Published Oct 2019
The Queensway Gateway road is now several years late. Quite how late it is, depends on which document you read, but suffice to say, the road is not about to open anytime soon.
In June 2018, SeaChange’s website stated* that, ‘We’re continuing to build the road as swiftly as possible’. By the following March, although the whole road was still not finished, SeaChange opened the western end of the road, with some little fanfare. In a media report, a SeaChange spokesman said that the company, “recognises that local people are keen to see the full road open and is moving to complete it as swiftly as is possible”.
By October 2019, the words ‘as swiftly as possible’ had (perhaps wisely) disappeared from SeaChange’s website. By now, it was clear that the road was in serious trouble.
Late, and getting later
Back in the heady days of February 2015, SeaChange CEO provided funder SELEP with the business case for the road. The document states [p12] that the QGR will cost £15m (see this post for an explanation of what some might call the extreme dishonesty of this figure). It also says on the front page that the estimated finish date is December 2016. That would make it now almost three years late.
However, a South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) document [p101] from April 2019 states that the road was due to be completed in March 2016, but is now expected to be completed in October 2019, which would, according to the document, mean it was 43 months late.
Planning problems and figure juggling
SeaChange may well say, ah, but those pesky protesters delayed us by bringing legal action. It is true that the start of construction was delayed after a legal action was launched, based on the proposed road exceeding EU air pollution levels. The case was withdrawn before it reached court, after Hastings Borough Council accepted that it had made an error in law and agreed to quash the planning permission it had previously granted. A second legal challenge was dismissed after some extremely questionable changing of figures in the air pollution report.
However, the legal action accounts for only a very small part of the delay. In a SELEP report from March 2018 we’re told that the site clearance was completed in March 2016 and that the estimated completion date was December 2018.
That would give SeaChange two and a half years to build a 600m road. But now we’re three and a half years on, and the road is a very long way from completion. By contrast, the Bexhill Hastings Link road (now known as Combe Valley Way) took around three and a half years to build – but at 5.6km, it’s almost ten times as long as the QGR.
Half a road is better than no road?
By March this year, SeaChange had completed the western end of the road. But since then, nothing further has happened. The reason? Well, one issue could be the Bartlett SEAT car showroom bang on the route of the road. According to SeaChange in October 2018, ‘The Queensway Gateway road, currently under construction, may need to go through [Bartletts] to join Sedlescombe Road North’. Note that little word, ‘may’. One might think that, halfway through the construction process, SeaChange would be clear about the route of the road, but apparently not.
In fact, the car showroom is directly on the proposed route of the QGR. The solution? As luck would have it, SeaChange has an empty ‘innovation’ park just a stone’s throw away. Six years after construction started on the North Queensway site, not a single occupier has been found. The site – which was originally supposed to create 865 jobs, a number which was revised down to a more modest 300 – has been empty for years, attracting flytipping and quadbikers but no tenants.
SeaChange submitted a planning application for the car showroom, and it was granted in January 2019. But since then, nothing has happened. Not a sod has been turned, not a stake driven in. Bartletts SEAT is still open in its current position, and can hardly be expected to close until a new showroom is provided. Clearly that’s not going to be for some time. And as long as the showroom’s still there, the QGR can’t be finished.
More money refused
Through a Freedom of Information request, we discovered that SeaChange applied to SELEP in September 2018 for a further £3m for the QGR, but the request was refused. We have recently heard – but can’t confirm – that SeaChange has run out of money, and can’t move on with the road until it has sold an ‘asset’.
In the past year SeaChange has sold two ‘assets’: Havelock Place in Hastings and Bexhill Business Mall (Glover’s House). Both had had loans from SELEP. The Havelock Place loan was due to be repaid in 2020/21, whilst the final tranche of the Bexhill Business Mall loan was due to be repaid in March 2020. The fact that both buildings have been sold (rather than being used as valuable rent-producing assets), and the loans paid off early, suggests that SeaChange may be strapped for cash.
We don’t know the state of SeaChange’s finances. We don’t know if the road is late because the company has run out of money, or because it has fundamentally mismanged the whole construction process. What we do know is that the QGR is years behind schedule, with no sign of it being finished anytime soon. Sea Change said for some time that it would build the QGR ‘as swiftly as possible’. Now that it’s abandoned even that pretence, it looks as if the road may yet be a long time coming.