Flood barriers project in Lowestoft could be abandoned due to £124m shortfall

Credit: ITV News Anglia
The flood barrier scheme in Lowestoft is now estimated to cost £200 million altogether. Credit: ITV News Anglia

A partly-built flood barrier scheme in a seaside town could be abandoned after costs ballooned eight-fold - costing £124m more than originally thought.

Work to protect a Suffolk town from flooding has been "halted", the council said after because of a huge funding shortfall.

The whole project in Lowestoft was estimated to cost £24m in 2014. Some 10 years later, that has gone up to £200m.

East Suffolk Coucil said this was the result of "crippling cost increases relating to materials, labour, design changes and inflation".

About 1.5km of flood walls have already been completed in Lowestoft last October, with £15m spent so far.

But the "final and most challenging part", the construction of a tidal barrage will need to be put on hold. It is a barrier that takes advantage of the change in tide levels to produce power.

Design of the final flood barrier that has not been built in Lowestoft. It was scheduled to be completed in spring 2023. Credit: Library

The council said it is in talks with the government and the Environment Agency to get the extra funding needed.

In the short term - up until July - the council said it would need an additional £20m.

Councillor Kay Yule described the decision as "devastating".

She said: “[Before 2014] Lowestoft was the only UK coastal town with no formal tidal flood defences, leaving the town at great risk of climate change impacts."

An existing flood barrier in Lowestoft, Suffolk Credit: ITV Anglia

The project began after the 2013 storm surge, the region's worst weather event in six decades.

Thousands were forced to evacuate and houses toppled into the sea. The damage was estimated to be £1bn across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

Ms Yule said if the same event were to happen gain, the damage in Lowestoft could reach £168m.

She said the barrier would protect 1,500 homes and 800 businesses.

It would also benefit the town's businesses, protect key brownfield sites that could be redeveloped, and lead to more offshore wind energy production.

Flooding in Lowestoft in 2013 Credit: Library

Peter Aldous, MP for Waveney - a constituency that includes Lowestoft, said it was "unacceptable that a town the size of Lowestoft does not have adequate flood protection".

He said he was doing all he could to ensure building work could continue.

The MP defended the government's spending record on flooding, saying it had provided £170m in 2020 to 22 flood defence projects across the country. The Lowestoft scheme was the largest recipient, receiving £43m.

He said the government was still deciding whether it would provide the extra funding.

Businesses in Lowestoft were impacted during the big floods in 2013 Credit: ITV Anglia

But he explained: "They are doing so against a backdrop where it is clear that the current national flood defence budget is inadequate... 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."

In the meantime, the MP said the newly-built flood walls would help, there were temporary flood barriers, and there was support and funding for homes to put up their own defences.

The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment.

There was also the North Sea flood in 1953, which devastated the East coast, and led to the loss of Lowestoft's fishing village, Beach Village.

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