An huge sea wall in Wirral, costing nearly £16m, has now been officially opened after 15 years of development.
The final sections of the huge 1.1km project in West Kirby were finally installed on April 27 with an official opening on May 11. Some works will continue until the end of June to resurface the road and install new flood gates.
The wall was built in order to protect lives and 70 properties along the seafront according to the Environment Agency and Wirral Council. With projected sea level rise, more than 500 properties could have been at risk without the wall by 2100.
The project has been controversial for many years with Conservatives in the council criticising the scheme and Wirral’s Labour Party arguing it was unnecessary. The loss of parking along the seafront of the town after construction began in 2022 has also reportedly led to a loss of business for local traders.
However, Cllr Simon Mountney, who represents West Kirby and Thurstaton, said people were changing their minds now the wall is complete and can see the improvements to the promenade. This includes changes to the Old Baths site which will now become a performance space overlooking the Dee Estuary.
He said, “To begin with, there was very much a feeling we don’t want the wall and now people are talking about the details, “make sure you finish this”. I think there’s now an acceptance and it’s not the worst looking thing in the world, let’s be honest, it’s quite pleasant actually. It’s worked out well and I think people will come to enjoy it.”
One controversial aspect of the new wall has been the rising cost which increased to £15.9m. The funding for the scheme has largely come from the Environment Agency with Wirral Council providing £3.8m.
According to Wirral Council, the cost has increased due to rising costs of materials, delays to construction, as well as issues relocating the RNLI station in West Kirby.
Civic mayor Jeff Green (pictured above), the new Conservative leader in the council, described the wall as “tremendous” and “very attractive,” adding: “As we move forward into the summer, I can’t wait to see visitors sat side by side along the length of the wall enjoying fish and chips, ice creams or whatever taking in those fantastic views across to North Wales.”
He said, “It’s been well documented there’s been some delays but throughout it all they’ve found solutions, worked hard to catch up, and have at all times sought to make sure that people and those who have businesses around here have known what’s going on and tried to keep disruption to a minimum.”
He added, “It’s becoming increasingly important that West Kirby is protected but I also see and what I’m particularly excited about as a local councillor for many years is the complete revamp of our promenade.”
Cllr Green praised officers for having to deal with personal criticism as a result of the project and their engagement with the public who he said had been listened to. He also praised construction company VolkerStevin for ensuring that people could still walk around the marine lake.
Homes along the seafront were at risk of flooding in a severe storm that could occur every 10 or 20 years before but with the new defence, the risk has been reduced to a one in 200 year storm according to Wirral Council advisors on the scheme.
John Curtin (pictured above), the Environment Agency’s CEO, said the wall was necessary because by 2050 once in a century storms would become an annual event under any IPCC climate change projection.
He said, “Over time, the tides would have kept coming higher. All these buildings around here would be flooded more frequently. They would be uninsurable and businesses wouldn’t be able to trade. People wouldn’t come to enjoy the amenities and probably the town would eventually die from flooding too frequently.
“This injection of cash not only makes it more resilient to sea level rise but helps these communities thrive.”
Though risk of flooding is reduced to 0.5% as a result of the wall, the Environment Agency still urged people in the area to sign up forflood alerts in the case of an extreme storm. A link for this is here
Main image: Mayor Cllr Jeff Green and the Lady Mayoress with some of the workers in a quintessentially British scene; enjoying a seaside ice cream in the rain. Credit for all photographs: www.fotopiaimages.com, unless otherwiae credited