Those interested in the way that policy is made behind closed doors might want to read on….
The question of a new dual carriageway to replace the existing A27 between Lewes and Polegate has long been on the agenda of the road building lobby.
After the Department for Transport (DfT) turned down the plans (for probably the second or third time) on the grounds of very poor value for money and huge environmental damage, the local MPs (first Caroline Ansell and then after the election, Stephen Lloyd and Maria Caulfield) got together with East Sussex County Roads department and the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce to form the secret and shadowy “Reference Group”, with the sole aim of reviving the dead scheme.
In secret meetings between 2015 and 2018 this group lobbied the DfT minister to release £3m for a new economic study to “prove” the need for the road. This was taken from the budget allocated to the modest on line junction and crossing improvements proposed to improve the existing road .
Working with (and influencing) officials at Highways England, they secured very strange and unusual instructions being issued to the consultants who were tasked with writing the study.
In the light of conventional Cost Benefit Analysis which shows the proposal to be a complete waste of money, it is worth quoting that the instructions state:
“k) The Consultant shall therefore refine the assessment of the identified corridor(s) using a spreadsheet-based approach that can apply different weights to achieving the scheme-specific objectives (and any other elements that may warrant a higher weighting).”
This is colloquially known as “fudging the figures”.
The fundamental basis of Cost Benefit Analysis is to give different impacts a standard monetised value so that one scheme can be compared on a like for like basis with another.
Choosing different weights for different effects in this scheme compared to others is in our opinion an invalid and dangerous way forward – if widely applied it would be impossible to compare and contrast different road schemes and to judge value for money. This could lead to expensive and highly damaging schemes being built , potentially wasting vast amounts of public money.
We wrote to the Secretary of State and local MPs to ask that when it is published, they would join with concerned locals in rejecting a study that is so clearly weighted against the outcome you have said you have argued for. We requested a meeting, but regrettably the DfT have yet to respond.
We remain hopeful that policy should be made on the basis of unbiased evidence.