29 January 2024
Lowestoft Tidal Barrage

Peter Aldous responds to East Suffolk Council’s decision to halt work on the Lowestoft Tidal Barrage project.

The 2013 Storm Surge showed how exposed Lowestoft is to the severe weather conditions that we are increasingly experiencing and it was right that straight away afterwards Waveney District Council (and subsequently East Suffolk Council, through Coastal Partnership East] set about producing a scheme to construct defences to properly protect the town.

The first two elements of this protection, along Kirkley Stream and the flood walls around the Outer Harbour have been successfully completed, though the final and most challenging part of the project, the installation of a tidal barrage to the east of the Bascule Bridge remains outstanding.

The scale and ambition of the project has increased over the past 10 years and likewise it’s anticipated cost has risen. In 2014 this was estimated at approximately £24 million, in 2020 it had increased to the order of £70 million and today it is estimated at approximately £200 million.  As a result, there is now a funding gap of the order of £124 million.

In 2020 Government provided £170 million to 22 flood defence projects across the country, of which the Lowestoft Flood Defence Scheme at £43 million was the largest recipient.

The Government are currently considering representations from East Suffolk Council, the Environment Agency and myself to meet the current shortfall. They are doing so against a backdrop where it is clear that the current national flood defence budget is inadequate, even though at £5.2 billion it is double what it was previously. Moreover there are other similar schemes around the country facing the same inflationary challenges.

I am also concerned that the way as a country we deliver flood defence schemes is too long winded, is vulnerable to such price escalation and the formula for calculating funding is biased against coastal defence projects. These are issues that I highlighted in the debate, which I led on 19th December on coastal erosion in Suffolk and Norfolk and on which I continue to lobby Government.

Whilst I can understand why East Suffolk Council have made the decision to halt work on the project, it is to be hoped that a way forward can be found for work to resume in the near future and I continue to make the case to Government so that this can happen.

In the meantime, it is important that the temporary barriers that have been deployed in times of emergency continue to be available to protect those areas that remain vulnerable, and that support and funding is provided for those properties that are at risk for them to install their own defence measures.

71 years after the ‘Big Flood’ of 1953, which caused devastation and loss of life all along the East Coast and which ultimately led to the loss of the Beach Village, it is unacceptable that a town the size of Lowestoft does not have adequate flood protection.

In recent years progress has been made to ‘right this wrong’. We are now better protected from pluvial and fluvial flooding, flood walls have been installed around the Outer Harbour and progress has been made in planning for the Tidal Barrier.

I am most grateful to the officer team at East Suffolk Council and Coastal Partnership East for their tireless work on the project, and I shall do all that I can to ensure that they can resume this as soon as possible, so that Lowestoft homes and businesses have the protection that they deserve.