A year ago, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) applied for planning consent for the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road (BHLR).
Government"s own bodies object to BHLR
There were almost 2000 objections to the scheme and only a handful of representations in support. The objectors included two of the three Statutory Environmental Bodies (SEBs): The Environment Agency, and Natural England. The third body, English Heritage, raised significant doubts about the scheme being presented.
These three government bodies are charged with protecting and enhancing landscapes, biodiversity and common heritage for all of us, and for future generations. Protection of water quality and prevention of pollution are included in the Environment Agency"s responsibilities.
To accompany its planning application, ESCC had to produce an Environmental Statement (ES) describing the negative environmental impacts of BHLR, and how ESCC was planning to overcome them. As a result of the objections raised by the SEBs, and other organisations and individuals, ESCC has had to look again at its ES. The latest information we have is that a draft has been sent to the planning department and that the publication of the fully revised ES will be in mid-June.
The most recent conversation with ESCC officers suggest that:
Public consultation based on the new ES, and also necessary because the BHLR road scheme was absent from district, borough and county planning documents, could take place in July.
Their current aspiration is for the BHLR scheme to be considered at the planning committee on October 8th.
The objections and significant doubts raised by the SEBs are of concern to us because one of the conditions placed alongside ministerial approval for BHLR was that ESCC, the promoters of the scheme, should –
– work closely with the Statutory Environmental Bodies to ensure that appropriate environmental mitigation measures are incorporated as the scheme is taken forward, particularly in view of the adverse environmental impacts identified in the appraisal.
Well, there certainly were meetings with the SEBs prior to the planning application. But these appear to have been a waste of time and money since in the end, two SEBs objected, and one raised significant doubts. It seems that either the ministers condition was ignored, or the design work and processes were not competently carried out, understood, or fit for purpose.
The SEBs objections and concerns can be briefly summarised as follows:
Environment Agency Insufficient attention given to flood risk in north Bexhill; severance of habitats by the road, making the divided parts unviable for survival of species; loss or disruption of several types of habitat of national importance; failure to quantify impacts; ignorance of government guidance.
Natural England Failure to identify a protected site of national importance for wildlife; threats to nationally important sites from polluted runoff not acknowledged; landowners not consulted on mitigation measures proposed on their land; effects of the road are described as being both beneficial and adverse to the survival prospects of protected dormice populations; general ignorance of adverse effects of the BHLR and its traffic on several species, habitats and ecosystems.
English Heritage Incomplete investigations into heritage resources within Coombe Haven which together represent over three thousand years of human habitation and activity; consequent ignorance of mitigation measures that would protect or enhance the resources, anticipated to be of national significance; in the light of all this, ignorance over the resource implications of implementing the necessary mitigation measures.
Will the new Environmental Statement be any better than the failed old one?
How effectively ESCC have addressed the concerns of the SEBs we wont know until the revised ES is published. We dont believe that any close working with the SEBs has taken place since objections were lodged, so the revised ES will have to be closely examined.
There will be a need for ESCC to re-advertise the BHLR scheme because it had not been included in local planning documents. This was a serious and probably costly error. The re-advertising will include press releases as well as exhibitions, with information from the revised ES, and we will have to be ready for this. This is the point at which we have to object and it is likely that well have three weeks to do so. Watch out for information in the media and also on the Hastings Alliance website!
BHLR Double the original cost.
Another condition imposed by the minister on approving the scheme was that:
the gross and net costs of the scheme remain unchanged
The approved figure for BHLR was £47m (2004); the current figure is £89m almost double the original costs. The condition has therefore been seriously breached. The current figure is at least 17 months old now, so it may have to be revised, especially in the light of any extra mitigation measures needed to meet the concerns of the SEBs.
The Regional Assemblys Regional Transport Board, which bids to government for funds, has asked ESCC to prepare a new economic appraisal of BHLR. When this is done, the Department for Transport will carry out its own revised value for money assessment in the light of the major cost increase.
What else could be provided for the same, or even a lot less money?
Although its not quite that simple, its a perfectly valid question to ask. Member groups of the Hastings Alliance have been campaigning for alternatives to car travel for decades, and politicians have begun to listen:
Once a key proposal among regeneration schemes for Hastings and Bexhill, Glyne Gap station seems to have been quietly forgotten. It has been one our aims for twenty years. The leisure and retail complex sits at a point on the A259 where it fills up with 31,000 vehicles a day. The Alliance is working to get politicians working on getting the station built.
The Alliance supported Sustrans in their campaign to win Lottery funding to build a safe cycle route between Bexhill and Hastings. Funding of £380,000 has been pledged; thats roughly half the cost. Now we need ESCC to progress the scheme and add their share of funding.
We have also worked hard without success so far to introduce 20mph speed limits in residential areas of Hastings and other East Sussex towns to create conditions for safe walking and cycling conditions, particularly for children.
Towns such as Peterborough, Darlington and Worcester have invested in alternatives and achieved huge reductions in traffic (on average: 12%), accompanied by impressive increases in walking (22%);
Cycling (47%) and public transport (16%). (Figures from Department for Transport, 2006)
Why not Hastings and Bexhill?
In an era of concern over the effects of climate change gas emissions and with finite supplies of oil currently at $130 a barrel, the Alliance is strongly committed to seeking and promoting sustainable transport solutions for a better local and global environment.
Watch our website for further updates.