Following the emergence of a budget gap totalling more than £100 million, and with no immediate prospect of additional funding being secured, the decision has been taken to halt work on the project to construct a tidal flood barrier in Lowestoft.
This scheme forms part of the wider Lowestoft Flood Protection programme, which has already seen the completion of 1.5km of tidal flood walls in October 2023, to help mitigate the impacts of weather events.
However, during the design phase for the tidal barrier, and as a result of crippling cost increases relating to materials, labour, design changes and inflation, a £124m funding gap emerged. The project team has engaged with both the Government and the Environment Agency (EA) to seek the necessary additional funding needed to complete the project.
£15 million has been spent on the project to date, and this sum is accounted for with funds that have already been pledged. However, the project is scheduled to spend an additional £20 million from January to July 2024 and this amount cannot be covered by pledged funds, creating a £20 million risk for the Council.
Although discussions have been ongoing for more than a year, it is clear that a decision by the Government and EA will not be made before this additional spending must be committed to. Therefore, despite making them aware of the urgency, East Suffolk Council has been left with no alternative but to halt work on the tidal barrier element of the scheme.
Cllr Kay Yule, East Suffolk’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Coastal Protection, has described the decision as ‘devastating’ and is hugely disappointed that the Council has been forced to call time on the scheme. She said:
“The business case for the barrier could not be clearer. Prior to the commencement of the Lowestoft Flood Protection scheme, Lowestoft was the only UK coastal town with no formal tidal flood defences, leaving the town at great risk of climate change impacts.
“In 2013 the town suffered significant tidal flooding of homes, businesses and critical infrastructure and without the scheme, were the same event to occur again, the overall cost of the damage to Lowestoft could reach £168 million.
“The barrier would better protect more than 1500 residential properties and 800 businesses in Lowestoft from the risk of flooding and would provide considerable reassurance, and further confidence, to investors in a burgeoning and strategically important location. It would provide better protection to key brownfield sites ideally placed for redevelopment, as well as access roads to the new Gull Wing Bridge. The economic benefit of proceeding is simply unarguable. It would also provide a huge boost to the Government’s commitment to net zero by 2050, enabling further development in the offshore wind industry.
“Alongside Lowestoft MP Peter Aldous - who has also worked tirelessly in support of the tidal barrier - we will continue to remind the Government of the necessity and benefits of this scheme. However, their inability to meet the clear, critical funding requirements at this time is incredibly disappointing.”
The Council would also like to place on record its sincere thanks to construction contractors Balfour Beatty for their work in partnership with East Suffolk, throughout the Lowestoft Flood Protection Project.