CAMPAIGN UPDATE – MARCH 2011
The Bexhill to Hastings Link Road project looks to be in jeopardy: the money just isn’t there to fund all local authority schemes – least of all those which have become obsessions in the minds of their promoters, or dangerous ‘vanity schemes’.
So, following the Public Inquiry, and warnings to local authorities to halt work on their major schemes, where are we now?
East Sussex County Council (ESCC) continues to cling grimly to its plans to build the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road (BHLR). Costed in 2002 at £24m, the price tag now has breached the £100m mark. Here’s an overview of where we are:
Following the May election, BHLR was placed on ‘hold’. In October, a ‘value for money’ assessment applied by the Department for Transport (DfT) to 22 local authority transport schemes put BHLR bottom of a list of 22 that are at the ‘development stage’. These are classified as the ‘Development Pool’.
All local authorities wishing to progress their schemes were asked by the DfT to submit an ‘Expression of Interest’ (EOI), describing their schemes and progress, to explore ways to deliver the scheme at a lower cost, and to describe their efforts to examine alternatives. Submissions were required by January 5th 2011 and East Sussex County Council has taken this opportunity.
The ‘Expression of Interest’ submission.
In the EOI submitted by ESCC, some of the reasons for the most recent (post 2009) changes in costs are given as:
- Extra works in foundations where soil stability is a problem (+£3.17m)
- Temporary works during the main construction (+£3.35m)
- Contractor’s risk (+£4.5m)
- Preparatory cost (+£1.63m)
- Land cost (+£0.8m
- Inflation (+£1.63m)
- Reducing the planned capacity of the Egerton Stream storm water retention tank
- Transferring risk to contractor, and some non-materialisation of risk (-£6.38m)
In response to the DfT’s invitation to examine ways to reduce the call on government funds, ESCC has identified the following areas for saving costs:
Savings through ‘value engineering’ (revising structures and specifications to arrive at less costly solutions), e.g. –
- reducing the capacity of a flood storage tank
- narrowing carriageways over bridges
- changes in pavement design, specification, etc.
Although this would save £22m, there has been a net increase of £4.80m in the cost of BHLR. (Now £100.08m)
For ESCC, it would help of course if the ‘Benefit: Cost Ratio’ (BCR) was shown to have been too low, and by some means, could be improved upon. The promoters have attempted to do just that.
The EOI submission includes a claim by ESCC that the DfT figure for the BCR of 2.1:1 is wrong and that the true figure is 4.24:1 – this is more than double the DfT figure, and relies heavily on the council’s conclusion that the negative impacts on landscape and biodiversity have been overstated.
The EOI also notes that:
- There is no prospect of ‘developer contributions’ for some years.
- The developer funded road linking BHLR to Wrestwood Road in north Bexhill has been dropped or shelved.
- The above road still appears, however, in the bus route plans for all public transport options.
- Efforts will be made to bring forward the employment site development in north Bexhill ahead of housing, but there will evidently be a poor bus service.
- The BHLR will be part funded by 15 wind turbines to be built alongside the road.
- The turbines are expected to offset the CO2 emissions from traffic. (The Climate Change Act does not allow this: traffic emissions must be offset by sustainable transport measures. i.e. – measures within the transport sector.)
- Funding for the link to the A21 (Baldslow Link and Interchange) will be sought from an as yet unidentified source (c£30m). The route, which would pass through a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), has yet to be identified – but there are three options.
The EOI and Alternatives
There is a repeated theme running through the EOI which expresses a fear that some misguided members of the public might run away with the idea that packages of sustainable transport alternatives and different land use scenarios could be seen as removing the need for the BHLR altogether. With such a strong and singular emphasis on the Link Road as a panacea for all conceivable ills, there is therefore no alternative: no ‘Plan B’.
In general, alternatives are dismissed. There is a reference to the effect that these might have acting together, but they are described as inadequate, and irrelevant to the major objective of opening up development land.
The Hastings Alliance View
- The promoters claim that the value of landscape, heritage and habitat has been overstated and that the impact on these by BHLR has also been overstated. We do not accept any devaluation of their value as part of an exercise to improve the BCR. In our view, the quality of the environment and opportunity of access to a large urban population with low car ownership suggest that there is a strong case for inclusion of the valley in the AONB.
- We do not accept that alternatives have been properly evaluated at any time during the past decade. Full packages of measures have never been assessed, while some individual alternative measures which have been tested in depth have been victims of inertia. ESCC wrongly assert that they have no influence on Network Rail and the bus operators.
- ESCC refer to their alternative ‘coloured’ routes for the BHLR as they appeared in the public consultation. This rather cynical exercise showed routes that could never have been built anyway as they passed through nationally important and protected wildlife areas. Put simply, the public were misled into thinking they were viable.
- We note the success of regeneration efforts in Hastings town centre, believe that the positive effects – including a fall in unemployment – are clearly discernible in the town, and regard the plans to bring forward the north Bexhill employment land as a threat to achievements realized so far, and the Link Road as completely irrelevant – or at worst – highly damaging, to the vitality of Hastings.
- The case for the wind turbines is very sketchy, agreed by the promoters to carry risk, and does not appear to have real relevance to the EOI.
- The inclusion of the Baldslow Link (presumably including the Baldslow Interchange) as an aspiration is also of doubtful relevance and given the history of cost escalation of the BHLR, the cost – ‘a minimum of £30m’ – is evidently not robust.
- We note that in respect of funding for BHLR: ESCC intend a spend of £9.34m (in addition to money spent thus far, c£15m); require £80.57m from Department of Transport; and have received no contributions from developers.
ESCC must submit their ‘best and final bid’ to the DfT by September 9th. This will be in ‘pro-forma’ documents and less weighty than the Major Scheme Business Case produced earlier. After submission, there will be no further dialogue with DfT. In addition:
- The bid should appear on ESCC website immediately after submission.
- We will have about a month to examine this, and feed in our comments.
- ESCC will need to demonstrate support for its scheme.
- In July, ESCC (and all councils) will be asked to reveal their financial plans. Councils will be warned against any proposals involving an increase in government funding.
In the next few weeks, the Hastings Alliance will be developing its campaign plans.
For further information/offers of help contact:
Derrick Coffee on 01323 646866
Nick Bingham on 01424 883319