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.