Sedgemoor 2050 Transport Investment Strategy- what climate emergency?

On the 20th February 2019 Somerset County Council declared a climate emergency  followed by Bridgwater Town Council on the 15th March and by Sedgemoor District Council few days later on the 20th March 2019. Clearly there isn’t any emergency according to the recently approved study Sedgemoor 2050 Transport Investment Strategy; the two key drivers of Sedgemoor’s  future, climate change through rising sea levels that threatens Sedgemoor’s low-lying land and the impact of an aging population higher than the national average, barely got a mention. Its quite clear that Sedgemoor just does not get it.

Transport infrastructure drives how our society develops, it brings development and investment and it is difficult to see how the adopted strategy delivers on any of those fronts apart from facilitating housing developers at Sanford Corner. What we do know is Sedgemoor’s reliance on the motorcar is particularly unsustainable not only for health  but the geography of  the area split into 3  by the M5, railway and River Parrett creates bottle necks everywhere. We don’t have enough crossing points and could not afford to build the bridges we need. Indeed, the published evidence says if we built all the improvements by 2032 it’s still not good whilst SDC won’t start looking at a bypass until 2030 and that will take at least 10 years to select the route, acquire the land and gain approval and be built 2040 would seem to be a fair delivery date for a bypass by which time our local population is predicted to be well on the way to 150,000 people. The same evidence also noted the bypqss from junction 24 offered greater benefits than from junction 23.

the map below is extracted from the report

Fig
Figure 3.2: Sedgemoor 2050 Transport Investment Strategy schemes for Bridgwater


Bearing in mind that with the studies supporting Hinkley Point Planning and  the work done for the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and other post 2014 flood related studies the same team responsible for this report can have no excuse for a lack of knowledge however:

Gravity

Redevelopment of the old Royal Ordnance Factory at Puriton is trumpeted as some wunderkind  scheme yet the proposed access road on Puriton Hill will see all vehicles coming and going from the site having to climb  a hill in both directions. None but the most fanatical  cyclist from Bridgwater is going to do that hill twice a day and certainly not aging cyclists. It appears in London where the authors reside the Polden Hills don’t exist or even the rising Severn Estuary.

The irony of building an Energy Park with perhaps the least carbon friendly access route should be lost on no one.

Bridgwater Northern Bypass

The bypass will be built downstream of Bridgwater’s Tidal Barrier. The new road will cross the area (flood plain) designated to take water over topping  the River Parrett to save Bridgwater and will invariably make much of the planned secondary flood defences  redundant. It will also require raising the River Parrett banks at Cannington Bends that is always settling due to the poor  ground conditions. How far down stream would that go? The argument for the present configuration of the tidal barrier is that the 100-year design life, 800mm sea level rise is ok for now, sea level will rise 2 to 3m. The reason there is no provision for replacement or expansion made today we should not impose a solution on the generations that follow. Building the bypass downstream of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is exactly what SDC/SDC is doing, it is placing future generations in an invidious position with the need for a bigger tidal barrier downstream of the bypass. That we wont be able to develop land off the bypass because of the flood risk makes the bypass and barrier configuration all the more unrealistic or improbable or the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier needs to be revisited.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Flood Plain

The original route of the Bridgwater Northern bypass connecting  to the existing Cannington bypass  has been abandoned and a new route identified  between Sanford Corner (A39) crossing the overspill area of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and crossing the River Parrett somewhere around the site of the old BP jetty. It seems to adopt a developer’s route from 2017 that incorporated both a barrier and a bridge. Being downstream of Dunball Wharf it must be intended to finally shut the wharf and bring to end the Port of Bridgwater. It is important to understand that the importation of sand at Dunball Wharf is a significant part of Somerset’s present sustainability strategy keeping trucks off the road.

River Parret Bridge and Tidal Barrier at old BP Jetty.

Population context

The supporting evidence produced in 2017 by Steer Davies Cleave provides three interesting pieces of information for the people of  Sedgemoor.

  • Sedgemoor has a significantly higher proportion of the population over the age of 60 years compared to the national average (28% over 60 compared to 22% in England and Wales at the 2011 UK Census) and this proportion is growing. This will not only affect Sedgemoor residents’ mobility requirements, but also travel patterns, modal preferences, and influences the propensity for adoption of new digital and ‘disruptive technologies.
  • the population of the district could be between 150,000 and 160,000 by 2050. Sedgemoor’s transport networks will need to accommodate the increase in trips resulting from a larger and growing population.
  • The southern bypass option from junction 24 provides a better traffic benefit than the normally assumed  northern bypass from Junction 23.

Comment

Once again Sedgemoor and Somerset County Council have created a situation that flies in the face of common sense notwithstanding the recommendations of the DEFRA oversight committee that in the wake of the 2014 floods that infrastructure should be integrated  for both flood and transport to provide the tax payer with the most value for money. Nothing within the present SDC  transport and flood defence proposals could be farther away from those objectives. The rate and taxpayer is going to end up paying for two structures rather than one and the bypass will be viable for how long before its becomes impossible to manage Cannington Bends settlements and the sea engulfs the bypass. Surely we should be integrating our plans. Should we not be building the secondary flood banks along the route of the bypass?

Bypass with secondary flood defence.

Aging Populations need to move into the centre of towns where walking is a viable active mode of transport, people should not be marooned on housing estates and at the mercy of a bus service. Our town centre densities need to go and that means we need to build up and not out. Anyone reading the notice on the Monmouth Street development will not have missed the irony of proudly reducing densities and consequently displacing people to outskirts of Bridgwater and increasing the need for car trips and reducing support to the businesses in the town centre. As an example, people might consider why new housing being built is permitted to open directly onto Monmouth Street, is it right that those living in affordable housing will be subject to pollution from HGVs driving through the town.

Monmouth Street Affordable Housing

There is nothing remotely sustainable about this development when it uses one of the few sites in the town where a tall apartment building could have been built with the new hotel to the south and rest home to the north. It is a wasteful use of a key site. It also reflects the lack of ability and ambition of housing association SHAL, Sedgemoor District Council and developer alike. Houses have the most concrete, the greatest ratio of external walls that lose heat etc etc. This is the least sustainable form of housing.

As you can see below the doors of the new houses open directly onto Monmouth Street letting in every particulate and dust from passing HGV’s.

