So much is wrong with the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road (BHLR) that it would be very fertile ground for a film, play – or comic opera. One aspect of the saga is the ever rising cost, so where better to start than with a telling graphic:
The BHLR, originally costed at £24m in 2002, now comes in at £116.4m. That’s bad enough, but we’ve added the costs of the two links to the BHLR as described by the promoters, creating a total of £136.4m. for new road capacity in Bexhill and Hastings. This is just one of many negative consequences of their relentless pursuit of road schemes to the exclusion of sustainable and healthy alternative transport measures. It’s a taxpayers’ rip-off! To see what’s happening right now, follow this link to a report by CBT’s Sian Berry on the ‘rip-up’ of the countryside around Hastings…
Described by the Department for Transport in 2012 as offering ‘low to poor value for money’, the BHLR was originally intended by East Sussex County Council (ESCC) to open in late 2008. The considerably later May 2015 opening date has now slipped and there is currently no revised date. The eventual cost to local council taxpayers is also unknown but continues to rise.
‘Official’ reasons for delays to the Link Road (followed by our comment in italics) are given by the promoters as:
Extensive evidence of Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, Romans, Saxons, Norman and medieval folk known to have been active in, or to have settled in the valleys – leaving evidence acknowledged by experts some years ago as being of national importance;
Weather conditions leading to flooding and a difficult working environment on unstable ground; the valleys are subject to sustained floods every year
Protestors protesting; it would be very bad news indeed if they hadn’t
Dormice and badgers demanding attention; it’s an appealing PR driven idea to give them a headline billing suggesting that they and a few other species are being ‘cared for’, but the bigger questions of habitat loss, ecological damage and landscape degradation have been marginalised or ignored, suggesting that these locally valued assets were considered expendable in order to chase a fantasy job creation scheme
The fundamental reasons for delays:
A poorly thought through, error laden planning application in 2007 by ESCC
A failure to recognise the high quality of the landscape, heritage and natural environments that would be damaged and destroyed, leading to prolonged negotiations with government bodies
Recognition by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2011 that it was the worst local road scheme in England in terms of value for money
Recognition by the DfT that it was unclear to them whether a package of alternatives had been fully examined by ESCC, as required according to government guidance issued to local authorities – we know that alternatives were wilfully and resolutely ignored by ESCC
Early conclusions of DfT analysts and others that the new jobs claims made by ESCC relating to the BHLR were highly inflated and based on highly questionable assumptions
Construction difficulties due to geological/hydrological conditions, including previously undetected fissures beneath the road’s foundations
Chancellor Osborne ignores all the experts’ doubts and gives the BHLR the go-ahead in any case, before the DfT analysts had finished their work. Funding was announced in the 2012 Budget Statement. Rising costs and the damage to the ecological, archeological and landscape riches will have further reduced the ‘value for money’ of this expensive vanity scheme.
Did Ministers for Transport disagree?
When we asked the DfT what recommendations to ministers were ‘on the table’ immediately prior to the 2012 Budget Statement, we were denied that information. We appealed to the government’s independent ‘Information Commissioner’, asking that the recommendations be revealed by the DfT. Almost a year later, the Commissioner upheld our appeal and instructed the DfT to reveal the ‘redacted’ recommendations. (see links below). As we suspected, these included an option to provide £56m of funding towards the BHLR; they also included another option to fund a package of alternative measures that would benefit Bexhill and Hastings: it was this option that was hidden from the public.
A credible public transport based alternative was therefore available that would have avoided the risky, damaging, unhealthy and speculative ‘car based’ path determined by Chancellor Osborne, and cheered on by ESCC, Hastings Borough Council, Rother District Council and the local MPs. There was therefore no prior ministerial agreement from the DfT.
29_Dodgy Doc 1 The redacted (concealed) recommendation to ministers
30_Dodgy Doc 2 The disclosed information
For citizens who will have to live with (and pay for) all of this, there is still vagueness about the ‘complementary’ transport measures claimed to be planned by the transport authority, ESCC.
With 15 years to conceive, plan and deliver bus, rail, pedestrian and cycle networks little has happened: there is no current plan. Whatever concoction of ‘sustainable’ transport we end up with, it will follow some way behind the traffic generating Link Road and simply be ‘bolted on’ to the core car-based strategy given primacy by the promoters. Those depending on, or who would choose and enjoy high quality alternatives if they were available, are not given consideration. The whole package of healthier alternatives that could have been delivered would have cost a fraction of the Link Road and benefits would have been enjoyed by all members of the community. In the medium to long term, pressure on A&E departments would reduce.
