We reported in October 2019 that the Queensway Gateway road was several years late – and still some way from completion.
Now, a document presented to funders the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) has revealed that the road may not be finished until summer 2023 – a remarkable seven years after it was due to be completed.
Half a road
SeaChange opened half the road in March 2019, with some fanfare. But half a road – a road to nowhere, in this case – is of very little use. At the moment, you can look in one direction and see a lovely new road – but look the other way and you’ll see a dead end.
The primary aim of the road is to ‘open up’ (p101) what used to be the Hollington Valley nature reserve for yet another business park. But local motorists are more interested in being able to drive quickly from Queensway to the A21, without having to detour via the Ridge. As to that, they may have a very long wait.
‘January 2022 at the earliest’…
A report prepared for SELEP’s accountability board meeting in March 2021 states (p92):
The original Project Business Case set out the intention to complete the Project by November 2016. Delivery of the Project has been slower than anticipated due to the delays in acquiring the land required to complete the entire route, with Project completion now expected in January 2022 at the earliest.
…or maybe August 2023
Note those words ‘at the earliest’. Later in the document (p94), we are told that:
[I]f the land cannot be secured through negotiation, and a [compulsory purchase order] process is deemed necessary, then the construction start and completion could be delayed by anywhere between 6 and 18 months.
Which would take us, according to the report (p96) to August 2023.
Car showroom in the way
Which brings us to the nub of the matter: SeaChange seems unable to find a solution for the fact that there is a car showroom, Bartletts SEAT, exactly on the spot where it plans to build a roundabout junction with the A21. SeaChange was granted planning permission in January 2019 for a new showroom on its ill-fated North Queensway Innovation Park. But since then, nothing has happened. Not a sod has been turned, not a stake driven in. Bartletts is still open in its current position, and can hardly be expected to close until a new showroom is provided.
SeaChange states on its website that ‘we are working to acquire land at the eastern end of the Queensway Gateway route, with the support of a compulsory purchase order’. Which must come as news to East Sussex County Council (ESCC), who would be responsible for granting any CPO, and have said (p93):
ESCC have clearly indicated to [SeaChange Sussex] that their preference is for [SeaChange Sussex] to continue to pursue acquiring the necessary land for the permanent connection by negotiation. However, if it becomes clear that all efforts to secure the necessary land through negotiation have been exhausted, then the County Council will, as a last resort, consider the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of this land.
County Council may have to pay back £10m
And what happens if, in the end, the road isn’t completed as planned? The report sets it out (p97):
Should it not be possible to deliver the final section of the permanent connection, which will enable the full realisation of the benefits set out within the Project Business Case, there is a risk that the Project may no longer meet the conditions of the Funding Agreement. In these circumstances, the Board may consider recovering some, or all, of the £10m LGF allocated to the Project.
What that means is that ESCC, who are legally responsible, would have to repay the £10m granted by SELEP. The problem is that £9.5m has already been spent (p95), so any repayment would have to come out of the county council’s reserves. And as usual, SeaChange would just walk away.