Category: Uncategorised (page 1 of 2)

North Bexhill Access Road: has the cost-cutting begun?

Last year, we published an article questioning the anticipated cost of the North Bexhill Access Road (NBAR). According to funder the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), the road was going to cost a total of £16.7m.

We thought this seemed a little low. The NBAR is 2.4km long, giving a per km cost of around £7m. By contrast, the Bexhill Hastings Link Road, at 5.6km and £125m, has cost (so far: there may yet be more increases) £22.4m/km, or over three times the per km cost of the NBAR. Even allowing for the engineering challenges of building a road across a flood plain (and in fact, the NBAR will also cross a floodplain), this discrepancy seemed excessive.

Cost downplayed to secure funding?

Members of Combe Haven Defenders (CHD) questioned the seemingly very low cost of the road at the NBAR ‘consultation’  in 2015, suggesting that the real cost – based on the per km cost of the Link Road – was likely to be closer to £50m. They were scoffed at by the engineer present, who said that if the road were going to cost that much, it would never be built.

Combe Haven Defenders were suspicious that the real cost of the road had been downplayed, in order to secure funding, and that at a date where the project could not be stopped, SeaChange would ask for more money. CHD set up a petition to SELEP, demanding that no more funds be spent on the NBAR. No response was forthcoming.

Bridge replaced with culvert

Now, however, it would appear that funds may be getting a little tight. In April, road developer SeaChange Sussex put in a planning application to replace the planned bridge over the Combe Haven stream (just to the west of the proposed roundabout at Buckholt Lane) with a culvert (basically a concrete structure channelling the stream into a pipe or – in this case – a square ‘box’ culvert under the road).

Map of culvert location

Map showing location of bridge to be replaced by culvert, just off Buckholt Lane

According to the report prepared by their engineers as part of the planning application:

‘Significant thicknesses of  peat bearing alluvium were encountered and following a detailed geotechnical assessment of the area around the Combe Haven stream, the proposed  Scheme seeks to introduce a crossing structure with a geotechnical solution more appropriate to the scale of the overall NBAR scheme.’

‘Value engineering’

We’re not engineers, and can’t argue with this. However, East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has a different view on the reason for replacing the bridge with a culvert. In a July 2017 report on the Local Growth Fund (the central government money being used by SELEP to fund the NBAR), it states that:

‘Changes to the design of NBAR as part of a value engineering exercise have meant delays due to seeking amendments to the extant planning permission. Should the change be accepted by the local planning authority then the new design will include a culvert through an embankment for the Combe Haven rather than requiring the construction of a bridge.’ (italics added)

So according to ESCC, it’s not a ‘geotechnical solution’ but ‘value engineering’. This can be defined as ‘the process of reducing the cost of producing a product without reducing its quality or how effective it is’. Which rather begs the question: if a culvert is just as good, and is likely to be cheaper (see below), why did the original application specify a bridge? There must have been some reason why it was considered superior to a culvert at that point.

You might say that there’s nothing wrong with reducing costs without reducing quality, and we’d agree. However, is this ‘value engineering’ or is it straight cost-cutting? Will a culvert be as good as a bridge?

Culvert under construction. Photo John and Elaine Chesterton, flickr

A culvert (not on NBAR) under construction. Photo John and Elaine Chesterton, flickr

Not so good for pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders…

Well, if you’re a pedestrian, cyclist or horserider, the answer must be no. The road design includes a ‘greenway’ which was to run under the proposed bridge, so non-motorists didn’t have to cross the road. Now, you’ll be forced off the greenway and have to cross a busy road instead (the report by the planning officer says that an ‘at grade crossing’ will be provided but gives no details of whether this will be an actual pedestrian crossing with lights). The loss of the underpass is described in the report as ‘disappointing’.

Not so great for wildlife…

It’s not so great for wildlife, either. The bridge was designed to allow space for planting of a continuous belt of scrub underneath, providing an important route for mammals whose territories will be divided in half by the road. The culvert instead will have a ‘shelf’ for larger mammals, and a dormouse ‘bridge’ (a thick rope). For bats, there will be a ‘severance of continuous woodland/scrubland belt, which may have been used as bat flyway’.

