Conservationists opposed to plans for an £85 million link road between Bexhill and Hastings, in Sussex, have failed in a High Court bid to block government funding for the project. Refusing permission to seek judicial review, a judge ruled that the case put forward by the campaigners - who say that the link road will ruin a picturesque valley and harm wildlife - was ‘unarguable’ and had in any event been brought too late.
In the March 2012 budget, the government announced that it would contribute £56.85 million toward the link road which is seen by East Sussex County Council as key to regenerating the economy of the area. However, the Hastings Alliance, a group of concerned individuals and organisations, argue that the road will cause irreparable damage to the Combe Haven Valley, much of which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Lawyers for the alliance argued that, in deciding to contribute the bulk of the finance required for the £85.91 million project, the Ministry of Transport had failed to apply the ‘precautionary principle’ which forms a key plank of the government's commitment to sustainable development policies.
They argued that, where there is a risk of irreversible damage to the environment and insufficient justification for that risk, the precautionary principle means that the government should err on the side of caution. It was also submitted that the beneficial effect of the road is highly uncertain, as evidenced by the lack of availability of private funding for the scheme.
However, Deputy High Court Judge David Holgate QC ruled that the precautionary principle applies to decisions relating to the management of a natural resource, such as planning decisions, and not to matters of funding. The proposals had been the subject of a an environmental impact assessment prior to planning permission being granted in July 2009 and no legal challenge had been brought to that decision, he observed.
Ruling that the alliance had failed to bring its challenge promptly, he added that, following a public inquiry, the government had already confirmed two compulsory purchase orders in relation to land required for the project to proceed.