiece the Hastings Observer (and, apparently, the Labour Party). The Department for Transport (DfT), however, in its assessment of the claims made for the BHLR, stated that the economic benefits had been ‘significantly overstated’ and suggested that the actual number of jobs which might be created was nearer to 1000.  Some 40% of these were likely to go to people from outside the area.

£115m of our money to increase their wealth

So the situation is this: the BHLR is built with £113m of public money (£56m from the DfT, £57m from ESCC).  The Gateway Road, necessary to allow development of north east Bexhill, sucks up a further £2m, making a total of £115m (and quite possibly more, as ESCC has to pick up the tab for any overrun costs). This is our money, and it has allowed Trinity College to make a killing.

Defending the policy, Chowney, a self-declared ‘socialist’, writes that ‘[i]t was a key policy of the last government … to give substantial subsidies to private companies … to help regenerate deprived areas’.  Plus ça change…

The Link Road may or may not lead to a limited number of new jobs for local people, but it will definitely lead to increased carbon emissions, the destruction of Combe Haven, and big profits for the richest of Oxbridge’s colleges. The £113m of public money that’s being spent on the road could have been used to help create a sustainable transport system for the area, and to invest in our town centres to create decent, long term jobs. Instead it’s being squandered on subsidising the profits of rich landowners and property developers.

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