SHAL’s new affordable Monmouth Street housing – early Saturday morning 28th September 2019.

Our transport strategy should not only be about new roads but about reducing demand and increasing efficiencies of what we have not expanding a network that costs money to maintain. It is particularly unfortunate that despite our councils declaring Climate Change Emergencies they do absolutely nothing locally to mitigate the situation we have when it is within their power to do so. Its better to avoid the need for a road than to build a new one. Transport policy needs to address our housing and flooding policies. joined up planning ?

Cycle Routes got minimal consideration. Even with climate  change and the opportunity to something different not the smallest amount of blue-sky thinking happens. The old Somerset and Dorset Railway permanent way offers a cycle route from Bridgwater to Cossington and beyond. A safe routes with low gradients suitable for people of all ages, not even a thought was given whilst in other parts of the UK old rail routes are being exploited as new technologies give them new life. With a new cycle bridge over the King Sedgemoor Drain it would remove much of the A39 from cycling into Bridgwater.

Clearly,  we need  something better than the same people on the same committees who deliver no vision that the community can understand and work towards.  Yet again Somerset been let down by the leaders of our district and county councils who seem unable to develop a joined up vision people can support and work towards that the generations that follow can build upon.

Irresponsibile or Incompetent? Local councillors role in the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier

An old boss of mine says unintended consequences is merely the failure to adequately consider the implications of the decision being made.

The location of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) is probably the most significant decision Sedgemoor District Council has made in many years. Rarely can such an important decision have been made with so little debate. If it’s in the wrong place we and the following generations live with the consequences for the next 200 years or so. No one is giving us another one if its wrong.

On the 26th July 2017 a full Sedgemoor District Council meeting agreed the location of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. This decision according to the minutes was apparently waived through without discussion. That the EA and SDC gave a superfical 3 page briefing document with so few key facts indicates just how confident EA and SDC officers felt able too simply ignore the longer term collateral environmental and economic impacts of this scheme. It is a clear indication of the low esteem our councilors are held in. Councillors lack of oversight of this scheme does indicate the officers probably wernt wrong. Silent oversight committees seems to have presided over continued and unsatisfactorily explained cost rises. The cost almost doubled in the the six months after the decision was made. Barely a word was said.

The Issue

Abandoning 1,400 acres of valuable land next to a motorway junction capable of supporting £1B of future investment (jobs) whilst unnecessarily forcing future housing onto the Quantocks foothills extending Bridgwater to absorb Cannington, Spaxton and North Petherton.

This decision  will be seen as one of the most irresponsible and  reproachable acts by councillors of any  local authority at any time. SDC knowingly made a decision to convert the Parrett Estuary into an Intertidal Habitat and behind the the secondary flood defence create more areas of habitat suitable for freshwater mosquitios such as the Zika and Denge carrying Asian Tiger Mosquito to take up residence.

Limiting economic expansion, building on the Quantocks, poisoning the fresh water ecology of Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hamsand and creating a future health hazard is hardly what we people voted councillors into office for.

  • If they did know why did they do it?
  • If they didnt know why not?

Why is this case?

The BTB design uses farmland downstream of the barrier to allow incoming saltwater to spill over riverbanks onto the farmland. It destroys the economic value of around 2.400 acres of land either to continue as low-grade farmland or 1,400 Acres of that total to the south of the Parrett providing land for nearly a £1B of economic development accessible from J23. Would any town throw such an economic legacy away with so little concern? Bridgwater has. The longtime environmental Impact of this scheme is equally as bad; the land being flooded will ultimately become saltmarsh and a large part of the local Quantock foothills unnecessarily developed

The December 2018 public consultation asked for feedback on three basic points

  • The details of the proposals for both the barrier and the downstream flood defences.
  • How you think the proposals may affect you, your land or your business.
  • What additional improvements you would like to see delivered as priorities, in addition to the barrier and the downstream flood defences, subject to funding.

Context

Large civil engineering projects influence long-term economic development as we have seen with development taking place around our motorway junctions; the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) will influence Bridgwater’s future development in a similar way for at least the next 200 years. The Bridgwater Vision published in 2015 and referred to in the presentation  identified land for future development most of which is either now approved or starting to be built out under the local plan. Bridgwater is already reaching the limit of land that can be easily accessed from the town and the M5.

Assuming Bridgwater continues to develop economically at even half its present rate, during the design life of the BTB, an additional 25,000 houses will be built and together with land for employment and Bridgwater’s footprint will grow by around 40%.

Under the present BTB scheme low quality farmland directly beside Junction 23 that could have provided space for at least £1B of economic development, housing and jobs will be lost to the town. Alternative land over the next 100 years will need to be found and that will invariably mean development moving on to high quality agricultural to the south and west of Bridgwater. We will build on the land that feeds us whilst living ever farther from planned and established centres of employment to the north and north east of Bridgwater (Horsey). Building at Horsey will require a new bridge over the King Sedgemoor Drain; money that could be used to cross the Parrett and bring forward a much needed northern bypass.

Location

The reader should take cognisance that the two options studies done for this scheme, the first included highly improbable options such as the Bridgwater Bay power lagoon and outside the influence of the authors. The second option study looked at the same solution at a limited number of locations and would always arrive at the narrowest part of the riveras the prefered solution. It was a superficial study and lacking rigour and at the time of this note the final information used by an SDC sub group remains unpublished despite an FoI request to Sedgemoor District Council remaining outstanding.

Other options and locations to protect Bridgwater and the downstream villages were available but not considered.

Description

The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is a 7mile long inland tidal surge flood defence scheme with a 100 year design life based on sea level rising around 800mm during this period. Similar to the current Thames Barrier it consists of a two elements.

  1. Riverbanks profiled to preferentially spill seawater, during extreme tidal surge conditions, onto farmland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams.
  2. A small double vertical floodgate barrier located in the industrial and employment Express Park area of Bridgwater and approximately 1 mile from the town centre.

The replacement Thames Barrier will be sited more conventionally at the mouth of the Thames; Combwich is Bridgwater’s equivalent location.

