Trees of Combe Haven return from the grave

| 13th February 2013

Peter 'chainsaw' Jones and fellow protestors. Photo courtesy of Marta Lefler

Protesters in Sussex have delivered a felled tree to a council meeting to highlight concerns over the construction of a new link road. Paul Creeney reports........

The Combe Haven Defenders (CHD), an environmental group fighting against a planned road through the Combe Haven Valley linking Hastings and Bexhill, delivered a tree cut down during pre-construction work to an East Sussex County Council (ESCC) meeting in Lewes yesterday (12 February).

Gabriel Carlyle, a spokesperson for the CHD, said: "Today, the trees of Combe Haven have come back to haunt East Sussex County Council, just as this environmentally disastrous, £70 million road will do unless the council carry out an urgent rethink."

Andrea Needham, also of the CHD, described the road construction as an “environmentally disastrous white elephant”, and also questioned whether the proposed infrastructure development would provide value for money.

She said: “On Monday (11 February), the government announced a £16 million package for the regeneration of seaside towns, much of it sustainable and community-based, through which it expects to generate 4,000 jobs. This is more than four times the total number of jobs that the link road will produce according to the Department for Transport.”

Ms Needham also raised concerns that only a third of jobs created by the road will go to local people.

ESCC have defended the road by claiming it will bring £1 billion to the area over the next 25 years in terms of jobs and regeneration, as well as allowing the building of 1,200 to 2,000 new homes and a business park.

An ESCC spokesperson said: “The arguments have already been exhaustively debated. 

“Earlier this year the Secretaries of State fully considered a recommendation put forward by the Inspector following an extensive and thorough Public Inquiry, which recognised the vital role the road will play in regenerating the area for people and businesses.”

The spokesperson also said that an application for a judicial review by anti-road campaigners was rejected by the High Court in October 2012, who judged that it had no legal basis.

However, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request from March 2012 show that the Department for Transport (DfT) do not agree with ESCC’s analysis of the Bexhill link road’s supposed benefits, claiming that the project “offers low or medium value for money.” 

The DfT documents also state that the risk of the project being low value for money is increased significantly if “you assume the worst case scenario on landscape impacts.”

As well as delivering the 10-foot tree, protestors also staged a theatrical performance outside the hall featuring branches of other felled trees and a stand-in for council leader Peter Jones, whom they have nicknamed “The Chainsaw.”

The demonstration took place after bailiffs dismantled three protest camps within Combe Haven Valley in January to prepare for the roads construction, despite the final approval from the DfT to release funding for the project not due until later this month.

A spokesman for the DfT told the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer that ESCC could still go ahead with preliminary work on the road, which is fairly common for similar projects, but did so at their own financial risk.

Paul Creeney is a freelance journalist focusing on environmental and human rights issues.



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