Waterfront boom blow

THERE were fears of major delays to Ipswich's Waterfront boom today after it emerged a failure to finalise new flood defences had put construction of key buildings on hold.

Naomi Cassidy

THERE were fears of major delays to Ipswich's Waterfront boom today after it emerged a failure to finalise new flood defences had put construction of key buildings on hold.

A major part of the University Campus Suffolk development cannot go ahead until the design of Ipswich's new £40million flood barrier scheme and agreement on funding it, developers claim.

Work on the flood defences scheme is still in its infancy, delaying a key stage of the UCS development.

Neil Jackson, director of estates for UCS, said its 1,200 student flats and 1,800sqm of academic space due to built along Orwell Quay could not go ahead until more funding is secured.

He said: “The key thing is the Environment Agency is taking a risk-based decision approach to the development. It means we cannot build until the design of the flood defences is clear.

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“The impact is the university development, which will bring in £50m a year, is being stifled by indecision.”

A change to planning regulations in recent years means new developers now have to comply with a stringent flood risk assessment.

Ian Jeffrey, managing director of Persimmon Homes (Essex), said his company's development of hundreds of new homes and a hotel in Eagle Wharf, which have got planning permission, could be affected if the firm decided to change the design.

He said: “We think the EA ought to be given additional guidance from the government as to how to interpret guidelines because they are too rigid at the moment.

“If funding is secured for the barrier scheme then the EA ought to be able to look at the scheme in a different way.”

Gregory Barker, shadow minister

for the environment and climate change, who visited Ipswich yesterday, said: “It is vital that development continues and to do that they need the Environment Agency and the department of environment to play their part in securing the future posterity of Ipswich.

“We need the government to stop dithering over flood defences and give a clear indication on the future of the flood defences in Ipswich.”

Work is expected to start in February next year on the first phase of the flood barrier scheme.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency said: “We have just started work on the scheme. It is going to take us until 2012 to do it.

“The council are the people who make the decisions on planning permission. We advise on the flood risk and let the council know about the flood risk areas. It is very important to get the flood defences in Ipswich.”

A QUICK decision on funding Ipswich's new flood barrier scheme was crucial to the future of the Waterfront, senior figures at Ipswich Borough Council said today.

Liz Harsant, leader of the borough council, said: “At the moment the Environment Agency is not happy with the location of the student accommodation. It is saying to wait until 2012. The students will be going into private sector housing and this skews the market for first-time buyers.

“The government is dithering because it's not giving any guidance to the EA on what is realistic. It is a ridiculous situation.

“I think economically it's going to be very, very worrying for the town, especially with the student accommodation because they need to get on with that.”

Jim Hehir, Ipswich Borough Council's chief executive, said the UCS building which was being delayed - which would include student accommodation and lecture and office space - would face the same planning criteria as other developments, meaning there would be no residential accommodation on the ground floor.

However, he said there had been a shift in policy from Defra on flood defences and it was crucial Defra and the Environment Agency agreed a funding plan for the new barrier as soon as possible.

“The good news is the barrier we've wanted for years and years is now at the top of the list for Defra and the Environment Agency.

“We're pleased that the £40

million scheme has been included as a priority - we'd like to get on with it.”