SOUTHEND Council is spending more than £1million on consultants to push through its controversial plans to improve flood defences, the Echo can reveal.

The authority has already paid £394,000 to international firm Black and Veatch for its work on the £5.18million Shoebury Common seawall, before a brick has been laid or even a complete design drawn up.

Now the council, which already has its own in-house coastal defence engineer, has signed a £768,000 contract with global engineering firm Mott MacDonald to carry out its shoreline strategy over the next five years.

Peter Lovett, of anti-seawall campaign group the Friends of Shoebury Common, said: “I’m flabbergasted.

“To spend £1million and the design hasn’t been completed yet – there’s no word for it.

“If the Shoebury Common wall fails to get planning permission, the council has thrown £400,000 down the drain and this at a time when it is closing care homes and libraries.”

Fellow member Ray Bailey said: “It’s unbelievable, absolutely disgraceful.

“Here we go again. What a waste of money. Just look over the town at how much money the council has wasted.”

The Echo revealed Black and Veatch had been paid almost £100,000 last July, but its fees, which exclude the multi-million cost of building the seawall, have quadrupled in six months. Black and Veatch drew up three schemes to improve flood defences between Shoebury and Thorpe Bay to protect up to 500 homes in Shoebury from coastal flooding by 2050.

But a planning application for the Tory administration’s preferred scheme for a 2m-high earth embankment across Shoebury Common, opposed by eight out of ten respondents to the council’s own public consultation, is yet to be submitted and the firm is yet to finalise its plan for shoring up the seawall at Thorpe Bay Gardens, which is part of the scheme.

Mott MacDonald’s new contract for implementing the shoreline strategy, which Black and Veatch bid for, but failed to win, will include designing flood defence improvements for elsewhere in the borough.

Deputy council leader John Lamb, who is responsible for sea defences, insisted it would cost more to employ officers to design schemes and the council is getting value for money.

Mr Lamb said: “This is a specialist area. You can’t just use the general engineers we have.

“Black and Veatch will finish off the final design.

“We aren’t bringing in people willynilly.

"We only bring them in as and when we need them.”