Transport secretary Alistair Darling provisionally approved the Bexhill to Hastings link road on regeneration grounds. But environmental groups greeted the announcement with dismay, claiming that it would increase both traffic and social exclusion by moving employment out of town.
The Hastings Alliance, which was set up by environmental groups to oppose the scheme (Planning, 8 October, p6), accused East Sussex County Council of contravening government guidance by failing to carry out an adequate assessment of alternative methods of tackling local transport problems.
Campaign to Protect Rural England head of transport policy Paul Hamblin said: "The jubilation over saving the Blackdown Hills has been quickly replaced by utter disappointment at the decision to wreck the Combe Valley. It was not justifiable in 2001 when the government rejected it, and it is not justifiable today."
However, local regeneration agency Sea Space argued that the scheme is not the same as the Hastings bypass that was rejected by the government in 2001 on environmental grounds.
The link road is only 4.8km of single carriageway whereas the bypass would have been nearly 21km, including some dual carriageway, the agency noted. The proposed road will not go through the High Weald area of outstanding natural beauty or the sites of special scientific interest that the Hastings bypass would have crossed, it added.
Sea Space planning and transport manager Paul Adams said that the road will allow land to be developed for both employment and sustainable housing for the area, one of the most deprived in the South East.
"Hastings and Bexhill are not separate towns," he insisted. "It is quite possible to work in one and live in another. The main regeneration effort is in the town centre, but jobs like manufacturing are not suitable in this area."
The agency is working to improve bus and train links and seeking to create a country park in the area enclosed by the two towns, added Adams.
The government also announced funding of £29 million for the Sittingbourne northern distributor route to support the growth of housing and jobs in the Thames Gateway. The money will allow Kent County Council to build a link between Kemsley and the Eurolink business park.
The scheme has already attracted £10.4 million of investment from the government's sustainable communities programme and £4.1 million from developers.
Swale Borough Council leader and Swale Forward chairman Andrew Bowles said: "The money will provide the trigger for the development and delivery of a number of key initiatives that will bring lasting improvements for communities across Swale."
Other projects to secure funding include a package of integrated transport improvements in Castleford, which will receive £14.5 million, and the first red routes scheme in the West Midlands conurbation, which will get £28 million. Watford Junction rail station will be given £12 million to fund improvements, while a scheme to improve the eastern gateway to Liverpool, which is part of both a housing market renewal area and a New Deal for Communities area, was granted £15 million.
Seven local transport projects were given funding approval, including the south Lowestoft relief road, the Barford bypass in Warwickshire, the Northfield regeneration route in Birmingham and the Primlines quality bus network in Coventry.
Transport 2000 welcomed the overall emphasis on public transport and small-scale schemes and supported the rejection of other road schemes in Wiltshire and Norfolk.
The south-east Manchester multi-modal study schemes and the A452 Chester Road in Birmingham were not approved but will be considered further by their regional assemblies.