Whilst all these issues are considered in the engineer’s report to be of no significance, the Environment Agency is not so sanguine about culverts, stating that culverting ‘can destroy wildlife habitats, damage a natural amenity and interrupt the continuity of the linear habitat of a watercourse’. In addition, the Agency says, ‘Culverts can be impassable to riverine fauna and can create barriers to the movement of fish’, and ‘Culverting results in the loss of natural in-stream and bankside habitats through direct removal and loss of daylight.’

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Approximate site of culvert – Combe Haven stream runs along treeline

Flooding?
The Combe Haven stream is classified as a flood zone 3b, which is to say a floodplain. According to the Environment Agency, ‘Culverting can increase the risk of flooding’ (because a culvert, unlike a river, is easily blocked).

And whilst the Environment Agency has not objected to this particular application, their overall view of culverting is very clear: ‘No watercourse should be culverted unless there is an overriding need to do so’ (italics added).

Overriding need to cut costs?

Whether there is an overriding need to substitute a culvert for a bridge in this case, is not at all clear. What is pretty clear, however, is that culverts are cheaper to install than bridges (see here, here, here and here ). We suspect that’s the real reason for this redesign, and that before the NBAR is finished, we’re likely to see either more ‘value engineering’, or SeaChange going back to SELEP to ask for more money.

Luddites and violent voices: SeaChange spindoctor’s view of opponents of ‘regeneration’

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.

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Tariq Khwaja (right) at the North Bexhill Access Road ‘consultation’

Tariq’s website makes much of his work for SeaChange (in fact, a large number of the projects used to illustrate his website  are related in some way to our dubious local ‘regeneration’ company). One of the ‘projects’ listed is ‘Managing Protests Against Regeneration’ – an interesting spin on the long campaign against the Bexhill Hastings Link Road. Paint your opponents as Luddites, and there’s no need to have any kind of intelligent analysis of what they’re opposed to. It would appear that the hundreds of people who resisted the Link Road simply wanted to ‘stop change in the area’, as opposed to, say, stopping a hugely expensive, environment-destroying, carbon-creating, unnecessary road scheme.

‘They’ve used the media to spread dissent’

The charges against the protesters are put like this:

They’ve waged an organised campaign over several years, attempting to turn public opinion against the regeneration programme and the organisations – and individuals – behind it. They’ve used the media to spread dissent. They’ve lodged several high court challenges to the schemes. And, at the start of the construction of roads and premises, they’ve brought the programme to crisis points by physically obstructing progress – locking themselves to trees and diggers and occupying tunnels dug into the ground.

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Pesky protesters locking themselves into things

In response to this, Tariq says, his company has

…helped provide robust commentary to the media, refuting false claims and presenting a strong account of the advantages of the schemes. We’ve stuck to a small number of consistent messages about the big picture – the long-term benefits the regeneration programme will bring.

It’s not clear what ‘false claims’ he’s referring to. Certainly Combe Haven Defenders, one of the key groups behind the resistance to the link road, has been scrupulous in only making claims that could be backed up by evidence. Not so SeaChange Sussex, which over the years has made the most outrageous, and unsupported, claims for the likely numbers of jobs to be created by their so-called ‘regeneration’ projects.

‘Tangible proof of benefits’

It’s important, of course, not just to counter the ‘false claims’ of your opponents, but also to promote a positive message. To this end, Tariq claims that:

…whenever a scheme has produced a result such as occupancy by a good employer, we’ve communicated this as proactively as possible to provide tangible proof of the benefits of the programme.

This would seem to prove what an effective PR agency TK Associates is, given the dearth of positive outcomes from the various ill-conceived SeaChange projects locally. Despite claims of endless jobs to be created, most of the business parks and offices created by SeaChange Sussex (all of them using public money) remain stubbornly vacant.

‘Lone voices standing against progress’

And the PR campaign against opponents of ‘regeneration’ worked – at least according to Tariq:

In the early days, the protesters managed to attract many followers and foster the impression of being environmental protectors commanding a great groundswell of support. But it’s now clear they’re lone voices standing against progress and increasingly at odds with the mainstay of public opinion.

