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As already announced by the National Audit Office, the project will deliver “£1.15 of quantified benefit for every £1 spent”, which is “a significantly lower benefit-cost ratio than is usual in road schemes” and in their experience “this ratio could move to an even lower or negative value.”

You might think that’s bad enough but now it transpires that the £1.15 figure was reached because Highways England included a monetary value for “cultural heritage” in the costings and they worked that out “by asking the public how much it would pay to have the road removed from the site”. Yet that’s a false and misleading approach: it’s not just that a road is being removed, it’s that a mile of new road is being constructed, causing vast new damage. You can be sure Highways England didn’t stress that to those it canvassed, or the fact that UNESCO says that cultural loss is unacceptable.

In any case, cultural value can never be reduced to monetary terms as the value depends entirely on who you ask. In anticipation of that criticism Highways England said they had used “approved methodologies” to get to the figure. The National Audit Office politely said “calculating benefits in this way is inherently uncertain.” We prefer to call a spade a spade: it’s baloney. If it isn’t, let’s see them use their method to calculate the cultural value of The Pyramids, Hamlet or a sunset.

If a positive cultural benefit has been falsely represented in the figures then the “£1.15 of quantified benefit” must be lower and the project is already in a negative benefit situation.


May 2019

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