‘Houdini’ Shaw magics away Queensway Gateway road air pollution

November 19, 2015 by combehavendefenders


Camp in Hollington Valley, September 2015



SeaChange have finally produced new environmental documents (here and here) in support of their planning application for the Queensway Gateway road. Those with long memories will remember that the original planning application was passed unanimously last February, then quashed in June following a legal challenge. The planning permission was quashed by the High Court on the grounds that SeaChange’s own documents showed that the road, if built, would breach national and EU law on air pollution.

So: what to do about this tricky situation? SeaChange and Hastings council were still desperate for the road, but they needed to do something about the air pollution. We expected that there might follow a certain manipulation of the figures – and we were right.

‘Methodological error’

John Shaw, Chief Executive of SeaChange, now claims that there were two key mistakes in the original traffic assessment.

Firstly, there was a ‘methodological error’ which meant that predicted traffic flows for the year 2016 were exaggerated by 7%.

‘Worst case scenario’ withdrawn

Secondly, the previous traffic assessment was based on building 23,000sqm of business space  – this was based on a ‘worst case’ scenario that ‘assumed a floor space that very significantly exceeded the development proposed‘. However, the Hastings Development Management Plan limits that site to 12,000sqm, so SeaChange has redone its calculations based on this lower number (far be it from us to suggest that the original – and completely implausible – figure allowed SeaChange to claim that the site would create many more jobs than was ever possible).  And of course, less floorspace = fewer vehicles travelling down the new road = less pollution.

No air pollution!

And the upshot of these two ‘errors’? Yes, you guessed it: the unlawful levels of air pollution have miraculously dispersed in a puff of nitrogen dioxide:

‘As a result of the air quality assessment, taking account of the revised traffic assessment and the emisssions year of 2016, there will not be an excedance [sic] of the air quality thresholds for NO2 that were identified in relation to residential receptors in the original [environmental statement]’

SeaChange should be congratulated: this is a conjuring trick worthy of Houdini. We all know there’ll be exactly the same amount of traffic (since the ‘business park’, if it’s ever built, will almost certainly be empty, whilst the road will be filled with people cutting through from the A21 to Queensway).  But there will be – we are expected to believe – no air pollution from the thousands upon thousands of vehicles passing through the Hollington Valley local wildlife site every day.


Harry Houdini, aka John Shaw

Air pollution in the valley

However, whilst they have managed to reduce the nitrogen dioxide levels at ‘residential receptors’ (ie people’s homes) to ‘lawful’ levels, the same cannot be said for the levels at ‘ecological receptors’ – that is, within Holllington Valley itself. According to SeaChange’s revised air quality report (section 10.5.25):

‘The Nox [nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide] critical level and nitrogen deposition critical load is predicted to be exceeded [for ecological receptors] at all distances from the [Queensway Gateway Road]’.

No mitigation possible

In other words, there will still be unlawful levels of air pollution. In an earlier report by ACCON environmental consultants, it had been suggested that mitigation strategies might be useful; however, in his letter, John Shaw dismisses these as ineffective (it’s not often we agree with John Shaw, but certainly we would here – charging points for electric cars and planting trees in other places, as suggested, are not going to reduce the air pollution).


I don’t want to breathe your stinky air: You Must Be Choking protest, July 2015

So here’s the curious thing: SeaChange has submitted new documents, ‘fixed’ the problem with air pollution in people’s homes, but left the problem with air pollution in Hollington Valley. It doesn’t make sense.

‘Benefits may outweigh identified harm’

However, if we look back at a letter dated August this year to SeaChange from the planning officer in the case, Sam Batchelor, we may have a possible answer. In the letter, Sam Batchelor explains to John Shaw what further information the council will need in order to reconsider the application. He also says this:

‘Although there may not be any appropriate mitigation measures or amendments that can address the harm identified, the Council may ultimately consider that the benefits of the scheme outweigh that identified harm and the conflicts with planning policy‘ (emphasis added).

In other words, the planning officer (whom one might think would know better) is advising SeaChange that the council could choose to ignore the fact that the road would cause unlawful levels of air pollution.

Council can’t ignore the law

The fact is, the council cannot unilaterally decide that because they want this road, they’ll just ignore the law: that’s exactly what got them into trouble the first time, and will get them into exactly the same trouble a second time if they try to do it again.

Please object to the planning application.  If you objected before, you can make a further objection based on the new information from SeaChange.  If you haven’t objected yet, now’s the time!  Objections should in theory be in by 4 December, but in practice they will be accepted until a day or two before the planning committee meeting at which the issue is decided.  See this blogpost for how to object.

Come to the planning meeting

And please, come to the planning meeting. Tuesday 15 December, 6pm, White Rock Theatre, Hastings. It’s a big venue so bring as many people as you can!

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