Sea front residents ‘felt safer’ because of West Kirby sea wall

A nan who lives on the West Kirby seafront said she “felt safer” despite water coming over the top of the nearly £20m sea wall.

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

The flooding forced staff at Tanskeys Bistro to be evacuated by the RNLI, caused damage to some properties, moved cars, and trapped people inside their homes.

Long after the tide receded, flood water remained behind the wall with part of Coronation Gardens still flooded on 10 April. Though flooding on the road had cleared, it has raised questions about the effectiveness of the defence which was completed in 2023 with a final cost of £19.7m.

£4m of this was funded by Wirral Council while the rest was through the Environment Agency and the North West Regional Flood Authority. There have been calls for “a full and frank investigation” into what happened following heavy criticism of the council as pictures and videos circulated on social media.

After the flood waters had disappeared, the LDRS went to speak to those living on the seafront to see what they thought after the sea wall faced its first big test.

Many of those who spoke to the LDRS felt the wall had protected their properties from the worst of the storm as waves crashed against the wall instead of their gardens and doors but did criticise the fact people were still able to drive down the road shortly before high tide and park their cars which were then left stranded in the water.

Some said they had expected water to come over the wall and had taken precautions putting up barriers and sandbags ahead of any coming storm.

However, a common criticism was that the drains didn’t work fast enough to get water that came over the wall back out to sea.

Maureen Richmond whose home overlooks the waterfront said, “We did protest quite hard against having it built but we are now quite pleased with it,” adding, “We were prepared to take our chances. This is the first time that there has been a comparable storm with that 2013 one and I was here with a couple of friends watching and I definitely felt safer. They didn’t build the wall to make me feel safe but I did.

“The amount of water was about the same. The thing that was different was the fact all the water came this side and couldn’t be taken away by the drains.”

After floods in 2013 knocked down their garden wall and waves crashed into their garden, Mrs Richmond said they’d reinforced their property but added, “There was never any risk of it hitting our garden wall this time. It’s just the spray so it’s stopped the force definitely.”

Adrian Jaggard said he was thankful the wall had been there, adding, “I am sure pleased there was a wall because if there hadn’t been one, I would be mopping our house out today. We were here five years ago and the sea came straight through.”

Like others, he felt Wirral Council needs to work out how to drain the water quicker, adding, “The only thing is the council hasn’t worked out what to do with the water when it comes over the wall.”

One elderly woman, who did not want to be named, said, “It looks fabulous and people are coming around to it now. It shows how strong it was. To us and the rest of the people on the front, we felt it was positive. I do not think anybody had seen it so high. We were very grateful.”

Another woman, whose home was in an area more affected by the flooding, said, “It was particularly severe but we have seen it before. It would have been worse without the wall.”

She said, “I knew it would smash against the flood wall and it would come onto the road but it wouldn’t smash against the house.

“We knew what was coming so we put our cars elsewhere and put our sandbags out. I haven’t seen any walls down on the front. In 2013, you would have seen a lot of the walls were down.”

Not everyone thought the wall had worked. Carol and Tony Jordan were watching the waves from their window at the south end of the promenade. They said the waves came right up the road and so deep one woman went for a swim in it.

Tony said: “It took so long for the water to drain away. When they built it, they hadn’t thought about the drainage and how to get the water back into the Dee. £19m, a waste of money. It wasn’t worth £19m. It was a complete waste of money.”

Adam Whittle, the commodore for the West Kirby Sailing Club, said there was no point commenting on the sea wall but praised volunteers who raced down to help save the boats from the waves.

He said, “The members were brilliant at moving all the boats and protecting it but I think it’s going to happen again. If you block off the water, it’s just going to find its way around.

“I think what we can do now is work with the council and the firm behind the structure and see how we can future-proof and prevent further losses of our boats. We do not want this to happen again and we need to work out how to prevent it happening again.”

Mr Whittle said he wanted “a positive way forward and mitigate this,” adding, “In future, if it happens again it’s a big concern.” Asked how it was compared to 2013, he said, “I think it was less damaging than yesterday. Yesterday was much worse in terms of what the result was but I think the conditions were similar.”

A Wirral Council spokesperson said, “The new flood defence wall at West Kirby stood up well to yesterday’s significant storm event, which saw a combination of strong, directional winds, higher than predicted Spring tides and powerful tidal surges that impacted on coastal areas and caused overtopping in many parts of the country, including the Wirral peninsula.

“The wall was designed to minimise the potential for damage to properties, particularly along South Parade, from such events and it did bear the brunt of the power of the tidal surges yesterday, significantly reducing the impact it would have had on properties and infrastructure had it not been there. All the indications so far are that very limited damage was caused at West Kirby yesterday.

“Contrary to claims, all the floodgates were secure and closed well ahead of the event and the integrity of the wall was not breached at all. Clearly, there were issues caused by waters crashing into and then over the wall, with the sheer volume causing water to pool on the highway for a short time before draining away

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency, which supported the project with £13.5m, said, “We know the devastation flooding can cause, and we sympathise with anyone whose property or possessions have been damaged.

“The North West coast experienced higher than normal tides yesterday, and a flood alert was issued in advance between Hilbre Island and Heswall. Our teams were out across the region to check the effect of the conditions and ensure our flood defences were ready to respond.

“West Kirby is a defence operated and owned by Wirral Council and we have worked closely with them to help refine their procedures around the closure of the gates and barriers.

“In response to the scenes yesterday, we will be working with partners to establish the facts and determine what can be done to mitigate the impacts on South Parade yesterday.”

If your home on the West Kirby seafront was flooded following the weather on April 9, please contact edward.barnes@reachplc.com.

Image: Maureen Richmond had opposed the sea wall before it was built but now said she felt safer. Credit: Ed Barnes

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