Key features

  1. The riverbanks are expected settle and need reconstructing every 35 years
  2. The height to which the riverbanks can be raised is limited by the poor ground conditions.
  3. Although needed no provision of any kind for a replacement is considered.
  4. Contaminates around 2400 acres of farmland with salt water
  5. Constrains economic development to the northwest of the town.
  6. Significant loss of existing freshwater habitat in line with managed realignment policy 7d39 of the Shoreline Management Plan to create an intertidal habitat.
EA DIAGRAM SHOWING SALTWATER FLOWING ONTO FARM LAND

Operation

The closure of the barrier at low tide creates a separation of the two types of water that use the River Parrett. Upstream freshwater from the Parrett and its tributaries such as the Tone; Yeo and Cam will be impounded behind the closed gates. Downstream the freshwater will finish emptying into the Severn and the then the empty river filled with seawater on the incoming tide.

All flooding shown downstream of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will therefore deposit salt water onto the land. This is saltwater and the impact should not be confused with the 2014 event.

The land in question at Chilton Trinity has not been flooded with salt water in this way within living memory.  Pawlett Hams was briefly flooded in the early 80’s and flooded Pawlett from the north where no flood defences are planned.

Summary

What is clear is that considerable ambiguity remains in the proposal. Many issues are simply ignored or the messages contradictory. The following summary and notes provides some comments that should be addressed.

It is disappointing that such an important scheme appears to have been given so little strategic thought whilst the barrier appearance and immediate landscaping seems to have received considerable if unsuccessful attention.

Clearly the priorities of the design and client team are not those of the ratepayers who do not need a solution where the medicine kills the patient which is what we appear to have.  

River Banks

One consistent underlying theme is that once the barrier is built the land to the north and south, Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams, will ultimately become intertidal habitat in line with existing published policies.

The key supporting facts are

  • The cost estimate that does not include for future riverbank reconstruction
  • Planned flooding of agricultural land with saltwater.

The claim made “Bridgwater and the surrounding area will be better protected against a severe flood by building the barrier and improving the downstream flood defences. These works will also maintain the current standard of defence to agricultural land”.is misleading to landowners indicating that farming will simply carry on as normal. With the frequency of saltwater flooding increasing the land will not support the type of grass needed for agricultural. Areas of Norfolk are still recovering from single sea water incursion 65 years ago.

Borrow Pits

No location for the pits was given, which side of the secondary flood defence. It would not be unreasonable to assume between the river bank and the secondary flood defence. A rough estimate would indicate that the scheme will need around 100,000m3 to 150,000m3 of clay creating a large open area (7-8Ha) of stagnant water that will through our now warmer summers become more saline as they will operate as a large evaporation pond. That mechanism does not allow the wildlife enhance described to occur.

Locations were shown to stakeholders but not the public

Environment

A number of claims are made regarding the lack of environmental impact that this scheme has on the ecology however changing the habitat from freshwater to saline will fundamentally change the area in line with the published strategy of changing the land to an intertidal habitat.

2,400 acres of fresh water habitat is destroyed through repeated seawater flooding.

Cost or Intention

An estimate of £94M is given in the EA presentation. Through a FoI request (03 April 2018) The EA provided an estimated whole life cost closer to £160M. That estimate assumed £12.4M Net Present Value or £55M cash cost over 100 years including for maintaining and rebuilding the riverbanks that is around 4x the value of the land. Economically this statement on maintenance costs makes funding the future bank rising impossible. If the circa £100m estimate is correct this would cover the gate maintenance and not the riverbanks. 

The expected need to rebuild the riverbanks twice in the 100-year design life is not mentioned in the presentation and the assumption must be that the intention will not become reality and would conflict with clauses 1.10.1 and 1.10.2 of SDC’s Parrett Estuary Flood Risk Management Strategy

The whole life cost of the scheme is either

  • £100M with one set of the riverbank improvements at the time the barrier is constructed.
  • £160M with three sets of the riverbank improvements including the time the barrier is constructed and subsequently at 35-year intervals after that. That must be the budget.

Did nobody ask why?

Collateral Impact

This scheme is presented at completion in 2024 and looks only at immediate local impacts.  Construction will have immediate and long term wider negative consequences for Bridgwater none of which have been raised or addressed despite written assurances that that would not be the case.

Economic Impacts

  • Loss of 1400 acres of key land suitable for £1B of economic investment for housing and industry that is directly accessible to Junction 23.
  • Creation of a working flood plain over which a potential bypass might need to be constructed.
  • Increasing separation of housing from employment by forcing development elsewhere.
  • Loss of economic food production on prime agricultural land
  • The loss of in existing land values of around £12m and potential bankruptcies where the land is used to secure business loans.

Environment Impacts

  • Destroys 2400 acres of fresh water habitat through deliberate seawater flooding initially during extreme tidal events but ultimately becoming within the normal tidal range.
  • Forces development to take place on high quality agricultural land to the south and west of Bridgwater.
  • Forces apart residential and employment areas with a consequent long term cost to the economy and the environment.
  • Places increased demand on the A38, A39 and Kings Drive as industrial development is forced east to Horsey and to the approved BAE industrial site.

Barrier Superstructure

The barrier superstructure is 2 to 2.5 times higher than it needs to be and lacks any shape that reflects its functionality. It achieves the rare combination of being both pretentious and mediocre. With a structural volume that must be four times what could be reasonably required to support its function it is bloated, unnecessarily expensive and will be difficult and expensive to maintain. Overhanging shapes require specialist access equipment for maintenance. Everything on the structure seems designed to cost more than is necessary. Its appearance seems to owe more to Mr Blobby and the Teletubbies than the Falkirk Wheel, it doesnt do anything like the Falkirk Wheel so hardly a tourist attraction.

The very large ovoid bridge structure will be particular difficult to maintain, it will be almost impossible for safe inspection of the lower quadrants to be made or worked upon. The form of the structure indicates little attention appears to have been taken with regard to the Construction, Design and Management 2015 regulations with regard to the safe operation and maintenance

The poor design of this structure extends to the gates, rather than protect the gates from the salt loaded wind driven rain, the site is classed as a marine environment, rain will be spilled from the ovoid bridge onto the gates increasing maintenance and reducing the life of the gates.

As a piece of architecture and a piece of engineering this structure almost certainly fails on cost, function, operator safety and buildability.

Storage Buildings are provided when the EA has a depot nearby at Bradney.

