Friday, 9 January 2015

Shoebury sea defences (again!)

I have to be honest and say that I did not rush to watch the cabinet meeting earlier this week so do not know what final decisions were made but on the assumption that the majority of the recommendations made in reports were accepted I could not avoid a smile at the contortions the administration are being forced in to on the Shoebury flood defence issue.

I have commented on this previously and wonder how long it will be before they realise that it is impossible to be all things to all men and occasionally you have to have the strength of character to take a decision which is in the best interests of the community even if it makes you personally unpopular.

The report prepared following the instruction of new consultants includes some interesting snippets to include:

The original proposal was confirmed to be satisfactory on cost, technical and environmental grounds, but discounted on grounds of public non-acceptability. The other projects in the review received a range of gradings, but with no outright recommendation.

In recognition that no proposal is likely to be completely satisfactory to all the stakeholders, [the] suggested way forward is to continue consultation with the various groups in a workshop format to attempt to arrive at a consensus view on the outline design.

Any increased costs would therefore have to be found from increased Council or other community contributions. In addition to this, the EA have advised that having fully funded the Project Appraisal Report (and process) through which the original scheme was developed, they are unlikely to fund a second document, since the change of scheme has been the Council’s choice. The outline estimate for this work is £100k, which will have to be funded by the Council.

Obviously this is a very selective extract and the full report is available on the Council’s website.

So here we have it. The scheme which was previously approved was satisfactory on cost, technical and environmental grounds but simply fails because of public opposition. Having said that the public are not agreed on any other alternative! This comes as no surprise to me bearing in mind my earlier contact with those most anti the scheme, and it does remain the case that there are those who oppose any significant flood defence work in this area and feel that there is no need to do anything.

Rather than simply making a decision Cllr Terry, the relevant portfolio holder, and his colleagues are going to delay things even further for workshops and yet more consultation. I wonder whether there has ever been an issue where there has been such extended consultation – particularly where external funding was on the table and there was a risk to homes and businesses. In reality you can talk for as long as you like but if residents are diametrically opposed you cannot please them all.

In the meantime the commencement of the work is pushed back yet again and at a time when the council faces further significant savings there are substantial costs being incurred which will fall on council tax payers and the added problem that any funding from the Environment Agency is unlikely to increase from that previously on offer even though the cost of the scheme will inevitably increase.

Sometimes you just have to take a decision. The Administration have to bite the bullet and either proceed with the original scheme, opt for an alternative scheme (even if it is costly and unpopular), or simply abandon the scheme altogether and be judged on the decision. This dithering because they cannot take a decision is government at its worst and in the meantime the risk for residents in parts of Shoebury is as real and urgent as ever.

If they are not prepared to take difficult decisions perhaps they should step aside for those that are.

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