Countryside Agency ignores its own report

The Countryside Agency (a statutory organisation designated to protect the countryside) does not intend to make a formal objection to the proposed Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) despite significant environmental concerns raised by its own internal advisory report

A key member of Hastings Alliance has recently been given part of a confidential, internal report commissioned by the Countryside Agency (CA)to advise them on the anticipated environmental impacts of the proposed BHLR.

The report, dated October 2005, highlights several key issues that should be of concern to the CA:

  • Discrepancy between assessments of damaging effects of proposed BHLR on countryside. In sharp contrast to the ‘large negative impact’ (landscape assessment score) of the proposed BHLR on the landscape of the Combe Haven valley determined by independent experts in the South Coast Multi-Modal Study, ESCC have stated the impact would be ‘slight to moderate’. After a site visit, CA representatives concluded that it was doubtful the impact of the road on the landscape would be as low as that stated by ESCC. Further, the building of the BHLR is a requirement for the construction of the North Bexhill Business Park on a greenfield site. Therefore, the landscape effects of the Business Park should be added to those of the BHLR as should the impacts at the Baldslow junction.

  • Economic justification for the BHLR is questionable. The scheme benefit:cost ratio is 1.8; this is extremely low for a road scheme which is normally in the range 3-4. Recently introduced new guidance makes this low benefit:cost ratio even worse; all road schemes must now have the cost of the CO2 emissions factored into the cost benefit analysis.
  • Benefits of the proposed BHLR may not have been compared correctly with a ‘Do Minimum’ strategy. The authors of the report were unable to obtain information about the ‘Do minimum’ option that was used by ESCC to compile their Appraisal Summary Table for the proposed BHLR, ie what are the benefits/impacts of the BHLR being compared with?
  • Traffic noise is likely to ruin the tranquillity of the valley and Crowhurst village. Vehicle speed monitoring would reduce noise but no speed limit has been specified for the proposed road. In addition noise barriers could be provided but these would add to the visual intrusion of the road.
  • The BHLR will induce significant increases in traffic in surrounding areas. As the BHLR would provide additional road space on a route that parallels the exisitng road, congestion on the present A259 would decrease but congestion in many of the surrounding roads would increase. Traffic levels in both Hastings and Bexhill would rise with consequent increased emission of harmfull greenhouse gases and air pollution.

Despite the identification of these potentially serious adverse environmental impacts, a spokesperson from the CA made it clear to the Hastings Alliance that the CA ‘will not formally object’ to the proposed BHLR as ‘this report is an advisory report and should not be viewed as representing the Agency’s formal view of the proposed new road scheme’. Instead they intend to work with ESCC to identify mitigation measures that will minimize these adverse environmental impacts. However, since October the Countryside Agency has formally merged with English Nature and the Rural Development Service to form Natural England. Perhaps Natural England will take a different stance.

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