SETBACK IN COURT IS NO FINALE
Last Friday’s hearing in the High Court was of course a setback for our hopes of preventing construction of the BHLR, but it’s clearly not the end of the story: questions still remain to be answered. In the light of the West Coast Main Line franchise, it is evident that transport ministers don’t always get everything right. And in the case of BHLR, given the weaknesses of the scheme highlighted in the Department for Transport analysis, we firmly believe that George Osborne and HM Treasury played the major role in approving the £56.8m of funding.
The hearing was preceded by a demonstration outside the court organised by the Combe Haven Defenders, symbolically dressed as creatures whose habitats and chances of survival are under threat from the Link Road – bats, dormice, newts and badgers. Among the protesters were Natalie Bennett, recently elected leader of the Green Party; John Stewart, veteran campaigner and architect of the campaign to prevent the building of the third runway at Heathrow; and Sian Berry of Campaign for Better Transport.
The hearing lasted over two hours and although our barrister put in a sterling performance, the judges ruling, which took half an hour to deliver, went against us. We are very grateful indeed for the help and advice we received over several months from the University of the West of England Law School and associates.
JOIN THE OCTOBER 16TH DEMONSTRATION AT COUNTY HALL , 9.30 A.M.!
Our planned demonstration ahead of the full council meeting seeks to remind elected members of the weakness of the case for building the road, the certainties of environmental damage and a disregard for climate change gas emissions to follow – which according to Department for Transport statistics – will be the worst of any transport scheme currently under development in England. Victims of Lewes floods of 2000 are unlikely to be happy with that. Alongside that, council tax payers have already expressed surprise at the £40m or more of their money that will be required for a scheme with such poor economic and environmental credentials, while key services in areas such as adult social care and childrens’ services – not to mention sustainable transport – are under threat of cuts. (See Press Release: C Hall Demo PresserCourt Lodge Oast)
PROFESSIONAL MAGAZINE COMMENTS ON FLAWS IN BHLR PROCESS
Local Transport Today carried an extensive piece commenting on the discrepancies between the Department for Transport’s analysis of the case for the road and East Sussex County Council’s claims for its benefits in an era when promoters ‘inflate benefits and deflate costs’.
Article and editorial here:
ROYAL TOWN PLANNING INSTITUTE CITE LINK ROAD APPRAISAL PROCESS FLAWS: WERE WE DOOMED TO FAIL?
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has responded to an Office of National Statistics consultation on ‘Accounting for the value of nature in the UK’
It describes the aim of spatial planning in the UK thus: to strike a balance ‘between economic, social and environmental outcomes that both reflects the wider aims of society and can be sustained in the longer term’
One of the concerns of the RTPI is the irreversible nature of ‘trade-offs’, such as building on open land, which may lead to risks to ecosystems critical to quality of life.
In ‘transport planning’ in particular, the Department for Transport has attempted in guidance to bring together economic, social and environmental factors for appraisal purposes, but including ‘softer factors’ such as landscape presents difficulties when ‘money values’ are added resulting in a Benefit Cost Ratio unfavourable to scheme promoters.
To illustrate the inexactitudes, and therefore risks to the environment, of this approach, the RTPI cited the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road as an example:
‘An example of this is the DfT decision earlier this year to fund the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road. The BCR for this scheme oscillated in an extraordinary fashion, collapsing from 3.46 (Good Value) in the County Council’s ’Best and Final Bid’ (Sept 2011) to 1.5 (Low-Medium Value) in DfT’s re-appraisal (March 2012). A large part of this difference is accounted for by landscape disbenefits of some £77m in the latter. Although this has the effect of reducing BCR far below the level normally considered acceptable for funding, it has been disregarded in the final decision’.
The whole process of investigating the Link Road has cost the public purse millions in staff time and fees to lawyers and consultancies. Public interest groups have also spent their time and much more limited money on the basis that the process was fair and open. But what this case shows is that the evidence can be cherry-picked. When a Minister is determined to do something for political reasons, the bar is set very low: a decision only has to avoid being “so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have come to it”. All the rest is mere window-dressing.
1. So called ‘Wednesbury unreasonableness’ after a leading case in that area
RADIO 4 FEATURE: BATTLE OF HASTINGS
Local amateur archeologist Nick Austin has long claimed that the site of the Battle of Hastings was not at Battle but very close to, or on the route of the BHLR. What we can be certain of is that the’ theatre’ of the Battle includes Combe Haven. Safe anchorage, defensible positions with Saxon trackways and settlements, and other evidence of Norman presence are proven.
Radio 4 interviewed Nick on October the 9th for the PM programme – just a few days before the October 14th 946th anniversary of the Battle. I also contributed some comments as above, but highlighted too the status of the valley and its tributary valleys as a time capsule of human habitation over 4,000 years. Combe Haven has already given up some of its secrets from the Bronze Age, Iron age, Roman times, Saxon settlement, the Norman invasion, and the medieval period – from which many field boundaries and ‘water fences’ survive even now. There are many more discoveries to be made, that’s certain. But a great educational and recreational resource – possibly a heritage site of international importance – will be scarred and devalued if the Link Road goes ahead. Further investigation into the site of the Battle of Hastings should be encouraged and funded.
The interviewee (pictured, left) made the point that the valley itself as a heritage resource could be a major contribution to regeneration. Deputy leader of ESCC Cllr Glazier seemed to be of the opinion that in respect of BHLR, it alone was key to regeneration and it was important to ‘get on with it’.