THE CURRENT SITUATION:
There is no predicted opening date for the £116.4m (latest) BHLR
Opportunity for a new station at Glyne Gap (Ravenside Retail Park) has been missed due to a flawed study and a failure to marshall support and evidence necessary to make a ‘business case’ that would attract funding. It has always been a very popular aspiration for the public, has been identified in two transport studies as viable, and has appeared for many years as an aspiration in local transport policy statements. The (incomplete) study, commissioned by Rother District and East Sussex County Councils, cost local taxpayers £30,000
New ‘state of the art’ buildings on Queensway lie empty despite promises of hundreds of new jobs being attracted. In 2012, Hastings Borough Council hosted an international conference on managing ‘climate change’ in one of the buildings – an edge of town location with no bus links. How was this ever an acceptable venue? What did delegates from other countries make of such an embarrassingly unsuitable choice ?
New ‘real time passenger information’ signs are being put in place in Hastings and Bexhill – two cheers for that – but we’ve waited many years for that promise to be fulfilled and in the meantime, services have been cut. If the brand new information display tells a passenger that there are no buses, it will make any claim of availability of a comprehensive and integrated transport service look very hollow indeed. It will also cause upset, annoyance and sadly, for those who have a choice, rejection of the sustainable and healthy option. Even conventional timetables have failed to appear in Hastings on the first day of the new Stagecoach summer services.
The cuts referred to above were intended to save ESCC £1.79m. Against the sums being thrown at the Link Road, this looks a tiny amount indeed.
The richness of archeological finds in the four valleys* being sacrificed to the road and interests of the motor trade in general, and the destruction of a beautiful succession of tranquil valleys within which the historical assets might have been enjoyed by future generations, is an appalling comment on the values of those promoting the road.
*Combe Haven; Watermill Stream; Powdermill Stream; Decoy Pond Stream valleys
Huge machines arrive, to be followed by countless thousands more
Below: Greylag goose in Decoy Stream Valley, alongside wood in above photo, left.
Above: Combe Haven looking west from From Adams Farm
Below: Combe Haven Valley before earthworks
EAST SUSSEX CONTINGENCY FUNDS RAIDED FOR THE BHLR: CALL FOR CONTINGENCY FUNDS TO SUPPORT FREE PUBLIC TRANSPORT ON DAYS OF ‘POOR AIR QUALITY’
Now standing at £7.6m, the funds ‘borrowed’ from the county council’s contingency fund to pay for the Link Road have been added to the balance sheet. This fund is primarily for emergencies such as the Lewes floods in 2000, when flooded out families had to be rescued and re-housed.
We think that during the latest episode of dangerously poor air quality along the coast affecting Hastings and Eastbourne (see map below), a proper use of contingency funds would have been to provide free public transport and apply a speed limit to all motorised traffic during the period to reduce exhaust emissions. In northern France – similarly affected – a speed limit was applied in the area around the town of Boulogne. Here, nothing happened. The contingency fund should certainly not be used to underpin a poor value for money road scheme such as the BHLR. Here’s a reminder of what happened as we experienced exceptional air pollution:
OFFICIAL MAP OF UK AIR QUALITY – 10th APRIL 2015
The map defines Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings – including much of Wealden District and Rother – as having ‘very high’ levels of pollutants. The situation was described in a Guardian article of 10th April, link below:
The irony is of course that if we had a comprehensive set of alternative measures, with incentives to use them, at least we’d be heading in the right direction in rendering the air quality problem less acute. Building and planning big new road schemes and going slow on walking, cycling, bus and rail improvements is bad for your health!
The matter is being raised at the next Health and Wellbeing Board on April 28th
BUS CUTS – LESS WORSE
Tremendous pressure was exerted by various groups and individuals on the County Council asking that the proposals to cut supported bus services in the county be withdrawn.( See previous post).The full council gave their backing to this but was overruled by the all powerful Cabinet. We and many councillors think this undemocratic. In the end, some services were taken on by bus operators but some have been lost. We joined demonstrations (below) and had several dialogues with county councillors and officers. Below is a link to a letter to a county councillor:
In Hastings, two services have been maintained with funding from the parking surplus. No such thing is possible in Wealden or Rother, where parking is overwhelmingly free and plentiful, thus undermining the bus services which benefit everyone – including tourists and visitors and the associated tourism economy so important to East Sussex. Battle Abbey, Bodiam Castle and Batemans receive around 374,000 visitors a year yet public transport access is poor. There is a train to Battle (half a mile walk to the Abbey) but the Sunday buses (304) have been withdrawn; there is no Sunday bus to Bodiam (349), even on Sundays during Bank Holiday weekends; there is no Sunday bus serving Batemans and has not been for many years.
Today (23rd April, 2015) we had a definitive confirmation of the above from East Sussex County Council:
‘For the dates in 2015, a Sunday level of service will be provided on the 254/304 and 349 on:
- Monday 4 May – May Day holiday
- Monday 25 May – Spring Holiday
- Monday 31 August – Summer Holiday
- No service will be provided on the 254/304 and 349 on any Sundays’.