Of course, one could say that nobody knows what the ‘mainstay of public opinion’ might say about all these projects, since the public has never been asked, and TK Associates’ main job for SeaChange would appear to be to keep the failed projects quiet. Despite the tens of millions of pounds of public money thrown at all these projects, many people in and around Hastings still haven’t heard of SeaChange – which is the way they like to keep it.

If you need a testimonial from Peter Jones…

The page ends with a testimonial from the not-always-well-informed Peter Jones, ex-leader of East Sussex County Council, who pushed the Bexhill Hastings Link Road through whilst, bizarrely, accusing protesters of wanting to ‘take away people’s jobs and homes’.  His plaudit notes that:

Tariq in particular has advised us on how to deal effectively with highly organised protest groups who opposed the construction of new roads and business premises, enlisting the support of local businesses and other groups to counter the loud and often violent voices of a tiny minority.

Despite the odd wording, which makes it sound as if the protest groups had to enlist the support of local businesses to counter the voices of a tiny minority, it’s good to know that Peter Jones thought the campaign was ‘highly organised’. His hyperbole in referring to ‘violent voices’ is very typical of a man not known for his moderation. Refusing to move out of the way of chainsaws and bulldozers is not an act of violence, whatever Peter Jones might think. Setting that aside, a testimonial from a man who – by many accounts – was not the most likeable person on the county council, and ended up being sacked (in his words) from his next job at the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (perhaps because nobody could work with him), is perhaps not the most glowing endorsement of the work of TK Associates.

At the end of the day, however, it’s good to know that SeaChange Sussex has at least created one job – for their spinner-in-chief, Tariq Khwaja.

 

Havelock Place: £7m in public money, 16% occupied after two years, 12 jobs created

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Havelock Place

Nearly three years ago, then-Chancellor George Osborne and Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd visited Havelock Place, the then-uncompleted SeaChange project in Hastings town centre. According to SeaChange’s website, George Osborne said:

“Today, I’ve seen first-hand the regeneration taking place in Hastings and the positive effect it’s having on the local economy. Government support, through such schemes as the Growing Places Fund, has boosted projects like Havelock Place, providing much needed finance to get important developments going.”

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Amber Rudd, George Osborne and John Shaw examine the plans

Growing Places Fund
The project cost £7m, according to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which has funded so many SeaChange projects. This money came from the government’s ‘Growing Places’ fund, which is for ‘supporting key infrastructure projects designed to unlock wider economic growth, create jobs and build houses in England’. The money is not a loan; it’s an ‘unringfenced grant’.

Queensbury House: still there
According to the 2011  planning application for Havelock Place, it was intended that in order to make space for the new development, SeaChange would demolish not only the Victorian terrace at the top of Havelock Road, but also Queensbury House, the not-very-beautiful 1960s office block at the very top of the road, on the junction with Priory Street. They would replace the whole lot with offices. The planning application includes drawings of the proposed development:

original design view from devonshire pl

However, Queensbury House is still standing, and the offices that were finally built were very much smaller than originally planned. Why this decision was made is not clear – we can only assume that SeaChange realised that they were unlikely to be able to let such a massive area.

How many jobs?
The offices could, according to SeaChange’s report, ‘accommodate up to 350 employees’ (this is interesting wording: SeaChange used to refer to ‘creating jobs': now we get no such promises). However, SELEP was more optimistic; we’ve been unable to locate the business case for the project but a reference to it in a SELEP document  states that Havelock Place will ‘create…440 jobs.’

16% occupied at the start….
A few months later, in March 2015, Havelock Place was finished. SeaChange put a news article on its website, declaring the offices ‘ready to occupy’. The article said that one occupier had already been found, a radiology company called Medica Group (according to Hastings Borough Council’s Development Management Plan Examination, Medica has created only 12 jobs). It also said that the building had a total area of 24,192sq ft, and that 20,372sq ft was still available.  A little maths tells us that Medica was therefore occupying some 16% of the available space.

