What’s wrong with the Link Road?
The arguments against the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) have largely been made for us, by the Department for Transport (DfT) and East Sussex County Council (ESCC). Their own analyses suggests a far from convincing case for the road:
1. The road would carry up to 28,000 vehicles a day across a valley, Combe Haven, described by ESCC as ‘probably the finest medium-sized valley in East Sussex outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.
In a report prepared for the government in 2002 a very similar link road scheme that crossed the valley was judged to have a ‘large negative impact’ on the landscape.
2. Building roads creates more traffic (the concept of ‘induced demand’). According to this principal, which has been well-known to road planners for decades, the greater the transport capacity the more traffic will increase to fill it. The ESCC final bid document forecasts that traffic levels between Bexhill and Hastings will increase by 7% in 2015 and 10% in 2028 with the scheme. ESCC also admits that in other areas of Bexhill, in Hollington, The Ridge and on Queensway traffic levels will increase substantially.
3. Of the 45 transport schemes approved by the government over the past year, the Link Road is by far the worst in terms of the projected increase in carbon emissions.
4. Most of the traffic on the Bexhill road is local, with 80% of vehicles starting and finishing their journeys in Bexhill and Hastings. The new road would merely move traffic around and cause congestion in other areas: traffic is forecast to rise by 81% on Queensway if the road is built, and by 26% on the Ridge. Furthermore, 39% of people in Hastings do not in fact own a car (significantly higher than East Sussex as a whole)
5. ESCC suggest that the Link Road would only save drivers up to four and a half minutes on a journey along the Bexhill Road.
6. Public transport improvements in the last 12 years have been limited and will now lag further behind other Sussex towns. Planned improvements have been refused government money because Hastings and Bexhill have received £56m for the BHLR. A new station at Glyne Gap was recommended in 2002, and again in 2004, but has never happened. The Access to Hastings report in 2002 stated: ‘Existing local bus and train services are unreliable, infrequent and do not meet social need’.
7. By the DfT’s own analysis, the Link Road could be considered ‘poor’ value for money. The DfT has refused to release crucial text of it’s most recent recommendations on the Link Road, presumably because it does not support the case for building the road. Some of the text that remains states:
‘Our review of the economic case is that the scheme is likely to offer either low or medium value for money. The risk of the scheme offering poor value for money is low unless you assume the worst case on landscape impacts (in which case this is a significant risk).’
See also here for other partially redacted documents obtained under FOI.
8. No alternatives have ever been properly considered. ESCC’s 2004 ‘consultation’ merely consulted residents on the preferred route of the road; there was no option of not having the road, but instead using a much smaller amount of money for upgrades in public transport, cycling and walking provision. Further consultations have amounted to little more than invitation only ‘focus groups’ that excluded key environmental and long-standing campaign groups.
There was never a discussion of what else might be done with the same (or less) money to regenerate Hastings and Bexhill, despite the fact that non-government funded studies have generated many feasible proposals. See here, for example.
The absence of any consideration of alternatives that could meet the same strategic objectives fails to meet the governments own transport analysis guidelines (TAG) on large infrastructure projects.
9. The road would devastate a valley which contains: a site of special scientific interest (SSSI); the largest reed bed in East Sussex; badgers; uncommon species of dragonflies; dormice; bats; barn owls; newts and other reptiles; water meadows; and areas of ancient woodland. Dormice, bats and great crested newts are European Protected Species.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust response to the planning application is perhaps the clearest detailed statement on these impacts.
10. The road would cost a minimum of £100m: the government will pay £56m, ESCC (that is to say, East Sussex Council Tax payers) will pay the remaining £44m, as well as picking up the open-ended bill for the almost certain overrun of costs.
In Dec 2010, East Sussex County Council stated that ‘given current funding pressures’, it could not spend more than £18m in total on the road. Now, ESCC has agreed to pay £35m towards the road, and to pick up the bill for all overrun costs – likely to be a further £35m, according to a study by the National Audit Office on cost overruns on road schemes. In other words, ESCC is prepared to spend up to £70m on the road, at the same time as it is cutting its budget by £70m (areas hit especially badly are adult social care and children’s services).
11. Jobs forecast by ESCC are over three times the official Department for Transport analysis. According to Peter Jones, leader of ESCC, the Link Road will create 3,000 new jobs. According to the DfT, the actual number would be 900. Of these, 40% would likely go to people outside the area, leaving only 540 for local people. If the road comes in on cost (which is unlikely), this would mean that each local job created cost the public purse £168,000. (The cost per job of other government programmes is typically £20k – £30k)
A more detailed article can be found here: Roads to Nowhere in Bexhill and Hastings. Corporate Watch article, Feb 2013