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Road plan "won't solve problems"
10:00pm Sunday 27th January 2013 in News
A road-building plan at the centre of a protest dubbed "the second Battle of Hastings" will not solve economic and transport problems, according to senior environment and conservation leaders.
Instead the £93 million Hastings to Bexhill link road in rural East Sussex will lead to more pollution, damage the environment and waste taxpayers' money, they claim.
Ministers were urged to "change direction" on transport policy, with calls for safe, efficient and affordable alternatives to "discredited road schemes".
Ahead of a visit to the threatened Combe Haven Valley today, figures from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Wildlife Trusts and the Campaign for Better Transport said the 3.4-mile road should never have gained approval.
Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "It will lead to more pollution, damage the environment and do little to boost the local economy.
"Reviving discredited road schemes like this won't solve our economic and transport problems. It will simply shift traffic elsewhere."
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the focus should be on protecting the natural environment and investing in long-term jobs for the communities.
He said: "If we're to break our fossil fuel addiction and tackle the threat of climate change, we must stop throwing money at unnecessary road schemes like the Bexhill-Hastings link road.
"Even the Government's own advisers see the road as a massive waste of taxpayers' money."
Ralph Smyth, senior transport campaigner of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "Once treasured landscapes like Combe Haven are bulldozed, they are gone for ever.
"We should be protecting oases of tranquility not covering them in Tarmac and traffic."
Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "The Hastings link road will further fragment habitats at the very time we should be joining them up, an intention expressed in the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper."
The link road plan was thrust into the public consciousness after activists locked themselves in tunnels and stationed themselves up tarpaulin-covered trees since December 21.
Among the protesters is Natalie Hynde, the daughter of Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde and Ray Davies of the Kinks, and the seasoned eco-activist known as "Simon Sitting Bull".
The 54-year-old burrowed himself in a 15ft hand-dug tunnel for two days in sub-zero temperatures with enough food to last a week before emerging from his bolt-hole last week to avoid arrest.
Bailiffs evicted most protesters from their base camp but around 20 remain at a site known as Decoy Pond, with the recent bad weather believed to have prevented their evictions so far.
Supporters of the road, including East Sussex County Council and local business leaders, insist the road is vital to boost the poorest economy in the South East.
County council leader Peter Jones has said it will enable the building of up to 2,000 new homes, 50,000 square metres of business park space and create more than 3,000 jobs, as well as bringing economic benefits worth £1 billion.
It is also claimed that the road, which will link the outskirts of Bexhill and Hastings, will ease congestion and improve air quality on the busy A259 at Glyne Gap.
The local authority has said the scheme has the backing of local people, with a consultation in 2004 finding that out of more than 2,550 responses, only 419 (16%) objected.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The link road plays an important role in delivering growth in the area with the scheme approved after considering all elements of the business case.
"There was a very difficult balance to be struck between the interests of regenerating and promoting economic growth in the Bexhill-Hastings area and the impact the scheme would have on the environment.
"This is why we had a review to look very carefully at all the transport options and the environmental mitigation measures planned by the promoter, before making the funding decision."