BHLR – Car culture first, Humanity second, Nature, Landscape and Tranquillity last.

NATURE, LANDSCAPE, TRANQUILLITY – ALL EXPENDABLE

The unbridled optimism at East Sussex County Council continues unchecked as Combe Haven and its tributary valleys face irreversible damage from construction of the BHLR – its exclusive and obsessively pursued 1960s transport vanity scheme. The landscape has already been stripped of hundreds of trees – many of them significant landscape features and up to 400 years old.

It’s not all over yet though: resistance continues as it must and the story has to be told. Here’s a summary of how things stand:

The preparatory tree and hedge cutting on a major scale appears to have been completed. This includes additional clearance for which permission appears not to have been granted, with an area of designated ‘ancient semi- natural woodland’ being felled (Chapel Wood, photo, map.) The map shows clearly that only the area within the solid brown line was to have been cleared. The photo shows clearance up to the road.

Chapel Wood Grabbed

Chapel Wood Clearance 1

Torn reptile fencing has been repaired. The damage was on quite a large scale and was left unrepaired for days on end. It would seem to us that surveys of reptile populations and behaviour need to be redone. Several reports have come in from farmers of numbers of trapped newts providing easy pickings for birds. Certainly, the traps within the zig zags of fencing held no trace of reptiles. The fences are conspicuous against a background of  a barren and now treeless landscape. (Photo). Birds returning to nesting sites have been seen flying around along Decoy Pond stream, near Actons Farm and around Adams Farm where their recently cleared habitual  sites used to be. A pair of lapwings have been seen displaying their courtship flight on the path of the BHLR route, sadly futile. Individuals walking in the valley have reportedly been aggressively challenged by security staff.

Newt Fence zig zag

SMALL VICTORY

Following our appeal to the Information Commissioner (ICO), the Department for Transport (DfT) was judged to be wrong to withhold key information on recommendations to ministers on the question of funding for the BHLR. These recommendations – which we believe fell far short of recommending that ESCC should get the money – were made just 2 days before George Osbourne’s approval of £56.8m, announced in the 2012 Budget Statement. The Department for Transport has a right of appeal but we hope they will respect the ICO decision and disclose the information to us, and the general public.

ALTERNATIVES TO THE CAR – LATE, SECOND RATE, OR COMPLETELY ABSENT

After 11 years of planning and expense devoted to the massively subsidised Link Road, East Sussex County Council are only now looking at the nature and extent of public transport that will have to compete on the far from level playing field. What a contrast to all the money and time wasted on the road. Clearly public transport and its users are considered of lesser importance. Initial plans for buses on the Link Road envisage none on Sundays and Bank Holidays; none at all after 7pm; none between Bexhill and the Conquest Hospital – instead change at Tesco. A bus lane is now proposed to be removed from the original link road plans. A station at Glyne Gap (30 years late) is under study but we’re not holding our breath, and the extra train per hour passing through and serving stations between Ore and Cooden recommended in 2000 is unlikely to arrive any time soon.

Based on figures from the Access to Hastings Study of 2000, rail passenger numbers will fall by anything up to 40% as car travel (and congestion) increase.  And we all know of the CO2 increases that will follow the road – the worst of all 45 currently planned English local authority road schemes. Oh yes, and second to bottom for ‘value for money’ and the only one described by the DfT as ‘poor’. That’s second rate then. Hastings and Bexhill deserve better.

(See archive photos Glyne Gap station site/bus stop, July 2012)

A separate planning application from Seachange will go in shortly for the additional road between the BHLR and Wrestwood Road to open up land for business and housing.  Chief Executive John Shaw has little idea of how people would get to work other than by car. We pointed out to him that the people most in need of jobs don’t have access to a car. He describes the sites as ‘accessible’ and as a ‘coastal location’.  There’s also an optimistic prediction of high occupancy of the business site arrived at by comparing the successful town centre office developments, close to public transport links, with this ‘car based’ out of town site. There’s no comparison.

