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:
SELEP RAG rating chart
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:
Queensway Gateway, Nov 2017
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%.
Hastings Observer 16 February 2018
‘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.