First published April 2018
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 (see p63) presented to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Strategic Board meeting on 16 March 2018. The ‘Deliverability and Risk Assessment’ appendix 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 – delivery, financial and reputational. One is the lowest risk, five the highest. The QGR is rated as five in each area (p63). 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 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‘ (italics added).
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, whilst 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 (against the granting of planning permission for the QGR), it should be remembered, was granted on the grounds that the road was set to breach air pollution limits. The second failed only because 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 Sussex forecast that the QGR would support (p10) 1,370 jobs. It’s not clear how they managed to reach this – frankly unbelievable – 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 and created 24. North Queensway promised 865 jobs but is currently set to create none at all. In the light of that, 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.