SeaChange’s latest project is the Queensway Gateway road. This road will run from Queensway to the A21, right through the middle of the Hollington Valley Local Wildlife Site, described in its designation report as ‘invaluable and irreplaceable’ and ‘one of the best wildlife habitats in Hastings’.
SeaChange was granted planning permission for the road on 4 February. Just a few weeks later, and during the nesting season, their contractors moved in to start felling the trees along the route. Never mind that construction is unlikely to start for months or even years: the trees had to come down:
‘Access to employment sites’
The planning application for the road came before Hastings Council’s planning committee on 4 February 2015. The Head of Planning, Ray Crawford, was wheeled out to make the case for the road. He was quite clear about the reason for it: ‘The main purpose of the road is to provide access to the allocated employment sites in this part of the town‘, he said. The long-term objective for the area is for SeaChange to cover virtually the entire site with yet another business park (note that in the picture below, the green areas are ‘development platforms’, not, as it appears, open green spaces):
The new site, according to SeaChange, will create a staggering 1,370 jobs. Never mind that SeaChange has developed two other similar sites within spitting distance of this one, neither of which they have been able to fill.
Enviro 21 was supposed to create 500 jobs. A huge area of woodland was cleared but most of the planned units were never built. Our research shows it has created just 24 jobs. North Queensway was, according to whom you believe, supposed to create up to 865 jobs. Another huge area of woodland was cleared. The site now stands empty and forlorn: not a single job has been created. SeaChange is also developing a huge site at the Bexhill end of the Link Road. If they can’t fill the sites they’ve got, why are they being allowed to build another one?
The sacrificial lamb in this project is Hollington Valley Local Wildlife Site (previously known as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance, or SNCI). A valley rich in various habitats, its site designation report makes clear its importance:
‘The habitat…forms one of the most significant valley corridors in the Borough. The area supports a range of complimentary and continuous habitats which include ancient semi-natural woodland, meadow with willow carr, secondary semi-natural woodland, an excellent pond feature, and open running water by way of the Hollington Stream.’
‘The meadow represents one of the few remaining and certainly one of the best examples of this habitat type, with associated habitat complexes, left in the Borough. The rich variety of meadow flowers are the primary food source for an array of butterfly species, insects and moths.’
‘It is essential the SNCI is recognised as an invaluable and irreplaceable habitat of excellent quality and an asset for the people of Hastings to enjoy’
‘Unviable as a biodiversity area’
Hastings’ council’s Environment and Natural Resources Manager was asked to write a report on the impact of the proposed development in Hollington Valley. His report pulled few punches: ‘The northern area of the [local wildlife site] is likely to be rendered unviable as a biodiversity area by cumulative development’ (emphasis added).
He noted that SeaChange had failed to address how wildlife mitigation measures would be monitored and funded; failed to address the requirement on developers to show that the need for development outweighs any harm to the nature conservation interests; failed to address biodiversity offsetting measures; and referred to outdated planning policies.
Planning Committee unmoved
Despite this damning report, a strong presentation from Dr Judy Clark, and almost 500 objections to the scheme, Hastings Council’s planning committee voted unanimously for the road on 4 February. One or two councillors asked one or two questions about the environment, but most were concerned only with traffic flow.
They considered that when the link road opens, traffic will back up on the Ridge, therefore a direct link to the A21 is vital. Never mind that the Head of Planning had already told them that the primary purpose of the road was to allow access for development; never mind that SeaChange’s own traffic report suggested that delays would be as long or longer with the new road; never mind the vast environmental destruction.
‘I sit in those jams on a daily basis’
As Councillor Mike Davies, in whose ward the proposed road lies, put it, ‘I also live in the surrounding area so I know what the frustration is of sitting in traffic jams at the A28/A21 junction turning right up to Junction Road. I sit in those jams on a daily basis.’ And so the fate of Hollington Valley was sealed by councillors fed up of sitting in traffic jams.
£15m of our money just for the road
Funding for the road, as usual, comes from the public purse. The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) has given SeaChange £15m from ‘Growth Deal‘ funding : this is money that is allocated via LEPs to projects that ‘benefit the local area and economy’. Nobody will be surprised to know that SELEP is headed by pro-roader-in-chief, Peter Jones, who was so vocal in his support for the Bexhill Hastings Link Road, even to the extraordinary extent of accusing opponents of wanting to take away people’s jobs and homes.
That SeaChange has been given £15m of public money for this project, when it can’t fill the business parks it has already built, is absolutely scandalous. That Hastings Council has given SeaChange permission to completely destroy an ‘irreplaceable’ green space for this latest road to nowhere, is appalling. We need our green spaces: we don’t need more empty business parks.