Transparency questions after ‘heavily-censored’ link road review

Campaigners protesting ahead of the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road opening
Campaigners protesting ahead of the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road opening

A ‘heavily-censored’ document about the £124m Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR) raises serious issues about transparency and accountability, according to campaigners.

The ‘Gateway Review’, written in March 2015, is supposed to provide ‘an evidence-based snapshot of the project’s status at the time of the review’.

However, the version made available to the Combe Haven Defenders through a Freedom of Information Request has been very heavily redacted, with several whole pages blanked out.

The group, which campaigned against the road, believes East Sussex County Council is trying to save embarrassment rather than protect its commercial viability.

“The huge number of redactions in this document suggests that East Sussex County Council may be using – or even misusing – exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act in order to hide serious criticisms of the management of the link road project,” spokesman Andrea Needham said.

“The road was built using over £124m of public money, and we have a right to expect transparency and accountability in the use of such funds, especially at a time when the council is making huge cuts to services in other areas.

“We are calling on ESCC to come clean, and to release the document in its entirety.”

The document assessed the project as ‘amber/red’, defined in the review as ‘successful delivery of the project is in doubt with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas’.

Eight recommendations are made in the report – three have been totally redacted, and one partially redacted.

The campaigners believe some of the redactions appear not to relate to value for money, but to quite different areas, including archaeology, and others are just to save embarrassment.

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “The county council is committed to being as open and transparent as possible and gives full consideration to all requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. On this occasion, much of the information requested was commercially sensitive and releasing it could undermine the council’s ability to get best value for money for its taxpayers in the future.”

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