COST CUTTING AMENDMENTS TO SCHEME

A number of amendments to the BHLR plan have been submitted. These are cost cutting measures considered to be ‘non-material’ amendments (NMAs) to the scheme. This means that in the eyes of ESCC, they don’t fundamentally alter the plan or function. If this is accepted, it means they can avoid going back to the DfT and rush the amendments through. We disagree. We believe the amendments are material changes and will make a difference to the function of the scheme and have submitted objections to their proposals. These include: changes to flood control measures in Sidley and Bexhill along the line of Egerton Stream; combining cycle, pedestrian and equestrian routes instead of segregating them; narrowing the carriageway in places; replacing bridges with fords (remember the annual floods); and removing a bus lane. We had asked to speak at the Planning Committee meeting, but…..

We now learn that the Planning Committee, due to meet on Wednesday 24th April, will NOT now determine the amendments to the BHLR plan. This means that Derrick Coffee of the Hastings Alliance and Andrea Needham of the Combe Haven Defenders, both having asked to attend and speak at the meeting, have no right to speak. Instead, Rupert Clubb, Head of Economy, Transport and Environment has taken delegated powers to determine the amendments himself as they are considered ‘non-material’.

A SOCIAL EQUITY ISSUE

In our objections to the above we point out the low aspirations for bus services (see above) and consequently a large risk of failure to carry out conditions attached by the minister to the approval of funding in April. He required ESCC to ensure that public transport measures, including meeting the objective to give unemployed people access to jobs – which includes public transport provision, and buses on the Link Road – were provided. The changes to conditions for cyclists mean that journeys could be longer and time consuming; and as a result, cyclists may be using the (unsafe) Link Road. Of course, much of this is academic because the ESCC jobs calculations are in fantasy land and over 4 times the numbers calculated by the DfT.

INCONSISTENCIES OF UNIVERSITIES

The arrival of the University of Brighton campus in Hastings has brought prestige and vitality to the town – a sustainable element in the regeneration plan for the town centre and area, and something the Hastings Alliance supported from the start. The University has in the last 12 months received a silver award for introducing procedures to cut energy use and increase sustainable practices. Credit is certainly due there.

Universities can be said to be the repositories of widely and deeply held values of the societies of which they are an important part. That is true of this University, and also of Trinity College Cambridge, which stands to make huge financial gains from the sale of land to be developed following the construction of the BHLR. Many local people find it difficult to comprehend how these seats of higher education can freely associate themselves with the BHLR project – a risky and speculative car based development involving the devastation of treasured local habitats and landscapes, and seemingly ignorant of pressing climate change issues. The University of Brighton is a member of East Sussex Energy, Infrastructure and Development Company, also known as ‘Seachange’ which is promoting the north Bexhill development along with the Link Road. Associations with projects like the BHLR can only tarnish the Universities’ hard earned reputations.

IF ONCE YOU CRAVED AND ENJOYED TRANQUILLITY IN COMBE HAVEN – GO (BY CAR) SOMEWHERE ELSE!

The ‘offsetting’ measures ‘in the Brede/Hastings area’ approved by the DfT as one condition of funding approval were apparently designed to ‘offset’ some of the BHLR’s negative impacts on biodiversity. However, while residents of Bexhill and Hastings were able to walk to Combe Haven to see wildlife, how to access the area where offsetting will be implemented is not at all clear. What is clear is that anyone looking to experience this new and enhanced natural area will have to exchange the  ‘walkable’ and soon to be degraded asset of Combe Haven, for a car or bus journey to a location further afield. This is hardly socially equitable, certainly unsustainable, and clearly no substitute for anyone, people or wildlife. A bad joke really.

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ONE YEAR ON: DfT RECOMMENDATION ON BHLR STILL UNPUBLISHED

As a mark of frustration over the refusal of the Department for Transport (DfT) to publish its recommendation to ministers whether to fund the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road, a whole year after George Osbourne’s provisional funding announcement, members of the Combe Haven Defenders organised a demonstration outside the Department for Transport’s offices in London this week. They were supported by the Hastings Alliance, local East Sussex members of the Campaign for Better Transport, BLINKRR (Bexhill Link Road Resistance) alongside Crowhurst and Bexhill residents.

