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. Continue reading
On 11 September 2015, SeaChange submitted a planning application for the North Bexhill Access Road. There is no date yet for the application to be considered by Rother District Council’s planning committee, but according to government guidance, major planning applications should be determined within 13 weeks, although this can be extended to 26 weeks. Rother District Council’s planning website states that the NBAR application will be decided by 1 January 2016. Continue reading
Not content with the empty business parks they already have, the new one under construction at the Bexhill end of the Link Road, and the one they would love to build over the top of Hollington Valley (if they can get over their little local difficulty with planning permission), SeaChange is putting forward proposals for yet another road, providing access to yet another business park. Continue reading
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.
For several years, Tariq Khwaja, of TK Associates has been the public face of SeaChange Sussex. He’s been there at every ‘consultation’ and every Bexhill Hastings Link Road ‘construction exhibition’; he is nearly always listed as the ‘spokesman’ for SeaChange in press releases (which he presumably writes); and he generally ensures that anyone who actually works for SeaChange – most notably director John Shaw – is almost entirely invisible, and hence utterly unaccountable. Continue reading
The Queensway Gateway road (QGR) is now categorised as high risk in three different categories: delivery, financial and reputational.
This was revealed in a paper presented to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Strategic Board meeting on 16 March 2018. The ‘Deliverability and Risk Assessment’ document [p63] lists all the projects in the SELEP area (East Sussex, Essex, Kent, Medway, Southend and Thurrock) paid for with Local Growth Fund money.
Each project is given a rating, from one to five, in each of the three risk areas – the QGR scores 5 in each area. There is an explanation [p72] of what each number means in the RAG (‘red, amber, green’) system used by SELEP. This is the explanation for a five in each area:
Let’s look at each of those areas in turn:
‘Major issues have caused significant delays (more than 3 months); processes have been interrupted or not carried out correctly (e.g. planning permission has not been secured); or significant changes have had to be made to the aims and scope of the project. Project likely to under deliver forecast project outputs.’
According to the QGR consultation report in 2014, the QGR was due to open around a year after the Bexhill Hastings Link Road. In fact, the BHLR opened in December 2015, well over two years ago, and the QGR is very far from finished:
A recent document from ‘Team East Sussex’ – the ‘local federated board’ for SELEP – puts the blame for delays on ‘judicial reviews’ and ‘poor winter conditions’. The first judicial review (based on air pollution), it should be remembered, was successful and the second failed when SeaChange altered the figures on air pollution, citing ‘methodological errors’ in the original planning application. SeaChange also blames higher than expected tenders for the final phase of work. The Team East Sussex report puts the finish date for the road at December 2018.
‘Project likely to under deliver forecast project outputs’
At the consultation stage, SeaChange forecast that the QGR would support [p10] 1,370 jobs. It’s not clear how they managed to reach this figure. What is clear, is that other local SeaChange projects are simply not creating the jobs claimed for them. Enviro 21 (built by SeaChange’s predecessor, SeaSpace) promised 500 jobs but only created 24. North Queensway Innovation Park promised 865 jobs but is currently set to create none at all. Havelock Place, SeaChange’s office project in Hastings town centre, was supposed to create 440 jobs but has created 12. In the light of those projects, the prediction of 1,370 jobs for the QGR starts to look not just optimistic but utterly deluded.
‘A variance of over 10% against profiled financial forecast (total expenditure) or significant changes to project finances required (increases or decreases) due to poor or delayed delivery. ‘
Given that the QGR was forecast to cost £6m and is now predicted to come in at £12m, it’s fair to say that the variance against the profiled financial forecast is rather higher than 10%.
‘Challenges with project are undermining LEP credibility with public or key stakeholder. This negative reputation will continue longer term and be hard to recover from.’
In order to meet the 100% increase in cost of the QGR, £2m has been raided from the budget for walking and cycling in Hastings and Bexhill. This is certainly a serious reputational issue, although no councillor from Hastings Borough Council appears to have a word to say on the issue. In addition, as SeaChange’s projects continue to fail to deliver – either in terms of timing, cost, or promised benefits – so scepticism is growing locally about whether the company should be entrusted with huge amounts of public money to build endless white elephant projects.