Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Shoebury Flood Defences

A recent comment article in the Oracle included criticism of the process followed by Southend Council in reaching a decision on Shoebury Flood Defences. At the outset I would say that I am happy with the process that has been followed. In my view there has been extended engagement with interested parties and members and the decision making has been guided by professional advice from not only our own specialist officers but also external experts. However the article did cause me to revie the issue once again. There are 2 main areas of dispute on this project. Firstly as to whether there is a realistic prospect of flooding which could be prevented by flood defence work in this area and secondly, assuming work is required, what is the most appropriate scheme. The opinion of the Council's own officers and experts and the Environment Agency is that there is a significant risk to merit early intervention, a view which is supported by the EA's willingness to fund an appropriate scheme. There are those who refuse to accept this risk and argue that if a majority of the limited number who participated in the consultation share their view that the council would be acting improperly in undertaking the work. I strongly disagree with this. It is a good example of the duty of councillors being to take a view in the interests of the community on the basis of the advice given to them even if it is unpopular with some residents. I suspect that if we did nothing and residents and businesses then suffered extensive flood damage the same voices would be the first to criticise the council's inaction. The further debate relates to the chosen scheme. The council has prepared and evaluated its own schemes in addition to which proposals have been received from BERA and the Friends of Shoebury Common. All schemes have been carefully considered and as can be seen from the detailed reports presented to members which are accessible via the council's website, this has been undertaken in a detailed, open and reasonable manner. Based on this information it was the view of the majority of members across party lines that the most economic, effective and appropriate scheme was the council's option 1 which was approved. The process with the EA is a bit chicken and egg! We cannot submit a proposal for final approval and funding until the Council has approved it but by the same token there is no point asking the Council to approve a scheme that will not attract EA funding so a preliminary view needs to be obtained. The requires early engagement with EA. This seems wholly reasonable to me. In this case EA have indicated their support and potential funding for Option 1 subject to the council being in a position to proceed and this means that they will not fund a more expensive alternative. I do not pretend to be an expert on flood defence which is why I rely on the expert advice given to me. It will have a visual effect however a secondary wall works well in Chalkwell and even the Friends Scheme involved a significant increase in the height of the sea wall as well as being potentially more expensive and raising other issues to include problems with the work required to the beach huts which are in private ownership. It also raises the issue of what is more important - keeping a view unchanged or protecting residents from flooding. In my view this process has been wholly transparent but inevitably those who for whatever reason believe that either no flood defence work should be undertaken or who favour another scheme are unhappy and as happens in most high profile decisions this results in criticism of the council and its motives. For me the priority remains to access the EA funding available and to progress work as quickly as possible to ensure that relevant homes and businesses are protected.

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