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Havelock Place: lots of room

And two years on?
Two years on from the announcement that the offices had been opened, a report to SELEP’s ‘accountability board’ states that:

‘[Havelock Place] is currently 16% let with over 20 enquiries recieved [sic] since opening.’

In other words, two years on from the big opening, SeaChange appears not to have found one single new tenant. And in terms of spinning the unspinnable, claiming that there have been ‘over 20′ enquiries in two years – that is, less than one per month, with none translating into an actual occupier – is pretty impressive.

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Havelock Place: a lot of empty space

‘Flexible leases’
Never let it be said, however, that SeaChange CEO John Shaw isn’t doing his best. In September 2016, SeaChange put out the news that ‘in a pioneering move to address the Brexit market’ they were introducing flexible leases, with companies able to give three months’ notice to leave at any time. John Shaw explained that:

“Companies are telling us they still want to invest and grow following the EU referendum, but they feel the economic road ahead will be less certain for some time. So we’ve introduced new leases which means they can have the quality of new premises they want along with an extremely high level of flexibility to react to market conditions as they unfold.”

Since the offer was made, seven months ago, SeaChange appear to have found no new tenants. Maybe swanky new offices at high rents, however flexible the leases, are not the kind of ‘regeneration’ that Hastings needs.

 

North Queensway Innovation Park: a second occupier but still no new jobs

 

North Queensway 'Innovation' Park, November 2016

North Queensway ‘Innovation’ Park, November 2016

SeaChange has found another occupier for its North Queensway ‘Innovation’ Park. They’ve submitted a planning application for a ‘car showroom and workshop’. One might wonder why SeaChange did not announce this with its usual chutzpah in the local press, or indeed why there is not a word about it on their website. Surely they want to announce the news of more jobs for Hastings?

New jobs – or old jobs?

Look more closely at the application, however, and you’ll discover why SeaChange is keeping it quiet. The car showroom in question is Bartlett Seat, currently located on the A21 at the end of Whitworth Road. Unfortunately for them, this is exactly the spot where SeaChange intends to build a roundabout junction with the Queensway Gateway road, so Bartlett Seat is for the chop. So – as with the other intended occupier of the North Queensway site, these are not new jobs – they are relocated jobs. That doesn’t stop SeaChange from claiming them, however:

‘In total the proposed development will result in around 20 jobs.  Whilst it is acknowledged that these jobs already exist in Hastings at Bartlett SEAT’s existing showroom, the proposed development will enable these jobs to remain in Hastings’ (point 6.7 of document here: italics added).

Not only does SeaChange claim that this project will ‘result in’ around 20 jobs, they also make a convoluted argument that the car showroom is in fact a job-creating project in that it will allow the Queensway Gateway road to be built, which in turn will allow the ’employment land’ around it (aka the Hollington Valley Local Wildlife Site) to be ‘opened up’, which in turn will create jobs (at the time of SeaChange’s ‘consultation’ on the Queensway Gateway road in 2014, they were claiming a – frankly rather hard to believe – 1,370 jobs).

Who pays?

So, SeaChange is claiming credit for jobs in a company which will only be on the North Queensway site because SeaChange has demolished their existing building. There’s of course not a word about who will pay for this lovely new car showroom: presumably, since the company is being booted out of its existing building, it will not be required to pay for the new one. So: more public money (in addition to that already spent on building the infrastructure for the site) to retain – rather than create – jobs, jobs which would not need to be relocated if it weren’t for the environmental and economic disaster that is the Queensway Gateway road.

North Queensway 'Innovation' Park, November 2016

North Queensway ‘Innovation’ Park, November 2016

Other occupiers lining up?
In the planning statement, SeaChange tells us (point 6.31) about the 17 enquiries (which they describe as ‘considerable interest’) that have been made about the site since marketing began in 2013 (that is, fewer than 6 enquiries a year). None of these enquiries apparently came to anything, which SeaChange explains is because:

‘…the site was not considered to be ‘shovel ready’ and the cost and timescale associated with securing new floorspace resulted in inquiries falling away’.

