Extra £3m Environment Agency grant to cover rising costs of West Kirby sea wall

The budget for the West Kirby sea wall has risen to over £19m.

The West Kirby flood alleviation scheme, a huge 1.1km project, aims to protect 70 properties along the coastal town’s seafront in Wirral as well as save lives. However, it has come under fire for its rising costs and impact on businesses in the area.

Work is still continuing but the final section of the wall itself was installed in April and it was officially opened in May. The works will continue into early August as the final sections such as flood gates are installed.

Wirral Council moved ahead with the project despite heavy criticism from some Conservative councillors, citing projected sea level rises that would reportedly have put more than 500 properties at risk by 2100 without the wall.

Advisers on the scheme said that homes that would have been flooded every ten or 20 years before the wall’s existence are now only at risk from a once in a 200-year storm.  John Curtin from the Environment Agency previously said that without the wall, “the town would eventually die from flooding too frequently.”

Since the wall was installed, councillors said people were changing their minds about the project with some Conservatives, including group leader Cllr Jeff Green now publicly supporting the scheme.

However, costs have risen further with an extra £3m approved by Wirral Council officers in July due to the rising costs of the project. This was approved by the Environment Agency who granted the money from funding set aside for flood defences.

This means that despite the costs of the scheme going up significantly from an initial £9.6m, the council contribution has remained the same. The construction contract for the scheme is now £17.3m but the overall budget for the project is £19.4m when fees for surveys, project supervision, and designs are included.

According to a council report, the costs of the wall’s flood gates were significantly higher than expected and costs have been “further complicated by recently discovered unforeseen underground obstructions, such as pre-existing structural foundations, requiring further modifications and design changes.”

It’s understood the council did three extensive ground investigations for the project, above that required, but a number of unexpected issues were still found.

The £3m bid was made in May 2023 and awarded by the Environment Agency at the end of June. According to the report, this did not come to committee due to its urgency to meet contractual obligations and “avoid potential significant costs for interest on late payment or litigation for breach of contract.”

Environment committee chair Cllr Liz Grey said, “It’s just inflationary pressures and fully approved by the independent auditors that monitor the project, not a penny coming out of council funds as it’s not our fault and the Environment Agency agree.

“The significantly varied ground conditions along the entire length of the project have proved very challenging but the main issue has been the inflationary pressures. It’s horrendous just how much most materials have gone up along the supply chains for any major infrastructure work now.

“International events, Brexit and the Truss government crashing our economy have all impacted on this and none of these are our fault or the fault of Volkerstevin (the construction contractor), which is why the additional funding was agreed.

“It’s important to stress that none of this is council money and all of it is money set aside to fund flood defence projects. This is not money that could be spent on other things. I am sure if people knew just how much time and effort Wirral Council officers, the Environment Agency and others involved in the Regional Flood Authority had spent dealing with this project, they would be incredibly impressed and grateful. I certainly am.”

Conservative leader, Cllr Jeff Green called the wall “tremendous” when he officially opened it earlier this year. However, Hoylake councillor, Andrew Gardner, still questioned whether the scheme is necessary. He said, “It was always hard to see the business case for this scheme due to no properties on South Parade being at high risk of flooding. The public realm improvements are welcome, of course, but the overall financial burden of this scheme is difficult to square with the benefits.”

Image: LDRS

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