  • Did no one ask why we need additional buildings at the barrier site?
  • Presumably they would also attract rates?

Sustainability

The lack of sustainability in this project is very concerning;

The decision to excavate burrow pits to reduce construction traffic seems highly questionable. “Where possible, we will excavate material locally from ‘borrow pits’. This will minimise the need to bring in material to build the new downstream flood banks and reduce construction traffic.”

The EA was more than happy to bring excavated material from its Cannington flood project to Chilton Trinity yet the more sustainable option of building the banks over a longer period using spoil from building sites is not considered. It’s not as if the defences need to be at their final levels until the last planned rebuilding of the banks 35 years before then end of the design life. This work could be done on an opportunistic basis over the next 50 years or so in a sustainable cost effective method by local contractors.

The continuing reference to 2055 that is key date in the shoreline management plan indicates thatany future raising of the river banks is unlikely to occure.

This process would also assist in maintaining accesses and local resources able to respond to urgent requirements such as a breach in the river bank.

Finally just to prove the point the EA/SDC presented on page 7 of the stakeholder presentation three images of unrelated events to support its postition.

  • West Quay collapse, an old wall collapsed when it got too much water behind it; we see thse failures alongside our roads all the time but we dont try and link them to climate change or a tidal barrier.
  • The 2014 flood was a pluvial (rain) event and the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is not designed to mitigate a repeating event. There is clue in the word Tidal. Unfortunately many people in Bridgwater and the surrounding area believe that it is part of a pluvial flood defence scheme.
  • one was applicable
WEST QUAY & 2014 ARE NOT TIDAL EVENTS

Perhaps an SDC, Town or county councillor reading this might decide to ask some serious questions about this project, one can only hope.



Flood protection, wildlife & environment is always a one sided view.

The impact of wildlife organisations on locally managed flood projects is a concern. They seem to be free to make unsubstantiated statements whilst pursuing their objectives with little public visibility, criticism or professional oversight and it is a growing problem.  It is a situation becoming increasingly familiar and yet another example of our growing democratic deficit where minorities impose their ambitions on the majority. The Somerset  Levels,  the Parrett Estuary and Bridgwater’s need for a flood defence from the sea has brought many of these parties with their own agenda to one location each focusing on what they consider to be important. Bridgwater seems to be well down the list of importance despite the planned construction of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. The purpose of this article is to provide an explanation as to how this is happening.

Context

Bridgwater currently builds around 500 houses a year and if that rate continues at even half that rate for the next 100 years we could expect to see the number of houses in Bridgwater rise by 25,000 taking another 700Ha (1,700 acres) of  land for housing and a further 300Ha needed for employment. This 1,000Ha’s  will see Bridgwater’s existing footprint grow by at least 50%, The 25,000 houses and associated economic development will generate perhaps 300,000m3 of clays and soil waste.

With flat and level land needed for employment land at the old BAE site and at Horsey offer the only other viable employment options to Bridgwater and they are to the northwest. New housing will be forced onto good quality farmland south along the A38 swallowing up North Petherton and eventually meeting Taunton coming the other way and to the west developing the land between Bridgwater and Cannington. Bridgwater will consume its high value agricultural land on the hills as it, like the rest of the country, continues to build our outdated ideas of housing.

Bridgwater will therefore become an even more difficult place to live and work as the gap between residential development and employment continue to grow. Every day a large part of Bridgwater’s population will get up and drive along the A38 and A39  to get to work. Bridgwater will not even start considering a bypass until 2040.

Apart from the normal lack of imagination by planners and developer’s Sedgemoor’s (Bridgwater) greatest problem now appears to be the wildlife and flood pressure groups that seem to take an extreme view in the pursuit of what they consider to be in their interest. They show little tolerance or understanding that people also live on the Levels and in Bridgwater and ignor the EU directives that accept people must come first. The true impact of their objectives is concealed and never addressed.

These organisations also seem immune from any need to consider facts in their statements whilst criticising property developers for the smallest omission. The irony that is they now ape those same commercial organisations in assembling land and changing its use without considering its long term impact on the wider local population and  it should be lost on no one.

Some typical examples

Steart Peninsula

The local economic benefits alluded to as part of the original Steart Peninsula planning application remain unproven and therefore represent little tangible benefit to the local population yet quoted as fact by The Severn Vision statements.

The Severn Vision

The Severn Vision

This plan will expand the existing saltmarsh by 833% around the Severn Estuary and in Bridgwater’s case large areas of agricultural land removed from food production and converted from a freshwater environment to a saltwater one (intertidal habitat). To date two phases have been completed; The Steart Peninsula and the RSPB reserve (funnded by Bristol Ports) both of which remove economic activity and destroy an existing habitat to create another. A process little different from modern housing development. Whilst an argument might be made on the basis of geography for these two areas to be returned to the sea no such argument exists for the destruction of Pawlett Hams and Chilton Trinity including areas of the SSI.

This is a process promoted by the following organisations

  • Wildlife and Wetlands
  • The Wildlife Trusts
  • RSPB
  • National Trust
  • Campaign for Rural England (CPRE)
  • Severn Rivers Trust

With regard to Bridgwater it makes claims regarding carbon savings whilst ignoring the collateral effect of moving Bridgwater’s housing developments onto higher quality agricultural land and increasing commuting distances. Also ignored is the loss of food production on 5,000 acres of land and the transfer of that food production overseas. It is particularly misleading in its statements with regard to Bridgwater providing no supporting evidence as to the negative benefit that it has considered in any balanced and holistic way. It is completely one sided yet already two key elements have been delivered, Steart Peninsula  and RSPB  reserve. The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will deliver the southern land at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams .

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier

The Environment Agency and Sedgemoor District Council’s Dec 2018 public consultation made a claim with regard to the lack of any environmental impact of this scheme. The EA and SDC have not considered environmental impacts beyond the immediate area of the scheme despite this scheme  imposing restrictions on economic development forcing residential development to the south and west of Bridgwater and employment to the northwest of the town.

It is worth noting that HPC looked at issues far beyond the immediate area of the power plant when it did its enviromental impact assessment.

