East Sussex County Council were probably hoping that nobody would read the document enticingly named ‘Local Growth Fund – Amendments to spend profiles 2017/18‘. But we did, and what we found out was pretty worrying.
What the document shows is that the budget for two local roads being built by ‘regeneration’ company SeaChange Sussex have risen massively. The Queensway Gateway road (QGR) has risen by £6m (that is, 100%) since the project started, whilst the North Bexhill Access road costs have gone up by £2m (12.5%).
We’ve been warning for some time that both these roads were seriously underfunded – turns out we were right. What’s more, some £2m of the extra costs are going to come out of the budget for walking and cycling in Hastings and Bexhill.
NBAR: less than a third of the per km cost of the link road
Combe Haven Defenders, and our sister group, Seachangewatch, have for years been saying that the NBAR could not possibly be built for £16.7m. We even launched a petition to demand that no more money was spent on it beyond the original allocation.
The NBAR is approximately 43% of the length of the £126m Bexhill Hastings Link Road – yet at £16.7m, it was only going to cost 13% as much. Put another way, the per km cost of the NBAR would be less than a third that of the BHLR. It didn’t make sense, but we were repeatedly assured by ESCC that the road would come in on budget. Turns out we were right and ESCC was wrong.
QGR: £30m becomes £6m becomes £10m
As with the NBAR, we had also been raising questions about whether the QGR was seriously underfunded. Based again on a comparision with the BHLR, at £6m the QGR appeared to cost about 40% of what we thought it should.
This particular road has had a long and tortuous funding history. It was originally known as the Baldslow Link, and it was estimated that it would cost ‘a minimum of £30m’. Later, that became £20m, and then £15m.
Then, extraordinarily, the predicted cost went down by a frankly incredible 60%, to just £6m. We said it was too low, and in September 2017 came the first signs that we were right. A report to SELEP rated the road risk as ‘high’ and said that ‘project overspend is likely’. Now we know just how much that overspend is going to be.
Where’s the extra money coming from?
The Local Growth Fund document which notes the increased cost also tells us (point 3.5) where the extra £8m (£6m for the QGR and £2m for the NBAR) will come from. £6m of it will come from other ESCC transport projects, including the ‘Hastings and Bexhill Movement and Access Package’ (HBMAP). This is a repackaging of two separate projects, one for improving walking and cycling facilities locally, and the other for junction improvements.Another SELEP document shows that the walking and cycling element is being cut by a staggering 42%, from £4.7m to just £2.7m
The two projects had been allocated a total of £12m, but now ‘it is possible to achieve the stated outputs and outcomes for this package for only £9m’. Which is very convenient: it means that the extra £3m can go towards filling the QGR and NBAR funding holes.
Add in another £3m from proposed A27 improvements, now to be carried out largely by the Highways Agency, and chuck in £2m of SeaChange’s ‘reserves’, and there’s your £8m. It remains to be seen what effect the loss of a large sum of money from the Hastings and Bexhill walking and cycling strategy will have, and the fact that ESCC chooses to cut this budget, whilst throwing money at roads, says everything you need to know about their transport policy.
More to come?
Despite these huge increases, we think we haven’t seen the end of demands for more funding for these roads. At its new cost of £18m, the NBAR would still appear to be very seriously underfunded. At a similar per km cost to the £126m Bexhill Hastings Link road, the NBAR should come in at around £50m. We’re fully expecting to see SeaChange creeping back for more in a year or so. Watch this space.