‘Clearly issues to be addressed’ over West Kirby sea wall

There are calls for a “full and frank investigation” after Wirral’s £20m sea wall “spectacularly failed” to stop homes and businesses being flooded.

On April 9, as stormy weather battered Merseyside, water from waves crashing against the new West Kirby sea wall spilled over the top onto South Parade.

The flooding forced staff at Tanskeys Bistro to be evacuated by lifeboat, causing damage to properties, moving cars, and trapping people inside their homes.

A photo posted by Tanskeys Bistro showed deep flood water still behind the wall despite the tide having gone out.

The flooding brought with it many questions from local people and councillors about the effectiveness of the sea wall. Construction on the controversial project was completed in 2023, coming in £10m over its initial budget.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Stuart Kelly, who chairs Wirral’s planning committee that approved the wall, said, “There needs to be a full and frank investigation and explanation into why the very expensive sea defences at West Kirby failed so spectacularly today resulting in damage to businesses and property. Wirral Council and the Environment Agency have some explaining to do.”

In a post on their Facebook page, central West Kirby Conservative councillors Andrew Gardner, Max Booth, and Tony Cox, who have long criticised the project, said: “It gives us no comfort to see the WK sea wall fail so spectacularly. We are in touch with WK residents and business offering support.”

Referring to comments from councillors reported by the LDRS that previously accused them of being wrong about the wall, they said: “Well, we weren’t wrong. Apologies, however, should be made and those people know who they are. As ever, Hoylake Meols and Central West Kirby Cllrs will support our residents and businesses.”

Member of the public Paul Hughes, who was present at West Kirby during the flooding yesterday, described the sea wall as “a colossal waste of money”.

Today the council’s leader, Cllr Paul Stuart explained that the local authority went ahead with the project based on recommendations from the Environment Agency and said the wall was not designed to completely stop water coming over in severe storms as it would have needed to be far higher to do that. The Environment Agency funded £13.5m towards the project and was a major backer of the scheme.

He said drainage was an issue that needed to be fixed going forward, adding, “It wasn’t designed to completely stop the tide coming over but it was going to prevent the catastrophic damage it caused last time. It’s clear that is what it has done but there are clearly issues that need to be addressed.”

He said he would be pushing on the council and the Environment Agency to seek to address the drainage issues and explain to residents what is likely happen in similar weather conditions in the future.

Cllr Stuart added, “I think the council need to liaise with the Environment Agency to fully understand what failings there were from the design and how we are going to improve that going forward.”

A flooded South Parade in West Kirby on 9 April. Credit: Ed Barnes

West Kirby and Thurstaton councillor Jenny Johnson was another to pose questions about the project after yesterday’s scenes. She said, “Yesterday was a devastating day for many businesses and residents in West Kirby. The sea wall was breached. Water was then trapped, with the gates being shut, and the road became a river.

“Given the huge sums of scheme expenditure involved, as well as business losses during construction, there needs to be accountability. Why was the wall breached? Has the engineering and/or construction failed? We will be exploring these questions and many more over the months ahead.”

But Green party co-leader Cllr Pat Cleary defended the project. He said, “The wall isn’t there primarily to stop water. Its purpose is to remove energy from the waves.”

Wirral Council has also previously been criticised for not closing the gates in time after a flood alert was issued though all gates were closed on 9 April.

Since the incident, Wirral Council has issued two statements. On Monday, a spokesperson said, “The storm today has seen extremely high winds combined with higher than usual tides to cause water to come over the floodwall at West Kirby.

The seafront on the afternoon of 9 April, after the water has subsided. Credit Sue Freeman

“The floodwall in West Kirby was designed to act as a defence system to take power out of the tidal waves, to prevent higher levels of flooding and minimise potential damage in the area.”

It added: “There’s also some damage to seating along prom areas which is being made safe, and surface water at West Kirby is slowly draining away. The wall at West Kirby was designed to reduce the worst effects of flooding and minimise damage, but we’ll be assessing things with the Environment Agency and keep you updated.”

However, in a more recent press release, the council said, “Any water that may get over the wall, such as wind-blown spray, will have had its energy reduced by the design of the wall and will no longer travel as waves across the road and into nearby properties.

“Overtopped or surface water will drain away through the existing highway drainage system. In addition the promenade has a sloping gradient which allows any flood water to drain back quickly into the marine lake.”

Image: Water was left trapped by the wall despite the tide going out. Credit: Hannah Cleator, Tanskeys Bistro

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