Demonstrators came to present the DfT with a section of a 300 year old oak, felled to make way for the road, engraved with a message to minister Norman Baker, Under Secretary of State for Transport, urging him to reveal the recommendation to  ministers. In the light of a very critical analysis by the DfT of the case for the road project, there is a growing suspicion  that their recommendation was in fact against granting government funds. DfT Colourful Crowd scene DfT DfT Crowd os DfT DfT Save Billlions DfT Tree Section messgae DfTIMG_2102 DfT Waiting for Tree admission

All opposed to the road – and there are many, with 1,100 signing an e petition on the government’s website in the first 6 days of posting – are increasingly frustrated at the withholding of this important information.

After half an hour, and after repeated requests to intervene, a member of the police went into the DfT offices and sought agreement from a DfT official to a handing over of the ‘message on a tree’ by a member of the Combe Haven Defenders.

The message conveyed the determination of the Defenders to secure the ‘redacted’ (withheld) recommendation.

As of today (6th March), the government had not announced full funding approval. Nor should it, with austerity measures grudgingly accepted by many, such a waste of public funds in support of a scheme described as ‘poor value for money’ , and relentlessly pursued without full assessment of alternatives would be outrageous.

SEE PHOTOS

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PROTESTORS EVICTED, TREES FELLED, HEDGES CUT DOWN

DEMONSTRATION AT COUNTY HALLC Hall demo 1 C Hall demo 2

The 12th of February saw a further demonstration against the BHLR at County Hall (above) ahead of a full council meeting on the day. Contrasting starkly with the Link Road, the inspiring and creative demo was led by the Combe Haven Defenders who brought a large limb of a felled oak, symbolising the destruction of hundreds of trees ‘come back to haunt the council as the BHLR would surely do one day’.

It was interesting to hear a number of councillors expressing doubts over the wisdom of risking public funds before the final funding approval, and progressing the destructive road scheme.

In the chamber itself, emotions ran high and several protestors were physically removed before the entire public gallery was cleared. This was despite protestations from Cllr Rosalyn St Pierre whose point held sway for a while until the shutters eventually went up.

IN THE VALLEYS

IMG_1997 Formerly a stand of oak and alder and site of the protestors Decoy Camp

IMG_1724

The trees in situ (above) just days before.

IMG_2004

The choked channel of Decoy Stream (above)

IMG_2010

Decoy Stream above the choked channel – a classic weald ripple stream: a soothing sound, inaudible with the thousands of vehicles that would pass above with BHLR just feet away.

Following evictions from the tree houses, a visit on February the 18th saw the Decoy stream bed choked with timber and branches of oak and alder. Birds were active on this bright, sunny day, including a female buzzard circling overhead: according to the farmer who until recently owned the land, it was probably seeking a nesting site: ill advised.

Other felled timber was being moved by a tracked vehicle below Adams Farm, while immediately west of Actons Farm (see below), police, security guards, High Court officials and two specialist tree climbers were guarding against protestor action as hedges on either side of a field, standing in the pathway of the BHLR intended route, were cut almost to ground level. A police constable remarked on the peacefulness of the valley -  as have councillors (or at least those who have bothered to visit), DfT officials and countless others. That was before the chainsaws.

Actons Fm 1 Actons Fm 2 Actons Fm 3 Actpns Fm 4

TRINITY COLLEGE (Motto: ‘Virtue is true nobility’) IN FAVOUR OF DEVELOPMENT

Trinity College is the major landowner of the land earmarked for development in north Bexhill. Viewed by the college as ‘sustainable and justified’, and unquestioningly accepted as dependent upon the BHLR, Trinity are already marketing the building land to prospective developers – with a big, free, taxpayer funded road too. Well, it’s a great motto, but rings a bit hollow given the uniquely ‘poor’ rating of the BHLR among 45 other English road schemes by the Department for Transport (and worst for CO2 emissions), damage to the environment, and the anticipated rise in car dependency. Agents for Trinity, Bidwells, have been apprised more than once of the falsehood of tying the development to the BHLR but presumably under pressure from Trinity to get some cash as quickly as possible, have ignored it.