A few paragraphs earlier, however, we read (point 6.30) that:

‘The main road frontage of the site has led to several enquiries from a variety of road side occupiers, retailers, self-storage companies, but these types of uses have generally not met Sea Change’s price expectations‘ (italics added).

In other words, the site is too expensive – something we’ve heard said anecdotally about a number of other SeaChange projects in Hastings.

 

865 jobs promised, zero jobs created
As noted before, the North Queensway site was first going to create 865 jobs, then it was going to create 700 jobs. Most recently, SeaChange says that the site is ‘capable of accommodating’ 300 jobs.  Even that figure – a 65% decrease from the original – is starting to look extremely optimistic. With two potential occupiers, neither of which will be creating a single job, SeaChange is going to have to work a bit harder to convince us that this ‘job creation’ scheme is anything but a big con.

 

SeaChange Sussex: absolutely no scrutiny from Hastings Borough Council

In 2013, Hastings Borough Council made a decision that an ‘annual briefing from the Chief Executive of SeaChange’ (that is to say, John Shaw) should be ‘made part of the annual Programme of Member training’.  However, a Freedom of Information request made recently by Combe Haven Defenders has revealed that three and a half years after that decision was made, no such briefing has taken place.

The reason?  ‘ Due to other commitments, the Member Training and Development Group have [sic] not been able to schedule a briefing’.  But we don’t need to worry because  ‘The council’s appointed Director on the Board of SeaChange (currently Councillor Poole), continues to attend quarterly meetings of Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Services, and members have the opportunity to ask for updates about the work of SeaChange as part of their performance monitoring role if they wish’.

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That’s ok then. But if we examine the minutes of the quarterly Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Services, how many questions have members  asked about the work of SeaChange over that three and a half year period?  Zero. Not one single question, about the work of a private company which has over that period taken millions of pounds of public money, for a number of projects some of which are at best of questionable value.

Because SeaChange is a private company (albeit an entirely public-funded one), it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. We can ask the company as many questions as we want (as indeed, Combe Haven Defenders have) but they are under no obligation to reply. The many questions we have asked over the past few years, about accountability, funding, fantastical job creation claims, have all been met with silence from SeaChange.  On one of the few occasions when we managed to speak to a SeaChange Sussex representative in person, and tried to ask him some questions, he fled to the toilet and called the police.

In other words, we as individuals can find out nothing about SeaChange: the only way that it can be held to account is by our councillors. Based on what we’ve seen so far, they are failing miserably in their duty of ensuring that public money is spent on projects which are environmentally, socially and economically sound. Instead, we appear to have a situation where SeaChange is given more and more public money with absolutely no accountability, no transparency, no evidence that their projects are actually creating the ‘regeneration’ and jobs that they claim.  SeaChange can make any kind of claims it wants, and nobody asks any questions.

If your councillor is on the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, why not email them and demand that they start asking a few questions of SeaChange Sussex?

What is Seachangewatch?

Seachangewatch has been set up by residents of Hastings and St Leonards, concerned about SeaChange Sussex, the ‘not-for-profit regeneration company’ in our town.  We believe there is a serious lack of accountability and transparency in SeaChange’s activities, as well as a complete lack of consideration of the environmental impact of their projects on our green spaces.

All of SeaChange’s projects are funded with public money, much of it from the equally unaccountable and undemocratic South East Local Enterprise Partnership.  Several of SeaChange’s previous schemes appear to have failed,  yet they continue to be given more public money, with no scrutiny or oversight of these failed projects.  If SeaChange were a private company,  we believe it would have gone bankrupt some time ago, but it continues to operate because of the continual injection of public money.

Money is pumped into this company on the basis that it will create jobs, but many of the job creation promises made by SeaChange – and its predecessor, SeaSpace – have come to nothing.   Public money is being spent, our green spaces are being destroyed, yet few jobs are being created.  No elected politician of any party locally has – to our knowledge – ever asked a question about SeaChange’s activities.  We have set up this website to ask some of the questions that our politicians refuse to ask.

 

 

 

 

The North Bexhill Access Road: the mystery of the money

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.

£16.7m: realistic?

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 (5.6km) has cost (so far) £120m – that’s £21.4m/km. This equates closely 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?