Environmental Impact Statement

This statement above  cannot be true as

  1. Seawater is shown overtopping the river banks onto the existing farmland, the fact that it is seawater is misleading.
  2. The farmland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams will be poisoned for agriculture through the introduction of saltwater
  3. The existing wildlife that requires a freshwater environment will be destroyed.
  4. The location of the borrow pits, which side of the secondary flood defence, was not shown. The plan to excavate 100,000m3 of material will create a lake of nearly 13 acres that  will act as a reservoir for saltwater.
  5. 1,400 acres of high quality farmland suitable will be unnecessarily developed invariable towards North Petherton and Cannington as this scheme will convert  1,400 acres of low quality farmland that could have been used to saltmarsh.
  6.  100 years of lost food production on 2400 acres of farmland.
  7. 100,000m3 of clay will be unnecessarily excavated from the  land  being protected whilst during the same period 300,000m3 will be produced as waste through normal housing and industrial construction activities. (the secondary flood defences do not need to be completed to the full height during intial construction
  8. Denying economic development in the north-west will increase commuting efforts in the local community generating avoidable C02; the scheme ensures the increased separation of employment areas from housing.

The claims regarding this scheme are questionable at best and the lack of information misleading at worse. The extract from the EA/SDC public display  indicates a plan to create a  stepping-stones for species that are not identified.

Campaign for Rural England (CPRE)

The CPRE’s support for The Severn Vision that results in the wholesale destruction of a large area of our existing productive landscape and the equivalent of 10 500 acre farms is not what we imagined their core mission to be that says

“We campaign for a beautiful and living countryside. We work to protect, promote and enhance our towns and countryside to make them better places to live, work and enjoy, and to ensure the countryside is protected for now and future generations.”

How allowing saltwater (seawater) onto productive farmland that has taken 500 years to remove the salt from seems a strange way  of protecting our countryside.

Somerset’s Wild Trust (SWT)

Another supporter of The Severn Vision.

Somerset’s Wild Trust’s  website says

Since the 2013-14 flooding events, the dominant narrative in the floodplains has focussed on hard engineering schemes and dredging to reduce flood risk, overlooking flood risk reduction techniques that work with nature and provide a range of benefits to society. A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change. As peat is drained, it shrinks, lowering land height and making the area ever more vulnerable to extreme weather. Well-informed debate on the future of Somerset’s low-lying areas in the face of rising sea level is limited, so a further vital part of our work on the Levels is to communicate a more optimistic narrative which gives nature its proper value.

This statement ignores that the Somerset Level’s is an artificial environment that needs regular maintenance and seems to conflate the need to dredge Somerset’s rivers and the need to get pluvial flows from the upper Parrett catchment areas to the sea bypassing the levels storage with an idea that somehow this process is designed to shrink the peat. “A future is developing where more public money will be spent on fossil fuel intensive dredging and pumping, to further drain the peat soils of the Levels, thus releasing more carbon and exacerbating climate change” is a particularly spurious and misleading statement. It sounds like people are secretly pumping water off the levels as some sort of conspiracy.

Anyone with any knowledge of the Levels would know that retaining water levels is just as important to the Levels as draining them. No one is going to drain the peat. Well informed debate requires informed knowledge and that is clearly not the case with this statement by the SWT.

FLAG Flooding on the Levels Action Group

FLAG reflects its single issue origins seemingly taking its position on Somerset’s farming industry geographically from the lands relationship to Moorland and what is best for Moorland.

A post (Nov 2018) supporting Somerset’ s farming industry on the Levels was made by FLAG making Brexit the largest threat to farmers in anticipation of a nonexistent trade deal with the US; no doubt the cause of the 2014 flood and global warming will in time also be subscribed to Brexit.

FLAG’s postion downstream of Moorland at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams is quite different.  Flag is altogther less compasionate regarding the farmers there having their land flooded with saltwater to alleviate upstream flooding. Concern is  simply dismissed by a statement worthy of Marie Antoinette “let them raise salt beef or lamb”. It  completely ignores  that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier has already destroyed  land values for 2,400 acres of land and food production we might  have gained. Reverse nimbyism seems to apply; as long the flooding is on someone else’s land FLAG appears to be happy whilst refuses even the smallest tacit support  for or willingness to consider alternatives tht might have a better outcome for the wider community.

Conclusion

Whilst our wildlife organisations may have started with good intentions what is clear is that many people associated with these organisations simply don’t understand the mechanisms of the Somerset Levels, the impact of what they propose (The Severn Vision)  and in most cases don’t care if it doesn’t suit their agenda. They fail to consider that ultimately the economy pays for everything and destroying local economies will ultimately call into question the viability of protecting our environment; the ratepayer maintains the roads used to get to our wildlife sites and will pay or make a significant financial contribution to the cost to the current planned defences and the their subsequent replacements. A case of shooting the goose that lays the Golden Egg of in this case chasing away industry and people.

It is clear that many organisations support the existing proposals to turn the Parrett Estuary into a saltmarsh. The  decision by SDC and the EA not to commission an economic impact assessment has allowed those organisations and the Environment Agency to  create the worst possible long term economic future as there is no assessment mechanism other than the government  investment rules to measure the value of this scheme.  Allowing the  undermining Somerset’s agricultural industry, wasteful development and not working towards an integrated low energy society is not what we should be doing.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Final Public Consultation

Ahead of the forthcoming last public consultation on the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) the rate and tax payers might consider asking what becomes of Bridgwater after the BTB reaches the end of its design life?

The answer is simple.  

if there  is no barrier capable of keeping the rising sea out there will be no house insurance, no mortgages and Bridgwater the town will not be a viable place to live. 

Our present proposed EA flood defence scheme is based on retreating as far back from the sea as we can, it deliberately  puts our backs to the wall  On one side of the barrier we will ultimately have the inter tidal habitat (the sea)  and on the other our housing and industry.

No space is being provided behind the proposed barrier to create another bigger one. As a consequence there will be nowhere to go with a replacement that does not have a huge and unnecessary price tag. There is an irony that land at Chilton Trinity returned to the sea under the present scheme  and the planned managed realignment in 2055  will be inadvertently reclaimed  under a downstream replacement barrier albeit land now poisoned with salt.

With sea level rise continuing for hundreds of years past the design life of the BTB one would expect that as responsible people we would give some consideration to what happens next. Unfortunately, like so many things in need of fixing and investment we seem content to kick the problem into future refusing even to consider how we might make some provision to help those that follow us.