For us and many others, BHLR would create few jobs at an astronomical price, and a 1960s car dependent development, the negative effects of which would prevail for decades – no virtue there: it’s simply unsustainable and unjustified.

WITH BHLR, THE FUTURE IS THE BUS – BUT NOT AFTER TEATIME : NEVER ON A SUNDAY          

According to consultants working for the county council, if the BHLR was built, the future bus network would possibly include services along the BHLR, but those in Bexhill and Sidley expecting a bus to the Conquest Hospital would have to change at TESCO, then wait for a bus to complete their journey. Good news for TESCO but not for passengers wanting seamless journeys. Timetables being suggested seem to rule out service after 7.00pm though. So after visiting your friend in the Conquest you would have to get a taxi home. And hospital staff? We all need a comprehensive service to meet our basic needs. Some areas of Bexhill/Hastings have as many as 40% of households with no car.

No Sunday bus services are planned, and Saturday’s sample timetable shows a reduced service. The bus should be a viable, safe and attractive alternative for all, not a safety net for ‘poor unfortunates’. And not just until early evening.

GLYNE GAP STATION IN THE BALANCE?

Many of us (but not the councils) have been fighting for this since the 1980s when Ravenside was being built, and before that. A County Council study looking at the prospects for a new station is nearing completion, but unofficially, signs are not encouraging so, despite two favourable studies carried out in the last 10 years, each giving a more positive value for money rating than the BHLR, the current study, due to report soon, may not bring hoped for news of a new station. More on that later.

BEXHILL AND HASTINGS DESERVE THE BEST – LESS TRAFFIC: BETTER TOWNS!

For those who, for many good reasons, increasingly seek a good alternative to the car or at least to reduce their dependence on it, or those for whom the car is not a possible option – including the young – the future does not include what it should: not the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road, but instead a local and national showcase for high quality bus and rail, walking and cycling facilities.

Thousands of students now in town at the college and university would welcome a combined good value for money ticket:  free travel would be even better, so at a stroke removing money worries from hundreds of households where money is tight.

For the road’s promoters, the future instead includes:

-       an expensive, exclusive, poorly thought through, environmentally damaging, unnecessary Bexhill to Hastings Link Road which would be a millstone round the neck of alternatives for half a century.

A wrong message for future generations.

We say: CUT THE ROAD – NOT QUALITY OF LIFE

(See July 2012 post -link below- for comment image of Glyne Gap station; see also Combe Haven Defenders busy and exciting website – link below too).

SEE ALSO  (here.) an excellent, well informed summary of the BHLR situation, including information about the major backers, politicians and their agents behind the destructive and unnecessary scheme, written by Adrian Hopkins of the Combe Haven Defenders.

July 2012

Combe Haven Defenders

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FUNDING FOR LINK ROAD: NOT YET AGREED!

We have issued the following press release today, highlighting the absence of government final funding approval for BHLR. In the light of the hundreds of felled trees – many pre-dating Napoleonic times, and all key components of wildlife corridors – we think it’s quite important to highlight the premature action of ESCC in pursuing a poor value for money vanity project…..

We also urge you to sign the e-petition posted on the government’s website. The link is in the body of the press release.

PRESS RELEASE – IMMEDIATE 1.2.13.

BEXHILL TO HASTINGS LINK ROAD – FUNDING NOT YET IN PLACE

The Hastings Alliance learned yesterday that funding is not yet in place for the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road (BHLR) and has asked the government to cancel its deal with East Sussex County Council.