 

SeaChange projects: opacity built in?

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SeaChange: opacity built in. Photo: Titus Tscharntke, Wikimedia commons

In the standard democratic process in the UK, a piece of legislation is circulated, has amendments written to it, is voted on in the House of Commons, and then voted on in the House of Lords.  The people in the Commons who vote have their vote recorded and are (in theory) democratically accountable to the people who have voted them in.  Any guidance provided from the civil service can be obtained by the Freedom of Information Act (FoI), so that voters can have a more direct insight to what is going on.  Debates are held in Parliament and so the pros and cons of the legislation are openly discussed.  It’s not perfect, but there is some degree of transparency in the system.

Now compare this to the way that SeaChange operates.  SeaChange (the trading name of the company: its registered name is East Sussex Energy Infrastructure and Development Ltd) is a private (not for profit) company that has members of East Sussex County Council, Hastings Borough Council and Rother District Council on the board (amongst others).  Note that the board has members of both the Conservative and Labour parties on it (e.g. Lord David Ampthill, Conservative councillor on Rother District Council, and Peter Chowney, Labour councillor on Hastings Borough Council).   As a private company SeaChange is not subject to Freedom of Information laws.

The main purpose of SeaChange appears to be proposing ‘regeneration’ projects that are then submitted to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) for funding.  These projects compete with other projects in East Sussex, Kent and Essex for Local Growth Fund (LGF) money.  Note that the LGF is a loan and has to be paid back, so this puts limits on the types of projects that SeaChange are able to put forward.  The LGF also has a political purpose in that it must be for “economic development”.

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The competitive element is claimed by the government as the best way for the strongest projects to receive the funding.  Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are subject to Freedom of Information requests which are done via the leading authority.  In the South East the responsible authority is Essex County Council.  Local Government budgets were  reduced significantly over the last Parliament, and are now being reduced even further.  Local authorities and councils are very limited in the ways that they can raise revenue, so funding from LEPs has taken on a much greater significance of late.

The government has set out a requirement that LEPs should be transparent:

“All Local Enterprise Partnerships will be required…to comply with basic reporting and independent audit requirements to support transparency and effective accountability.  The Government intends to work with LEPs to co-design these,  but [they] could for example take the form of an annual report, with information on what the money has been spent on, and the outcome/ outputs that it has achieved. Successful delivery of the objectives agreed in Growth Deals will be a fundamental consideration in future rounds of the Local Growth Fund.”

It appears at the very heart of this investment strategy is a lack of trust of Local Government by Central Government.  It roughly translates to, if you want money in your area you must do projects that align with our objectives, i.e. a top-down method.  Local politicians who want to be able to claim that they’ve created jobs in their area have no choice but to take the SELEP coin.  At best the public are treated like an unwanted gatecrasher, with access to information difficult or impossible.

At what point in this structure of decision making is there any incentive for anyone to openly object to how the money is being spent?  If it all goes wrong it has consequences for further applications for funding, so there is no incentive to give honest feedback from projects – see the previous failed SeaChange projects for examples of where it has all gone wrong, but nobody is held accountable.

So we are hindered by not being able to learn from our mistakes.  The same mistakes will be made again and again.  The public are seriously restricted in seeing how the money is being spent as the complex interactions between multiple organisations (some of which are not subject to FoI) are extremely difficult to follow.  All of the people within the system – including members of both the Labour and Conservative parties – have a vested interest in the system being shown to work.  The only realistic way to find out if things are going wrong is for a whistle-blower to come forward.  Anyone?

North Bexhill Access Road: planning permission without a business case?

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On the route of the North Bexhill Access Road: road would run right to left through picture

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.

Business case not expected before April 2016…

However, a recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that the business case for the road will not be evaluated until months after that date.  The road has been granted £5m in funding  by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP).  In its response to the FoI request, Essex County Council (the accountable body for SELEP) stated that:

While the North Bexhill Access Road scheme is included as part of the SELEP Growth Deal, it is not programmed to start in 2015/16 and, as such, the business case has not yet gone through our Independent Technical Evaluation process or the SELEP Accountability Board for approval. Also, the funding has not yet been guaranteed by the Government (they have provided indicative allocations only for future years funding).