Many years an Arup engineer called Poul Beckmann wrote  the opening sentence of a  document with the line “Human nature is that we put off until tomorrow what we should do today”. Never has that been more true today than in Somerset. Somerset’s failure to develop a realistic, affordable and sustainable long-term strategy is unforgivable.  It really is time for some of the promises made by our political leadership on this issue to be delivered and people stop making excuses why things cannot be done. Simply working our way through the Somerset 20 years plan and saying the future is not our business is irresponsible and unacceptable.

what was the question?

The SRA was asked “What is the SRA and its partners working assumption for the replacement of the existing scheme and barrier?

The written answer received from the SRA  answer is in blue

From day one, the tidal barrier will be designed in such a way that it will still provide a 1 in 1,000-year standard of protection in 2125. The design includes an allowance for climate change up to 2125.

  • Climate change does not stop in 2125!!!! 
  • 1:1,000 sounds good but its just the margin on the starting point and degrades over time. The Dutch use 1;10,000 and maintain it as the level of protection.

The downstream defences will be designed in such a way that they will still provide a 1 in 200-year standard of protection in 2055, with allowance for further adaption for climate change over time.

  • 2055 is important because this is the date from which managed realignment is implemented under Policy 7d39  of the Shoreline Management Plan.

EA explaining the scheme in 2017

It is to be expected that any piece of infrastructure would need updating after 100 years. We cannot decide now how future generations may wish to live or what their priorities for infrastructure will need to be. This is why, for example, there are plans for the Thames Barrier to be re-built in future decades but decisions on exactly where and what will be required are deliberately being left for later.

  • Building the barrier in the town as planned does not  give those in the future choices but leaves them no choice to but to go downstream and  use land we have previously given back to the sea and to abandon the £100M investment the present scheme will have cost.
  • The response attempts to conflate the need to replace the  1970’s Thames Barrier as a reason not to make provision today for a replacement  in Somerset. if you know you have to replace something why would you not plan for the replacement? Its an excuse. 
  • We should be learning the lessons of the past rather than making a  virtue of repeating the failures that the SRA reply implies.

The Thames Barrier Myth

The continual portrayal Thames Barrier shown on TV as an iconic single barrier solution is misleading; the barrier is actually part of the Thames Estuary flood defence system comprising not one but eight individual tidal barriers that all shut together. Five of the eight barriers are closer to Bridgwater’s  situation than the “Thames Barrier”. They are however where they should be at the mouth of the rivers they defend not 5 miles upstream as with Bridgwater’s Tidal Barrier.

Thames Estuary Flood Defence

Using the Thames Barrier as an excuse for not planning a replacement in Somerset is particularly disingenuous  for a number of reasons.

  1. Nearly 60 years ago  when the Thames Barrier was designed climate change was not understood as it is now. There was little provision for sea level rise just the post Ice Age tilt of the south of England to consider.
  2. The  Thames Barrier is upstream of what were active docks  that had navigation rights in the Thames Estuary.
  3. In Somerset we have a topography in the form of the Polden Hills, Pawlett Hill and Stockland Bristol that we can link and use to our advantage.  London does not have such a luxury.
  4. All the Thames Barrier replacement options  move the replacement barrier  downstream perhaps as far as Tilbury. (July 2016 update)
  5. The  most frequent use of the Thames Barrier is now the management of fluvial flood water rather than tidal surge. Something Bridgwater is not designed to do.
  6. Sedgemoor District Council is able to reserve space for a bridge over the Parrett south of Dunball should its not be doing the same for a replacement barrier?

The collective response is No ; there is no plan.

The SRA, EA and SDC were conformed as having contributed to the response

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier; the Questions the public need to Ask

Once  the question “how will the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier be replaced?” the present  scheme simply looks out of date and poor value for money.

The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is repeating the same mistake as was made with the Thames Barrier system setting it as far upstream as possible. Because of the selected location  a replacement would like the Thames Barrier have to go downstream towards Combwich. Confused? We should be.

When you go to public consultation some questions worth asking;

  1. How will the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier be replaced?”
  2. What becomes of Bridgwater after sea level rise exceeds the design basis of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier?
  3. Why is there no long-term plan or vision for what comes next?
  4. Why is the ratepayer required to provide money to raise river banks money protecting land at Chilton Trinity when the planned sea water flooding will make it of no economic value?
  5. Why is not improving fluvial flow in the river system  part of the scheme?
  6. Why did the cost of the scheme almost double after the location was decided on?

Sustainable Flood Defence

The UK has a serious problem with leadership and sustainable construction where flood defence is concerned. There is a profound lack of critical thinking in the delivery of future UK flood defences and an unwillingness by agencies to get their  hands dirty at a local level. As a consequence government continues to fail regarding sustainability and value for money; taxpayer funded agencies seem unable or unwilling to work together.  It is a situation compounded by wildlife and environmental organisations who have seen an opportunity to gain control of and modify land in much the same way that monasteries such as Glastonbury once did.

Flood defence schemes are invariably seen in terms of a definable project that can be closed rather than the first step of a sustainable long term solution. The protected community needs to live with and manage these schemes  for 100’s of years after they are built. Our thinking on delivery is just too short and too expensive when it is a 300 year or so problem and especially when the initial solution only has a 100 year design life; it makes little sense. There is an obvious gap. That gap  means that today’s options should at least consider what happens next. Should we really  be adopting a solution today requiring the construction of a  replacement barrier tomorrow rather than a scheme today that has  provision or a plan for extending it already built in? Our current scheme takes planned obsolescence to a new level.

We should not be closing out future options for the generations that follow and we should follow our own rules for sustainable development

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Delivery of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier continues to be an exemplar of non-sustainable thinking. Part of the scheme requires the river banks between the tidal barrier and the village of Combwich to be maintained. The EA’s plan to do this work as part of the barrier construction contract. Material is to be dug from the adjacent protected fields  and where a future Northern Bridgwater Bypass might be routed.  Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) have protected in the Local Plan a potential crossing point on the River Parrett just south of the  A38 roundabout at Dunball.

