Plea for sea defence cash

DELICATE negotiations are under way today to try to persuade the cash-strapped government to give £5 million for new sea defences to protect £400m of homes and other property.

DELICATE negotiations are under way today to try to persuade the cash-strapped government to give £5 million for new sea defences to protect £400m of homes and other property.

A leading engineer from Defra - the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - is set to visit Felixstowe to see the state of the battered prom, which has started to collapse.

Meanwhile, emergency work was starting with rocks being put on to the eroded beach in front of the sea wall to try to stop further damage.

Some 2,000 tonnes of rocks - an initial delivery bought from a sea defence scheme at Southwold and the rest from a quarry in Leicestershire - will placed along 400 metres of shore.

The work will take three-and-a-half weeks to complete.

Suffolk Coastal cabinet member Andy Smith said the council was working with Defra to try to find a solution, such as releasing money early from next year's budget or other financial arrangements.

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“To put the £5m figure in context, this council raises just over £6m a year from its council taxpayers, while the total public spending bill of the government for this year is £552,000,000,000. We are asking for just 0.0009 per cent of that to be spent on making Felixstowe safe,” he said.

A total of £10m worth of work is to be done in Felixstowe, but the Environment Agency has its half of the money ready - it's just the Suffolk Coastal half of the scheme in doubt.

Mr Smith said the visit of Defra engineer John Horne was “excellent news” and would enable him to see first-hand the very real flooding threat to 1,600 homes, tourist attractions and the port.

“I know Mr Horne is well aware of our £5m scheme that would have got under way this month but had to be shelved following the government's announcement in December that there was no money available for new schemes this year,” said Mr Smith.

“The project plan had been carefully designed to save money by phasing in with work in hand at Southwold. This plan had to be completely reworked, adding further expense and delay.

“However, the visit will be a chance to explain exactly what we wanted to do, why all our evidence showed that it was a vital scheme for the safety of Felixstowe, and how our fears have been justified by this week's sad events. I am anticipating a constructive discussion that may begin to deliver a solution to our funding problem.”

Suffolk Coastal's consultant engineer Terry Oakes said if Defra was able to give grant aid, work could start on new rock groynes and beach replenishment this autumn. If the funding was delayed, then it would be spring next year.

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