The business case and ITE evaluation will be published on the SE LEP website once this stage is completed; this is not expected to be before April 2016‘.

…but countryside can be destroyed anyway

In other words, the planning committee will be asked to make a decision on the application before it has been shown that there is a viable business case or guaranteed funding.  When the Queensway Gateway road planning application was passed, SeaChange wasted no time in chopping down almost every tree in Hollington Valley – despite knowing that a legal challenge had been launched.

If the application for the NBAR is passed, we expect SeaChange’s chainsaw contractors to be out on the route of the road almost immediately.  The planning application shows that the road would require the removal of 35 trees, 1,815m of ‘species-rich’ hedgerowsthree badger setts, and ‘the loss and fragmentation of habitats of value to foraging, commuting and potentially tree roosting bats, breeding birds, reptiles and potentially dormice’ (see points 15.3.4 and 15.3.5 of links).

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On the route of the North Bexhill Access Road

Rother Council: no business case, no permission?

All this could be destroyed, without SeaChange having shown that there is a viable case for the scheme.   Obviously, we want Rother District Council to refuse planning permission for this destructive, unwanted, costly and polluting road.  But right now,  we’re calling on the council to refuse to consider the planning application unless and until SeaChange produces a business case.   The countryside is too precious to be destroyed for a project which might never even happen.

If you live in Rother and your councillor is on the Planning Committee,  please contact them to ask that they refuse to consider the application until SeaChange produces a business case.  Otherwise, please contact the Chair of the committee, Councillor Kentfield (cllr.brian.kentfield@rother.gov.uk) with the same request.

 

 

North Queensway Innovation Park: one occupier but still No Jobs Close

SeaChange Sussex has finally found an occupier for the North Queensway Innovation Park, nearly two and a half years after construction on the junction to the site began.   A local furniture company will be moving there from another site in Hastings, bringing with it its 45 employees.  It will occupy approximately quarter of the space available on the site.

first occupier2

Good news at last?  But hang on: wasn’t this site supposed to create jobs, not just move them around from one part of Hastings to another?  Let’s look at the ever-changing job claims for this site,  and see how they stand up.

865 jobs…
When the South East Local Enterprise Partnership announced that it would provide £1.5m of funding to SeaChange for fund North Queensway, it said the development would create 865 jobs.

700 jobs…
SeaChange, however,  was a bit less optimistic: in its July 2012 consultation document it said that the site would create ‘around 700′ jobs.

300 jobs…
But look at SeaChange’s brochure for North Queensway, and there’s no mention of 700 jobs: instead, you’ll find that the site is now  ‘capable of accommodating…300 employees’.   So SeaChange’s promises that the site would create 700 jobs have now been replaced with the mere observation that the site is big enough to accommodate 300. It’s not clear what happened to the other 400 jobs: presumably if the site was big enough for 400 jobs in 2012, it should still be big enough now.  SeaChange’s strategy appears to be to keep on lowering expectations, in the hope that in the end, we’ll all be delighted if any jobs at all are created.

No jobs…
Although SeaChange made great play of their one new tenant, even going so far as to accuse Combe Haven Defenders of a ‘badly timed stunt’  when they submitted the 51m access road to the site to the Museum of Useless Objects, the current development does not appear to be creating any new jobs, merely moving them from one place to another.

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North Queensway access road, AKA No Jobs Close. Picture: CHD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Securing’, not creating
There’s an interesting change in language in SeaChange’s latest piece of obfuscation about North Queensway though.  In the ‘consultation’ document for the new development,  there is no mention of the site creating jobs: instead, jobs are being ‘secured’.

How much?
The total cost of North Queensway is estimated at £32m.   Of this, £1.5m comes from the Growing Places Fund  and the remainder is supposed to come from ‘private sector investment leverage’ .   SeaChange also appears to have been granted £5.5m  from the Regional Growth Fund.

The public money was granted on the basis that the site would create 865 jobs.  Thus far, the project appears to be creating a grand total of zero jobs.  Value for money?

 

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