There will be confusion and disappointment among tourists and day-trippers who rely on public transport, especially on the Sundays within the Bank Holiday weekends. Access to the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by public transport will therefore be diminished. It seems the AONB is protected for all members of the public except those without access to a car. The objective to protect the AONB is contradicted by a policy to reduce bus services and increase traffic. Good for car sales!
Links to ESCC changes are available via the links below:
A piece of good news came from Uckfield/Heathfield/Burwash/ Etchingham and Hurst Green where the daily mid-day east west service was saved from reduction to a two days a week service. It will now run 6 days a week (not Sundays). Generally, connections with trains at Etchingham from Heathfield/Burwash are available, but to Tunbridge Wells/Charing Cross much less so. The printed timetable issued ahead of the new service operated by Sussex Bus doesn’t give train connection times. This would be most helpful. Check Traveline for times.
Notably, the Hastings Arrows services are left unscathed. The successful, well used services are the result of the Quality Bus Partnership (QBP) proposed and implemented by East Sussex County Council between Hastings/central St Leonards and Hollington in the early noughties. The other two proposed QBP routes – one serving The Ridge and the other West St Leonards, Bexhill and Little Common – were proposed by the county council in 2000 but never taken forward but surely would have attracted large numbers of passengers and would very likely have played a part in reducing congestion and improving air quality. The reason for their abandonment? Well, quite possibly, the obsession with the Link Road is to blame: the new bus routes (plus Glyne Gap station and a decent cycle route) might have been too successful!
For further public transport developments, please also see the very useful and well informed www.travelloglewes.co.uk
These cuts and uncertainties around bus services will discourage any shift away from car dependency and towards the bus. Steady improvement of services and incentives to use them, with a clearly stated intention to carry this out over a number of years into the future , are the only way to allow the bus service to make its full potential contribution to meeting the accessibility needs of individuals and communities, and making a useful contribution to reducing climate change gas emissions.
STAGECOACH COMMERCIAL SERVICES – 99/100
These services, though useful and well used, could do with a re-think – we think! Over the past few years things have improved, with new buses introduced just prior to the Olympics. And over the same few years, we have often suggested the following improvements (at the Rother Transport Action Group quarterly forum):
- The Eastbourne/Bexhill/Hastings 99 service – three per hour in the daytime – could be upgraded to four per hour
- The Hastings/Rye/Lydd 100 service – hourly daytime – could be upgraded to two perhour
- Sunday/Bank Holiday 99 services, currently hourly, could be upgraded to two per hour
- Sunday/Bank Holiday 100 services, currently two hourly, could be upgraded to hourly
- With trains running parallel to the 100 route late into the evening, while buses finish earlier, a useful facility would be a combined bus/rail ticket enabling ‘bus out-train back’ options, useful for tourists and day trippers
- For the benefit of those patients and visitors wishing to access either of the two major hospitals at Eastbourne (DGH) and Hastings (Conquest), and for those who work there, a 99X limited stop service should be introduced.
- Here’s what we think about the absence of public transport links between the hospitals and the communities that rely on them (link):Hospital Transport Links Presser.
A27 CONCERNS/£6m HAILSHAM-POLEGATE-WILLINGDON-DGH-EASTBOURNE ‘SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT CORRIDOR’
Every 10 years or so, the ‘south coast motorway’ idea pops up, with politicians fuming over the length of time it takes people to drive from Folkestone to Devon (it’s always a single journey – they must settle there!). This is usually followed by a study which discovers that no-one actually drives, or wants to drive from Folkestone to Devon and, in fact, any congestion hot-spots are connected with much shorter trips – themselves associated with daily journeys to work, major hospitals or the school run. The last official study (South Coast Multi-Modal Study, 2002) found: ‘little justification for a long distance strategic south coast route’.
The latest proposal for a study on the A27 came from the Department for Transport as part of its Road Investment Strategy (RIS). It was a hastily conceived proposal (election time drawing close!) which caught the Highways Agency (now Highways England) by surprise. This haste led to very short timeframes, short notice given to stakeholders prior to meetings, and lack of clarity as to who should attend: a bit of a shambles. The SCATE website will give you more detail of the proposals for the A27 between Chichester and Pevensey.
Here is a very brief summary of the ‘east of Lewes’ situation:
£75m FOR SAFETY AND JUNCTION IMPROVEMENTS
That’s it! For now anyway, and it’s not controversial. Our position was that:
A major new road and effects of its extra traffic would degrade the South Downs National Park;
Would conflict with the Hailsham – Eastbourne Sustainable Transport Corridor scheme;
Could not be built before upgrading rail services on the parallel line;
Would conflict with policy and increase climate change gas emissions;
Its proposals appear to accept a ‘back of a fag packet’ figure for new job creation east of Eastbourne, close to that discredited by the Department for Transport’s analysts. (3,500 as against a DfT figure of 900 – 1,000, many of which would go to workers from outside the area).