The fact that full funding approval has not yet been given by the Department for Transport (DfT) was confirmed on Thursday in a table of English Local Authority transport schemes released following a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) request.[1] In response, the Hastings Alliance has launched an urgent petition to the DfT urging them not to finalise the funding deal and cancel the road.[2]

This places a large question mark over the bluster of East Sussex County Council (ESCC) Leader Cllr Peter Jones who publicly announced in January that “the road will be built”.

Approved in March 2012 by Chancellor George Osbourne, the Link Road scheme had days earlier been heavily criticised in a DfT analysis because of doubts over proper examination by ESCC of alternatives, and huge over optimism of the council’s claims for numbers of jobs it would bring.

Speaking for the Alliance, Derrick Coffee said:

“Despite lack of final funding approval, work has already begun with a determined, massive and destructive tree felling exercise: hundreds of trees have been taken down leading to the predicted severance of Combe Haven wildlife habitats. This week, a streamside woodland wildlife corridor between two blocks of semi-ancient woodland – one a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) has been destroyed. East Sussex County Council failed to recognise one of these as a designated ‘semi ancient woodland’.

This reckless behaviour is also failing to respect highly credible claims, taken seriously by English Heritage (EH), the government body for conservation of heritage resources, that the ground swarmed over for days by scores of security guards includes  the site of the Battle of Hastings. E H has expressed a willingness to carry out an investigation though ESCC are at present continuing their rampage through locally cherished irreplaceable environments.

“This is a scheme that is destroying environmental and heritage assets; is a speculative development using public funds; and is being improperly progressed without a full examination of cheaper and sustainable alternatives. It is not welcomed by local and general tax payers. The BHLR scheme is no more than a rather poor GCSE project and should not receive funding approval from government: we have today set up a petition on the government website” concluded Mr Coffee.

(1) http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/stage_of_funding_approval_for_dehttp://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/143906/response/355565/attach/3/Summary%20of%20LA%20Major%20Schemes%20January%202013.pdf

(2) http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/45254

Hastings Alliance, Court Lodge Oast, Udimore. E. Sussex. TN33 6BB 01424 883319 nbing@metronet.co.uk

Campaign for Better Transport – East Sussex, Derrick Coffee, 9 Mayfield Place, Eastbourne, E Sussex. BN22 8XJ. 01323 646866; 0795 1084436 derrick.coffee@talk21.com

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UNSTINTING SUPPORT FOR PROTESTORS FROM ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANISATIONS

This gallery contains 8 photos.

    IT’S NOT ALL OVER The national organisations representatives, along with regional and local officers came down to the Combe Haven Defenders (CHDs) Decoy stream valley BHLR protest camp on Sunday, January 27th, in support of those continuing their … Continue reading

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GREAT CRESTED NEWT HABITAT DAMAGE?

We’re not experts, but it appears that the impact of tracked diggers used in excavation on an area of Upper Wilting Farm may have damaged the habitat of European Protected Species – great crested newts (gcn). Now, after the first frosts, we believe the newts would be on the cusp of moving to hibernation areas close by. The photos here feature a swathe of grassland,  after the diggers had excavated trenches on/close to the route of the proposed Link Road. The area has been managed to enhance biodiversity and in ‘stewardship agreement’ of one kind or another – and involving subsidy – since 1988. It lies between a pond known to be home to gcn, and a semi-ancient woodland likely to be favourable to their hibernation. The field itself may also be a hibernation site.

After exemplary sustainable farming over many years, the tenant farmers have for some time lived with uncertainties over their future. In recent months there have been unsettling and almost daily, often unannounced invasions of agents for East Sussex County Council. The yellow jacketed individuals in one photo are doing a metal detector traverse of an area south of the farm. The owners of the farm are Hastings Borough Council.

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SETBACK IN COURT IS NO FINALE

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.

High Court Demonstration – October 5th

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”[1]. All the rest is mere window-dressing.

1. So called ‘Wednesbury unreasonableness’ after a leading case in that area

Valuing ecosystems – ONS, RTPI response-2

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’.

Radio 4 PM reporter at Upper Wilting Farm – possible Saxon defence position


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