Clearly excavating Chilton Trinity’s fields and creating a series of salt water pits that creates an ideal future breeding ground for salt marsh breeding mosquito’s is not what people have considered the consequence to be. It is far from impossible that in a generation Chilton Trinity and Combwich may ultimately become uninhabitable because of this excavation process rather than from the increased flood risk. Managing mosquito borne diseases may well become the larger challenge in low lying areas as our climate warms up. It is difficult to see how the EA could contemplate the creation of such a situation.

With whole life costs of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier reaching £100M for a barrier, secondary banks and the raised river banks; banks that need continual raising means we need to consider modification of the delivery model to get the costs of this project under control.

That whole life cost  also ignores the 100 year economic impact,  both locally and nationally, of losing 1000’s  of acres of productive agricultural land  notwithstanding the questionable morality of a food importing country  choosing to export more of its food production offshore. 

If we are going to build the solution we have we need better and more economic delivery solutions than is currently proposed. We can then at least  ameliorate the present situation with a better delivery system.

Brexit allows the modification of the EU water and waste directives  that have now been written into UK law. We can now change the way in which we manage waste for the better.

Sustainable Construction

Every year Sedgemoor will build 5-600 houses and the excavation of foundations and drains for each of these houses will create around 15-20m3 of waste material (clay) suitable for re use as bank raising fill material. Sedgemoor’s  planned housing developments  will create around 9,000m3 per year that currently must be paid for to be disposed of. Housing developers could supply all the material needed to raise the banks. That is sustainable construction.

Over the 100 years life of the barrier there could be as much as 900,000 m3 of material we need to find a home for; material that could be used to build up the banks and preserve the land we have at Chilton Trinity for future generations. Even if the volume is  only 10% of the possible amount its probably enough to avoid digging up land at Chilton Trinity.

Under present EA proposals the EA is going to pay landowners for material that other organisations with similar material must pay to dispose of. We are meant to be reducing this sort of activity not making the situation worse.

We simply don’t need to get all the work in place in 2024; we need just enough to maintain the flood defence need and then use local resources to progressively deliver the longer-term solution with a local benefit to the economy. This work could be collectively done by local contractors under the supervision of either the EA or the Drainage Board. There is simply no engineering need for the EA to wantonly and unnecessarily destroy our landscape when cheaper and more sustainable alternatives are available.

NB there is only an intent to continue to raise the river banks 

To put this into perspective that recycled material would

  • build a bank 5m high bank from the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier to Combwich.
  • raise the banks and build the secondary flood defences up to match climate change.
  • raise the banks, build the secondary flood defence and start building new defences north from Pawlett Hill towards Highbridge.

5m high and nearly 5 miles long, 100 years of digging house foundations

Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise is not expected to slow for at least 300 years making both the barrier redundant as the river banks can only be raised perhaps another metre before they overload the poor ground conditions of the Parrett Estuary. Ultimately the long term plan for Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams’s will be realised.

The continued conditioning of the population by the EA to passively accept surrender to the sea as the first option for non-London areas of the UK is disingenuous and defeatist and never mind its land we need to grow food on.

Way Forward

At £100M the present solution for the  Bridgwater Tidal barrier is clearly neither sustainable or affordable. A situation that needs to be laid at the door of the Government, Somerset Rivers Authority and specifically the EA and Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) who provide joint project oversight.  We need

  1. Sustainability in what we do is placed at the centre  of our plans
  2. An independent inquiry into how flood defence is being delivered in Somerset.
  3. A peer review of the BTB project  into how it has arrived where it has.

Build the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier at Combwich

The option of building the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier at Combwich  was always affordable and as we now see the full whole life cost of the present scheme being made public its clear the best location was never considered.

Why Combwich?

Combwich would be a conventional location for a tidal barrier as its near the mouth of the River Parrett.  Combwich is a unique site that would offer Somerset a long term solution to protecting the southern Levels as a barrier and associated embankment would close the narrow gap between Stockland Bristol and the Polden Hills via Pawlett Hill. The location also offers an appreciable increase in the fluvial conveyance capacity of the existing River Parrett catchment river system.

COMBWICH & BRIDGWATER TIDAL BARRIER LOCATIONS

Original image is courtesy of the British Geological Society.

The yellow colour in the above image is the soft clay deposited around 11,000 years ago. The existing river banks will see the new flood defences from Combwich up to the site of the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier built on this soft material that is up to 20m deep. Defences that due to settlement will need to be  built back up every 30-35 years  defending  land that will have been flooded  with saltwater. 

The argument is that it’s the cheapest solution where it is in Bridgwater. 

People continue to believe the width of the river and the length of the barrier structure is the only driving cost of the scheme. Whilst size does matter it is not all that matters. Like most schemes that start without a clear direction the final cost proves to be significantly more expensive than expected and the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is no exception. The EA project team didn’t understand its costs just its objective. They are not the same and nor are they aligned with securing Somerset’s long term future.

Most people are aware that present scheme  originated from a 2009 scheme that was little more than a knee jerk reaction to climate change and the long-standing need for a control system in the river. What we have seen is that inexperience in project delivery saw the early focus on one element of the scheme rather than the scheme as a whole. Effort was exclusively focused  on the barrier, the type of gate and location within a short length of the River Parrett and it clouded objective thinking about  an holistic scheme. It was so bad that the EA team doing the barrier were unaware of the test bank being done by the EA and Team Van Oord;  there was simply no joined up thinking.

Nobody at  that time or since has been willing to stand back and take a cold hard look at what was needed when the Cameron Government’s political promise of post 2014 flood money removed critical thinking from the delivery process.

The simple fact is that every activity has a cost and the choice the client and the designer has is where you spend the money today and tomorrow. A simple comparison of where our money will be spent is produced below. You can spend money on lawyers and land agreements for secondary flood defences or spend the money on a better barrier. Paper does not keep the sea out.

Combwich offers a number of advantages that offset the barriers extra length and the constraints of the present location in Bridgwater. These advantages include the use of precast concrete construction, the  availability of space for construction, no need for an expensive diversion channel and the long periods when the river is empty make considerable cost savings.

The key savings are given below.

Where the barrier money goes

a barrier structure could also support a future bypass.

