Here’s a question. How much will SeaChange’s North Bexhill Access Road (NBAR) cost – if it’s built – and where would the money come from?
It would undoubtedly be public money – it always is – but how much of it is a bit of a mystery.
Growth Deal: £5m or £7.6m?
The only reference we can find to the total cost is from this document, the November 2015 minutes of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership ‘accountability board’ (that’s an oxymoron: there is almost no accountability in SELEP or any other LEP). The total, it says, will be £16.7m (p40). Of this, £7.6m will come from the Growth Deal, money from central government given to local enterprise partnerships for ‘projects that benefit the local area and economy‘.
Curiously, in previous documentation the NBAR had only been allocated £5m, so where the extra £2.6m suddenly came from is not clear.
Queensway Gateway: cowboy builders doing it on the cheap?
The same document goes on to say that ‘Sea Change [is] looking for [the Local Growth Fund] to fund [the] remaining £9m through [the] reallocation of Queensway Gateway [funding], with potential for £5.4m to be spent in 15/16 (mainly on land acquisition, construction and supervision costs).’ SELEP approved this reallocation of funds in February 2016.
The Queensway Gateway was originally allocated £15m by SELEP, but it would appear that SeaChange has found some cowboy builders and is now going to be able to build it for just £6m, leaving £9m to spend on the NBAR.
So it would appear that the NBAR is going to cost £16.7m (presumably SeaChange would have had to pass the hat had they not saved so much money on the QGR). But can a road of that size really be built for £16.7m?
At the ‘consultation’ last year on the NBAR, Combe Haven Defenders suggested to one of the engineers present (there was nobody from SeaChange to ask) that the cost might be somewhere in the region of £50m. He scoffed, and said that if it cost that much, it would never be built. So why did we think it might cost £50m?
NBAR: 43% of the length of the Link Road, only 13% of the cost
The Link road (5km) has cost (so far) £120m – that’s £24m/km. This equates almost exactly with Campaign for Better Transport’s 2012 report on roadbuilding, which found the average cost of new roads to be £24k/m. The NBAR is 2.4km, so at the same price per km, it would work out at £57m. Granted the link road had engineering issues which the NBAR might not face (building on a marsh is expensive) but even so: could it really come in at £16.7m? It seems highly unlikely. Put another way, the NBAR is 43% of the length of the link road, but is predicted to cost only 13% as much. It doesn’t make sense.
(As an aside: East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has loaned SeaChange £200,000 for ‘the development costs incurred to date on the scheme design and project management for the North Bexhill Access Road as well as for continuing to progress the scheme through the planning process’. This loan comes on top of the six loans already made to SeaChange by ESCC, bringing the total loaned to almost £21m.)
Where’s the money?
So the question is: could SeaChange really build this road for £16.7m, not much more than a quarter of the per km cost of the Link Road? And if not, where is the extra money coming from?
Rother District Council planning committee will shortly be asked to make a decision on the planning application for the NBAR (it’s been withdrawn twice from the committee, but will at some point be back). Shouldn’t SeaChange have to explain how it’s going to be paid for before they’re let loose on another rampage of destruction?