Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review

On Monday, I attended a meeting of the Place scrutiny committee which, in addition to the budget papers, was also scrutinising the review of the flood defences at Shoebury Common. Over the past couple of days, I have read a couple of posts from Labour bloggers Matthew Dent and Julian Ware-Lane. From these posts I think a couple of points firstly need to be made. Firstly, I was not the portfolio holder responsible for flood defences it was my colleague John Lamb.

Secondly, whilst I have a lot of time for Julian personally and politically, I do not subscribe to wanting to protect people's homes, lives and livlihoods as a vanity project. I think Julian may regret using that term but understand his rationale for the post as he based his position on the costing of the schemes.

If we were to base decisions on cost alone you wouldn't close four public toilets to save £40,000 whilst spending £190,000 for a gold plated toilet in Thorpe Bay for example.

My decision at the time was not just on cost but other factors including asthethics and environmental impact. Out of the three Council options presented at the time the preferred option, for me, was the best of all the options. In an ideal world I would not have changed anything at Shoebury Common but we are not in an ideal world.

In the Black & Vetch assessment, it was predicted that the level of protection at Shoebury Common at the weakest point was 1 in 5 years. In the report produced by Mott MacDonald the weakest point at Shoebury Common is predicted to be 1 in 14 years. All things considered something needs to be done and fast.

Going back to the three Council options, options 2 and 3 were not an option for me and would have made Shoebury a gated community. In the original study, the BERA option was ruled out as this would have destroyed a SSSI site. The Mott McDonald report confirms likewise.

With the Friends of Shoebury Common scheme I had said all along that if you raised the Beach Huts residents views in Leitrim Avenue would have been affected. This was confirmed in the Mott McDonald report.

I also said at the time that the Friends of Shoebury Common scheme would still have used the soil stored at Gunners Park. This was also confirmed in the Mott MacDonald report. I would also add that I did not then and do not now support using taxpayers money to lift the Beach Huts and raise the promenade. Raising the promenade would also have caused overlooking issues with some properties over the road in Lodwick.

What I think was being glossed over at the scrutiny committee is the fact the Mott MacDonald report produced by this administration still showed that of all the schemes they were asked to assess, the Council's preferred scheme was the best option but discounted on public opinion.

In the Mott McDonald report I have to say that I am surprised that Cllr Terry has been allowed to state in a meeting with stakeholders on the 10th September 2014 that the Council's preferred option would not be going ahead. I thought democratic processes had to be followed to overturn Council policy. Just to think, Cllr Terry had the audacity to call the last Administration a dictatorship!

It is also somewhat surprising that people who live in the floodplain were not considered to be a stakeholder by Cllr Terry and participate at the meetings.

The Mott McDonald report also makes the point that the need to improve flood defences at Shoebury Common is not linked to the planning application to build homes on the former Gunners Park site.

Having been at the scrutiny meeting on Monday which discussed the Mott McDonald report, I believe that a decision which has widespread public attention should be debated by all 51 councillors not just a handful on a scrutiny committee and support the move to refer the matter to Full Council. It is after all democracy. Although it would appear that UKIP's (or not UKIP's) James Moyies took exception to this on twitter yesterday.

When the Council's preferred option scheme was going through Cabinet, at the time, I made the point that the Council needed to learn a lesson in the way it consults people, as the consultation into the flood defences at Shoebury Common was not the Council's finest hour.

My main priority still is the protection of people's homes, lives and livelihoods. I do believe that whatever the results were at last May's elections it was almost inevitable that the decision would have to have been reviewed.

If the current administration as part of its review come up with a scheme better than was originally proposed then it will get my full support. If it doesn't, then I will vigorously oppose it. Where I do think the rainbow coalition will struggle, is to get a common consensus on a scheme that is acceptable to all.

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