The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, was invited to a meeting at Eastbourne Town Hall on 28th January by Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce to meet those clamouring for the major new highway between Eastbourne and Lewes. Derrick Coffee of Campaign for Better Transport, East Sussex was able to present him with counter arguments and to respectfully suggest that to visit Eastbourne to discuss a road scheme – as opposed to transport strategy – was missing the more important issues of first tackling congestion and air quality and securing a good quality of alternative and sustainable modes of transport in the immediate travel to work area. The railway line parallel to the A27 had seen new signalling installed, and could now accommodate more trains – let’s have them please. Sec of State response suggested that buses need better roads: I pointed out that the big boon to car commuting resulting from a multi-million road scheme (A22 new route/Polegate by-pass of 2002) had still not been accompanied by a step change in bus services 13 years later, thus firmly entrenching the car habit. Another boost for car sales!
CHALLENGING THE CALLS FOR EVER MORE AND CHEAPER PARKING
Dependence on private motorised transport – overwhelmingly the car – has huge impacts on everyone’s quality of life. The greater the dependence in a given town or city, the harder it is to challenge it. The graph below produced by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) in 1994 for the then Conservative government shows some interesting results. It followed an investigation (‘5 Cities’) into the most effective means by which public transport usage could be increased and car usage reduced:
The pressure of traffic on urban environments and its negative impact is widely accepted. Poor air quality (see above) has long and short term health impacts; pedestrian and cycling conditions are often unpleasant (including for those who drive into town); childrens’ independence and opportunities for play are curtailed or stopped; hazards for children walking or cycling to school induce parents to drive their children, making the trip for those who continue to walk more dangerous; otherwise pleasant, attractive and historic town spaces become heavily trafficked; public transport is held up; and pressure on green spaces increases – reducing opportunities to transform our towns through public art and planting schemes, and to offer tranquil refuges to our residents and visitors. Reducing traffic where possible is a key to addressing some of the above problems.
The chart above illustrates the complexity of the issues around parking
- Reducing the amount of space given to parking is by far the most effective way of increasing bus/rail/tram use and reducing traffic
- Cordon charging (as in London) is next best
- Doubling parking charges comes next
- A 50% fuel increase and 50% reduction in bus/train fares come 4th and 5th in the effectiveness ranking
Since 1994, walking and cycling have received much attention as further ways to reduce traffic but local authorities and twitchy politicians, scared stiff of the reaction of car drivers and vociferous business spokespeople, have failed to tackle the issue of parking and its role in degrading everyone’s quality of life and town centre economies. And an excellent public transport offer, 7 days a week, has worked well in Brighton and Hove, with services operating at good frequencies until at last 10,p.pm – and that includes links to/from every residential area and the main hospital.
One other notable exception has been the city of Nottingham where a path has been successfully pursued against all the odds to challenge the ‘free parking everywhere for ever’ lobby, very strong in Eastbourne, Hastings and adjacent rural areas of Wealden and Rother.
Nottingham’s answer lies in the principle that the city’s public transport system would be better with an investment stream derived from car parking spaces. This is in the form of a levy on each space where each firm with 11 or more parking spaces pays a levy of £362 per space: all the income for this is ring-fenced for public transport improvements and has enabled an extension to the city’s tram network and underpinned its future usage. By contrast, owners of off street private non-residential parking in Eastbourne and Hastings pay nothing towards offsetting the congestion impact of their ‘free parking'; public transport provision remains patchy, especially in the evenings and on Sundays. It is less than adequate.
Despite strong opposition at first from Boots – who threatened to move their 3,000 parking places outside the city – no firm in Nottingham has failed to comply with the levy and the number of firms moving into Nottingham has been greater since the levy than in the 5 years before it began. Boots did not carry out their threat.
In its three years of operation, and with other initiatives in the city designed to expand walking and cycling provision , the ‘workplace parking levy’ (wpl) has also enabled Nottingham to adequately fund its ‘supported’ bus services.
It should not be written off as a joint option for Eastbourne and Hastings, and could provide a funding source to new railway stations at Stone Cross, Eastbourne, and Glyne Gap (Ravenside), Bexhill. If it is serious about tackling congestion and the effects of climate change gas emissions and air quality improvement, East Sussex County Council should have a look at it. In the case of Eastbourne, wpl could also underpin the success and ‘value for money’ of the Hailsham – Polegate – Eastbourne ‘Sustainable Transport Corridor’ scheme which is rumoured to be heading our way.
THEN THERE’S AN ELECTION!
Lots of fodder in all the above to get you fired up on possible questions for candidates – and here’s a link to Campaign for Better Transport’s suggestions: