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Shoebury seawall plan to be decided today
AFTER two consultations, two heated public meetings and three rival schemes, Southend Council’s Tory cabinet will finally decide whether to pursue £4.6million plans for a new seawall in Shoebury.
Coastal engineers say defences need bolstering to protect up to 500 homes and only a two-metre high earth embankment across Shoebury Common makes financial sense.
But the public is deeply suspicious of the need for new protection and the council’s motivation for its preferred scheme, which would use 44,000 tonnes of mud from Southend Cliff Gardens.
Council officers have recommended the authority push ahead, despite three-quarters of the 241 people who responded to its four-week consultation strongly opposing the plan and another 6 per cent opposing it.
With an election next May, the eight elected members – two of whom represent Shoebury – are all too aware of the problem of balancing the best interests of the public with representing their electorate’s views.
People who deny climate change have questioned the need for greater flood defences at all, especially as the seawall’s cost spirals to £7.25million once the design process and maintenance for the next 15 years is taken into account.
Consultant engineers Black and Veatch, which has already raked in almost £100,000 drawing up the plans, warn floods that occur roughly once every 50 years would breach the existing seawall beside the promenade at Shoebury Common Beach.
Storms with a one in 200 chance of happening would flood 295 homes in Admiral’s Walk, Fremantle, Towerfield Road, Ness Road and other streets around Gunners Park.
But the council is trying to improve flood defences for the next 100 years and rising sea levels mean 355 homes up to 2km inland would be at risk from the same stormwithin 50 years.
Deputy leader John Lamb said: “The council needs to consider not only risk in the present day, but into the future because defence structures deteriorate over time and measurable increases in sea level occurring each year around the world are steadily driving up the risk of flooding in British coastal areas.”
Black and Veatch considered three different forms of defence, all of which would protect 500 homes from storms with a one in 200 chance of happening by 2050.
The two alternatives to the embankment both included a floodwall along Lodwick, Ness Road and Waterford Road.
One, costing £4.8million, would involve raising Ness Road, Shoebury Common Road and Waterford Road at their junction and building a low floodgate there.
The other, priced at £5.3million, would involve maintaining the road level and building a higher floodgate.
Both were discounted due to the cost, disruption and the imposition of larger walls.
Alternative plans drawn up by anti-seawall campaigner group the Friends of ShoeburyCommon, which has 1,400 members, and Southend architects APS Design Associates, were also included in the public consultation.
But Black and Veatch discounted the scheme, which would involve raising the existing seawall, promenade and beach huts, as costing £6.9million plus £3.2million for shoring up the beach for added protection – almost twice the cost of the cheapest scheme.
The campaigners have complained to the council as the breakdown includes the cost of a beach recharge, lighting, drains, soil and fences not included in their plans.
Member Peter Lovett, 67, of Leitrim Avenue, Shoebury, said: “It seems to us that the costs for all the alternative options have been unfairly over-priced, to ensure they can be discounted on cost alone.”
The Burges Estate Residents’ Association, which represents about 1,000 households between Southchurch and Shoebury, put forward alternative plans to raise the existing seawall slightly, recharge Shoebury Common Beach, install more groynes and build a 300-metre rock breakwater on the foreshore.
But Black and Veatch said the scheme would cost £9.3million and Natural England would oppose it as the breakwater and beach recharge would reduce the size of the foreshore, which the EU has designated a “special protection area”. Anne Chalk, Independent Shoebury councillor, suggested building a new marina to protect the coast, like in Brighton and Singapore.
The council is relying on the Government to part-fund new flood defences and the amount it would gets depends on the number of properties protected, the ratio of protection to cost and the damage to the environment.
Defra has agreed to fund £3million towards the preferred scheme and £1.6million towards future maintenance – about 65 per cent of the total cost.
The council has found another £2.2million from various sources. If it were to adopt a more expensive scheme it would have to meet the shortfall.
Mr Lamb, who is responsible for coastal defences, said: “The proposed scheme was selected from a range of possible options as being the most practical, providing the standard of protection required and most cost effective for protecting the largest amount of homes, while minimising damage to the environment.”
Opposition to the plan may be a result of the council’s handling of the project.
The council displayed the plans, first revealed exclusively by the Echo in May 2012, in a consultation aimed only at beach hut owners and staff of cafe Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Thorpe Bay Yacht Club in June 2012 – but the room was too small for the number of concerned residents.
A projector broke when officers attempted to give a presentation on the scheme to Shoebury Residents’ Association the following month.
The administration claims it always planned for a second consultation, which was held in April and May this year, but the fact that mud from the cliffs earmarked for the embankment was only meant to stay in Gunners Park in the short term suggests it expected to have started work on the wall by now.
It also emerged that developer Garrison Developments stored the mud for free and offered to contribute towards the seawall if allowed to build homes on Gunners Park.
This has led some residents to believe the new defences are intended to allow more housing rather than protect existing properties.
Doubters’ concerns over transparency have been heightened by the administration’s reluctance to publish reports on the plans.
A cross-party meeting of councillors meant to scrutinise the plans last month had to be postponed after officers failed to release the report with enough time for the public to submit questions to the meeting.
When the meeting was finally held, members of the planning committee, who were taking part, were warned against expressing an opinion for fear of it prejudicing their future ruling.
The report for today’s meeting, usually released a week in advance, was only released last Thursday.
If the cabinet approves the continued development of the preferred option tomorrow, it may have to rebuild public trust as well as a seawall.
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