Anti-road protesters gear up for new battle of Hastings

A A A

Stand by for the second Battle of Hastings. A controversial bypass around the Sussex town will become Britain's most bitterly contested road scheme if it is agreed on Wednesday.

Stand by for the second Battle of Hastings. A controversial bypass around the Sussex town will become Britain's most bitterly contested road scheme if it is agreed on Wednesday.

The £120m project is seen by many locals as essential in regenerating a resort that has fallen on very hard times, but its course through the unspoilt Sussex countryside will cause significant damage to protected wildlife and landscape sites, in contravention of the Government's road-building policy.

Environmentalists also fear its construction will trigger new pressure for major upgrading of the whole south-coast road network, which would involve extensive damage to some of the loveliest countryside in Britain.

While local councils and business interests believe the scheme to be indispensable, green pressure groups are making strenuous objections to it, as are the Government's conservation advisers, English Nature, while the Environment Agency says it has "serious concerns" about the project.

If it goes ahead it may also attract opposition from the radical fringe of the green movement, with activists tempted to take direct action against the construction works, as at the Twyford Down and Newbury road schemes in the 1990s.

But Hastings is more important than another potential battle between protesters and police: it is seen by the greens as a test case of this Government's stated intention of providing better solutions to transport problems than simply building new roads.

The Labour administration took a large series of bypasses and other road schemes planned under the Tories and deferred them for "multi-modal" studies, that were to examine alternatives to new construction, such as improvements in rail and bus services and local road upgrading.

The Hastings study is the first to report and, multi-modal or not, opts for the bypass, although with an associated package of public transport improvements. The consultants say the scheme would be necessary for regeneration of the town, but stop short of recommending it, as they clearly feel it is a political hot potato.

Regeneration is certainly something Hastings needs. The historic town is a strange anomaly, an island of deprivation in the prosperous South-east, with an unemployment rate more than three times that of the region as a whole.

The once-proud Victorian resort with its medieval core is now very run down, with 3,000 empty properties and five of its wards among the most deprived in the country, experiencing severe problems of poverty, drug addiction and homelessness. It also has a traffic problem, with the main A259 road, which runs through the town centre and along the sea front, often clogged.

Supporters of the bypass believe it can bring great improvement to the town's urban environment and provide essential new access to industrial and development land and thus prompt regeneration.

"It's vital," said the town's Labour MP, Michael Foster. "There is an environmental cost, and we're not pretending there isn't, but the urban environment benefits and the economic benefits simply outweigh it. The greens fail to appreciate that without a bypass Hastings is compromised. The A259 goes through six conservation areas and blights the homes of 10,000 people. We've got employers saying they'll move out if we don't get a bypass, and we're the weakest performing area economically in the South-east. We're the 28th poorest town in Britain.

"Most of the people who are objecting to the bypass are not from Hastings - a council survey showed that 80 per cent of the people here support it. I think it's selfish of the environmentalists to deny opportunities to other people. They should keep their noses out." There is no sign that they will, because the new road will cause severe environmental disruption. Besides other damage, its eastern end will cut a tract though the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while its western section will bisect Combe Haven, a wildlife-rich marshy river valley that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nature reserve run by the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Paragraph 6.29 of the Government's 10-year Transport Plan states that "there will be a strong presumption against schemes that would significantly affect environmentally sensitive sites, or important species, habitats or landscapes.

"A green light for Hastings will destroy the credibility of the Government's many promises not to build damaging roads," said Lilli Matson, head of transport for the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

"The scheme would cut across prime wildlife sites and beautiful countryside and would create a domino effect of pressure for further road schemes along the south coast.

"The town needs regeneration but there are serious question marks about whether the bypass will deliver it."

The decision on whether or not the bypass should go ahead will be taken on Wednesday by the new South-East England Regional Assembly (Seera), meeting in Aylesbury, Bucks. This is believed to be the first major planning decision to fall to one of the eight new regional democratic bodies Labour has set up in England to balance the devolved assemblies of Scotland and Wales.

If Seera votes in favour - as many observers expect it to - the decision will still have to be approved by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Secretary.

However, as he was the enthusiastic proponent of regional assemblies in the first place, it is unlikely Mr Prescott would want their first big decision overturned, whether it violates stated Government policy or not.

There is also the fact that Mr Foster's slender 2,560 majority makes Hastings and Rye Labour's 23rd most vulnerable marginal seat, although none but a cynic would suggest such considerations might weigh with the Deputy Prime Minister.

"Constructing this bypass would wreck the Government's commitments to protecting wildlife sites from road building," said Friends of the Earth's transport campaigner, Tony Bosworth. "If Mr Prescott approves it he is in for a second battle of Hastings."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Rebel, rebel: Vivienne Westwood in her baroque-influenced early-Nineties designs
fashionWhy we mustn't take Dame Vivienne Westwood for granted
News
The police have been criticised in a raid on the luxury home of Sir Cliff Richard
people
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Sport
Harry Kane
premier leagueLive minute-by-minute coverage
Arts and Entertainment
Morgana Robinson
arts + entsIt is not easy interviewing Morgana Robinson. Here's why...
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin