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Roads to Nowhere

Government must open up decisions on £1bn Regional Growth Fund

Sian Berry's picture

8 December: Funding for Regional Growth Fund projects has been allocated behind closed doors. We’re arguing these important decisions should be open to public scrutiny.

This week we have written to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) appealing their decision to withhold the details of road schemes bidding for money from the Regional Growth Fund (RGF).

Our Roads Campaigner Rebecca Lush Blum originally wrote to BIS on 2 November, immediately after the successful scheme bids for the second round of RGF funding were announced.  The first two rounds of the RGF (where £1.4 billion was up for grabs) resulted in a number of new roads being given the go-ahead including the Finningley Link Road near Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster.  We wanted to be able to check the predicted impacts of these roads on traffic, the environment, air quality, noise and carbon emissions, and the value for money claims put forward by the promoters.

However, Becca’s Freedom of Information request was turned down, with BIS citing exemptions including ‘commercial interests’, ‘personal data protection’ and ‘breach of confidence’.

The attitude of BIS is in stark contrast to the Department for Transport’s policy of consulting on transport schemes before making crucial funding decisions, with scheme bids openly available for scrutiny (for example the recent Development Pool process, where all bid documents were released to the public).

Our appeal letter states that we are concerned these important funding decisions are being taken by BIS with no public oversight whatsoever, and points out that the assessments we are interested in do not contain commercially confidential or personal information. It says:

"We do not believe that when bidding for public funding third parties would or should have an expectation of confidentiality. When bidding for public funds there should be an expectation that this information should be made publicly available…. the Department for Transport is open and transparent in its equivalent funding process for transport schemes. There is no reason why BIS should not do the same."

This is important as a new third round of the RGF was announced in the Autumn Statement on 29 November, with an additional £1 billion of public money being made available. We are extremely concerned that more retrograde road schemes will be funded via this route, and that the first thing we or local people will hear about it is when funding is triumphantly announced.