THE opening of a controversial £20m rapid transit scheme is to be delayed by several months.
Hampshire County Council had been planning to bring the first phase of the bus rapid transit (BRT) scheme, between Fareham and Gosport, into use this spring. But it has now admitted that legal challenges and the weather have put work on the two-mile stretch back by months.
Although the cash from the government for the scheme had to be spent by this March, the works have not been able to keep pace.
The county council wouldn't say when exactly the first buses are expected to run along the newly created road, but Cllr Kendal, in charge of environment matters for the county, said: 'As a result of the legal challenges, the commencement of construction was delayed by several months, with the resultant inescapable delay in the busway actually opening, and associated costs increasing, again as a direct result in the delay in construction.'
Campaigner Viv Morge, from Bridgemary, has fought the scheme up to the Supreme Court on the grounds that it is harming protected wildlife, including bats and badgers.
The Supreme Court's judgement from the November hearing is still pending.
A freedom of information request by The News revealed that the county had already spent more than 120,000 on legal costs on challenges to the BRT before the fight was taken to the Supreme Court.
Cllr Mel Kendal added: 'The South East Hampshire bus rapid transit, phase one, Fareham to Gosport was awarded 20m funding from central government via the homes and communities agency towards the total cost of delivering the scheme.
'A condition of this funding allocation was that the money should be drawn down by the end of March 2011, and it was originally intended that the scheme should be completed by this date and that buses should be using the dedicated busway as soon as was practicably possible thereafter.
'Since planning consent was given in July 2009, the scheme has been subject to much legal challenge, mainly focusing on wildlife issues relating to the planning process.
'To date, both the High Court and the Court of Appeal have completely vindicated the careful approach taken by Hampshire County Council.'