BIG GUNS COME OUT IN LINK ROAD PROTEST
BIG guns from environmental groups presented a united front against the Hastings to Bexhill link road on Wednesday.
Top representatives from Friends of the Earth, the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Woodland Trust and Transport 2000 marched along a stretch of the proposed route near Crowhurst to show their opposition to the scheme.
These same groups were the main opponents of the Hastings Western Bypass and convinced the government to reject the plan in 2001.
This week they said the same arguments still stand for the new road scheme. They will be putting huge pressure on the Secretary of State for Transport, Alastair Darling, to refuse the plan put forward by East Sussex County Council before he announces his decision on December 17.
Paul de Zylva, director of Friends of the Earth England, was at the protest at Adams Farm and said: "This is one of the top road schemes we are concerned about in the whole of the UK. It affects an incredibly beautiful, tranquil area which has important wildlife havens nearby."
All the different groups' arguments were variations on the same themes. They were that the link road, which runs from Queensway to London Road, Bexhill is:
p Unnecessary and, at an estimated 47.1m, expensive
p Public transport and car-sharing alternatives need to be fully investigated first
p Wildlife in the Combe Valley and particularly in the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) would be at risk with a road nearby
p Building roads is not a route to economic regeneration
p It will only take traffic from the A259 and displace it to The Ridge, creating a new problem rather than a solution.
Mr de Zylva added: "You might as well stick the SSSI in a roundabout if you have this road. You can regenerate Hastings in all sorts of ways without destroying the environment in places like this."
Paul Hamblin, head of transport policy at the CPRE, outlined how his organisation would fight the road scheme.
He said: "The arguments for the road were weak when the government made its decision last time and the environmental arguments were very strong. We are making representations to ministers to stress the importance of keeping to their word when they said they would give a strong presumption against damaging road building through special areas."
A COUNTY council officer robustly defended the link road proposal at the Adams Farm protest.
Duncan Jordan refuted many of the allegations thrown at East Sussex County Council by the environmental groups at the Crowhurst farm.
Mr Jordan, assistant director of transport and one of the architects of the scheme, said the link road proposal was NOT harmful to the environment and could actually benefit the ecology of the Site of Special Scientific Areas (SSSI) and ancient woodlands it runs near to.
He said: "Clearly we have been seeking environmentally-sound solutions to dealing with the impact of traffic on the community.
"These proposals are very different to the bypass.
"The road will avoid the SSSI and will be bedded into the land at low level. It will use the existing landscape to help contain any impact."
He pointed to the development of Pebsham country park which would secure a 600 hectare area from development to the south of the link road. This would involve innovative drainage work to create new wetlands and habitats for birds, insects and animals.
Mr Jordan said the county council would be looking to invest in public transport to provide good bus and rail links to reduce the reliance on cars.
The officer said: "At the moment we can't invest in public transport between Hastings and Bexhill because all the buses would be doing would be sitting in a traffic jam on the A259.
"We are also looking at putting in a station at Glyne Gap and Wilting Farm which would relieve some of the pressure on the roads."
Mr Jordan agreed with the environmental groups that car sharing plans needed to be extended to the biggest employers in Hastings and Bexhill.
He said the county council had the biggest car share scheme in the whole country, so was leading by example, but was also working with employers to encourage workers to give each other lifts.
"We are confident we have met the government's and our own objectives. The link road has the overwhelming support of those who need it most: local people, organisations and businesses," Mr Jordan added.