East Sussex County Council (ESCC) is hanging on grimly to its Bexhill to Hastings Link Road (BHLR) scheme, even though the costs have breached the £100m mark, and in spite of the BHLR giving the poorest value for money return in the group of 24 schemes being considered for funding. It’s bottom of the table. ESCC’s reaction to that includes a staggering doubling of the benefit to cost ratio (bcr). That’s worth a serious look at! (see below).
Unsurprisingly, BHLR features in the third ESCC draft Local Transport Plan – LTP3 – while other measures such as real time bus information, ‘Quality Bus Corridors’ and new railway stations are left on the shelf. Some of these potentially very useful schemes have already received considerable funding for feasibility and design, but for over a decade now BHLR has taken centre stage, diluting efforts to deliver sustainable transport choices. Our town centres in Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne are still far too traffic dominated, and pedestrian and cycling arrangements are sometimes farcical and often dangerous.
We are in dialogue with ESCC on LTP3, and also its aspirations in respect of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). This fund was launched by transport minister Norman Baker early in the year, and is primarily for small schemes, or packages of schemes, up to £5m. We understand that a bid is being made by ESCC for funding from the Department of Transport but have no information to date on what the council is intending to deliver on the ground. It is safe to say that whatever might come through LTSF funding would be undermined by BHLR if it went ahead.
Next phase of the campaign – analysis of ESCC’s case
This phase has to be geared up to the process which ESCC must follow. In early September it has to present a case which describes cheaper alternative options it has considered, social and economic impacts of the BHLR scheme, the extent of carbon impacts, and a more detailed breakdown of time savings, so that any small and insignificant time savings are not lumped together to give a large but meaningless figure. The ESCC case will be published, and at that stage, we will be able to analyse it and present a response.
Fortunately, we will have expert help in unpicking and appraising the county’s case and have been very lucky to receive in the last few days (early May) a grant of £1,000 from ‘Roadblock’, an organisation set up some years ago to oppose environmentally damaging, costly and inappropriate major road schemes. We are very optimistic that a second fundraising effort will be successful, and news of that will follow in the next two to three months.
Our two experts are familiar with the area and will firstly be looking at ‘alternative options’ considered by ESCC – as well as options available but not pursued – that would be likely to better deliver benefits claimed for the BHLR. The second focus would be on the miraculous doubling of the benefit to cost ratio achieved by ESCC: from 2.19:1 to 4.24:1. Just how did they do that?
Message to the politicians
To make sure that those politicians who ultimately will make decisions on BHLR are left in no doubt that local people place a very high value on Combe Haven valley, we will be organising activities to catch some media attention, as well as having a good time in the process
We are planning a walk in the valley with two starting points: Bexhill and Hastings. Two groups of walkers will converge in the valley where a banner will be unfurled and a picnic enjoyed. There may be music, and decent weather. Planning is underway.
There will also be a postcard campaign, where a beautiful view on one side will amplify the message that the valley is a beautiful place in all seasons. On the other side will be the address of the Secretary of State for Transport. Getting the cards filled in by all those who cherish the valley, and sent off to the minister will be an important part of the campaign.
More beautiful valley views will be posted shortly!