IN 2001 I was on the steering group of a transport study, set up to discuss what benefits we should seek from investment in any transport system. “Lets have a link road” said the county council, ignoring the wider, essential discussion.
So the road became an unquestioned ‘benefit’ and discussion of what an integrated transport plan might bring to Hastings and Bexhill was, from that point, distorted and pointless.
The dumb acceptance of the BHLR - and stubborn refusal to investigate alternatives - meant that, from then on, any consideration of alternatives was precluded.
The distortion was compounded in the 2004 ‘consultation’ paper delivered to 65,000 households which asked little more than: “Which of these 6 routes do you want for the BHLR?”.
That four of the six were already ruled out by government as they would destroy sites protected by law didn’t seem to matter.
And there were no details offered of any alternative to any road. Ten years on, those at the top in East Sussex County Council (ESCC), who are obsessed with the link road, continue to deny that there could ever be a better and more sustainable model for development in the two towns.
Some of the alternatives we seek did appear in county council plans in 2000 but have been shoved aside, delayed, or killed off.
They were Quality Bus Partnership routes from Little Common to Ore and for The Ridge; ‘real time’ bus information systems; a new station at Glyne Gap/Ravenside; another at West Marina; workplace travel plans; network ticketing.
That’s an impressive list, but it never happened and, anyway, to have worked to maximum benefit, it would have needed to happen as nearly as possible simultaneously - as a package. Eleven years later, car dependency is still a problem - economically, environmentally and in terms of public health.
With £15m already spent on pursuing the Link Road - more than enough to have provided all of the schemes above - we are now told that ESCC will spend £29m of its own funds on the road.
The risk of costs overruns is there too - with up to 13% an average* overrun for the most recently completed similar schemes in England. Including ESCC’s request to government for £57m, the Link Road’s cost is now topping close to £100m of public funds.
On its own, the good fortune of such a wonderful valley as Combe Haven so close to Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill is reason enough to fight for its protection and against this road.
But the cost, lack of evidence for supposed new jobs, the likelihood of out of town development simply leading to transfer of existing jobs to harder to get to out of town sites, and the car based development and lifestyles surely following BHLR, make a strong case for scrapping it.
Derrick Coffee (Campaign for Better Transport - East Sussex), Mayfield Place