Letters to the Editor: Council determined to build £9.7m sea defence wall while cutting £20m of services

Dear Editor,

In 2014, Wirral council wrote a report on the December 2013 damage and recommended that there should be more flood warnings and that houses and businesses affected should access the government’s flood support scheme.

Most of the damage was to garden walls – built there to protect the properties from flooding.  The damage was actually caused by cars and an unsecured large storage container left on the front being lifted by the water and hitting the walls. 

The rest was very minor/temporary water ingress, to properties which had removed or failed to maintain their front walls, and to two basements where people had decided to convert, in spite of being only 10m from the sea.  A good many of the houses are a long way back from the sea front. 

Nine years’ later, we have planning permission for a concrete wall 1m wide down the 1.2km, length of the promenade, costing £9.7m.  Part of the funding is from the Lancashire local flood levy, part is from DEFRA and the rest (£2.4m) is from the council.

We note that there are real floods elsewhere in the country, which could probably do with the DEFRA cash. So far 12 properties actually got a wetting, and 8 very mildly, equating to £833,333 per property.  Even if it were possible to say that 70 properties were protected, it works out at  £142,857.14 per property. 

Yesterday Wirral council voted through £20m of cuts, including closing some leisure centres and libraries for good. Most of those cuts fell on the East of the Wirral, which includes extremely poor Wards, being part of Birkenhead.  The properties being protected on the front sell for about £400,000 for a flat.  Flats in a recent fancy development on the front sold for £750,000. 

The Council has several rationales for going ahead with the wall:

  1. they won’t get the money later (I was told this in 2015 and we are still being told the same in 2022)
  2. the council needs the external funding to be able to improve the prom (which I agree needs attention).  This is not true because the council could just spend £1m and get an amazing improved prom with out the need for the wall as well.  This is like saying: ‘I have £100 to spend to improve my garden, which is more than enough.  But, if I get someone in to build a concrete lump in the middle of it at a cost of £900, I will get £1000 AND can afford to ruin my garden.’
  3. maybe in 100 years time there will be fatalities.  There has been no evidence produced for this claim. At the same time the council says it can place barriers in the gates across the wall at appropriate times, because we all know exactly when high tides happen – and that is the only time water will come onto the prom. So, no fatalities are ever likely. 
  4. the promenade needs protection even if the houses don’t.  There has been no serious damage to  street prom furniture.  In fact the council is going to re-position some nice shelters on the seaward side of the wall, once it is built. A bin was knocked loose in the most serious surge in December 2013. 
  5. there is a high or medium risk of a flooding event according to national assessments  The high risk is around the edge of the marine lake.  The medium risk is against the edge of it. The medium risk is for overtopping to occur once every few years.  In 100 years overtopping may flood properties which don’t have good garden walls or their own planks/flood defences. At absolute worst, in 100 years, 150 properties may have mild flooding every few years. 

There were 224 objections to the planning proposal and only 23 in favour.  A petition of 1,125 was ignored at committee.  The design has been improved in response to comments. 

There are some technical concerns about disabled access:  cars will park next to a narrow pavement behind the wavy wall.  That pavement is 1.2m wide – below the recommended minimum of 1.8m wide.

‘Passing places’ of 1.7m will have lampposts in them.  Access gates are 100m apart, approx (depending where access roads join the prom from the landward side).  Widening the pavement to 1.8m would leave the prom itself unacceptably narrow. 

Judith Carter, West Kirby

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