Barrier and replacement Dunball Wharf at Combwich

The good thing about the River Parrett and there are very few is that its possible to work on the river bed without the need for a coffer dam. If you have the space and you’re in the infrequently used navigation channel of the Parrett you move and do things in the water during high tide and then drive down the bank onto a prepared river bed. and work during low tide.

 

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Cost; an unacceptable defence

The January 2018  news that the estimated cost of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB) had reached £100M caused the BBC last week to interview stakeholders at the EA, Sedgemoor and Bridgwater Town Council. Anyone who heard the interviews and knows anything of the history of this project will be as equally concerned as Bridgwater’s Town Council. The risk regarding withdrawal of funding is real; Government will not accept being led on and neither should the ratepayer which is becoming the real story of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier.

EA and SDC interviews.

  1. The EA chose somewhat disingenuously to blame the hike in price on the Government making a perfectly normal and responsible demand regarding cost information. Information not previously provided to the SDC ratepayer. It was clear during the public consultations (the boards are still available on the SDC website) that the selection method (river width) was flawed in ignoring the cost of the downstream works and the associated maintenance costs that went with them. Cost confusion about this project has been a problem ever since work started on developing options and presenting the options to the public. Previous written responses raised this issue in March 2016 and nothing was done to clarify the situation in subsequent public consultations.
  2.  The well known poor ground conditions of the Parrett Estuary were again blamed. Ground conditions have become a convenient hook to hang cost increases on. If the costs associated with ground conditions are being continually underestimated at such a late date there is clearly a management issue that needs to be fixed. 
  3. SDC again conflated Cameron’s “never again “statement made in 2014 with the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. People will continue to imagine that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier will somehow mitigate a 2014 flood when that isn’t the case.

Readers can listen to the program on BBC iPlayer for a few weeks. Move the bar along to hear the EA at 40min and SDC is around 140min

The defence of the cost is indefensible.

The reality is that neither the EA’s technical management team, those responsible for providing senior project management/Governance (EA/SDC) or the councillors providing oversight have the necessary experience for a project like this. (£29M was beyond their reach and £100M is farther still and requires experienced management).  The BTB  was always going to get away from under them as it clearly has.

As a contributor to the EFRA Future Flood Prevention report in 2016 I highlighted the issues that are deeply embedded in this project. Entitled Managing local UK infrastructure; the Client Deficit.  it highlighted the lack of  an independent adviser to stakeholders as a continuing problem with UK locally managed infrastructure projects, it is a situation repeated elsewhere and in Somerset the SRA is a particularly good example of people being responsible for delivering projects that they are not experienced or qualified to do and not being provided with the support they need. The KSD  expansion project seems to be struggling in a similar way to the BTB. Googling ones mobile phone is not a valid substitute for experience nor is having laid a patio in earlier years.

We all now understand that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier solution (location) was driven solely by the promoted idea that “river width”  somehow equated directly to project cost;  getting the barrier as far upstream (narrowest point) was the cheapest option for the EA. it was always a flawed strategy and the cost we are now seeing is the result of that approach. It is the result of not doing work that should have been done during the options study.  The initial cost of the downstream raising of the river banks and the cost associated with the intent to continue to do so does not appear to have been fully considered in the original location decision.

Unfortunately, valuable and costly time was spent on what sort of gate we should have had rather than looking at the overall solution and there was no challenge to the 2009 B&V spread of locations. Long term costs and the EA’s rather ambiguous position regarding the long term raising of the river banks were conveniently ignored in the 2016 public consultations.  Consultations that completely ignored the principles set out in  Government guidelines on public consultations.

This situation was compounded by the obvious client project inexperience shown in the rush to engineering studies before an outline plan was agreed that always results in the cost escalation we are seeing. The sudden arrival of the secondary flood defences is something that should have been highlighted in the option studies, it may not have been needed at sites farther downstream and was not shown in the early public consultations. After 30 years of managing the design process on much larger projects than the BTB starting a project without a real plan is always a trap waiting for the unwary. Sadly, as a result of the BTB execution strategy what we now have is less normal project delivery and more an episode of Grand Designs.  At least the consultants should avoid any blame.

What was striking in last week’s radio interview was the lack of any new arguments after all the work that has apparently been done to support the scheme in its present form. What is equally impressive is that both the EA and SDC imagine that Bridgwater will not want to grow beyond the line of the barrier over the next 100 years or that a critical piece of infrastructure should be located so close to the town. Shouldn’t someone have asked how big will Bridgwater be in 100 years? The whole BTB project appears to have now deteriorated to the justification of an original poor decision. It is most disappointing.

The information the ratepayer has seen to date raises questions of transparency or competency neither of which seems to have been achieved or available to any degree. 

Ratepayers should not be paying for all the people involved in the BTB project and the broader Somerset Flooding issues to be learning on the job which seems to be the case.

Its well past the time that the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier including its location is independently reviewed before it is presented to the ratepayer one last time.  Its time we considered moving the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier downstream to Combwich.

The questions of

  • transparency with regard to cost and economic impact.
  • management team  competency
  • oversight competency and relevant experience 
  • the approved barrier location
  • what happens at the end of the 100 year design life; Bridgwater Tidal Barrier 2?

clearly needs to be looked at as the information previously provided to the public and one assumes our councillors did not reach the standards we should expect and was wrong.

Projects do not suddenly almost double in price in 15 months without good reason. The defence of the cost increase presented in the interviews was as unacceptable as the scheme itself has now become.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier cost reaches £100M

Sedgemoor District Council  and the Environment Agency  recently reported at the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) meeting  in January a 50% increase in the cost of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier. The reported cost appears to have increased from  £70M in October 2017 to £100M in January  2018  (five months) and yet it went through without comment .

The cost escalation of a scheme that does nothing to address the 2014 fluvial flood is eye watering and yet, according to the minutes, no action is taken to explain why this escalation had occurred and what action was being done to mitigate it. The mere acceptance by our elected members is not acceptable if the delivery of our infrastructure is to be managed locally rather than through central government.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier Cost History

  1. March 2014 the cost of  barrier was reported at £26M
  2. September  2016 The EA  gave the public figures during a public consultation  various options with costs;  site 5 the selected site was costed at £45M – £60M.
  3. October 2017 the BBC reported on the cost of the scheme to be  in the order of £70M  “Bridgwater tidal barrier costs ‘could go up by £10m”
  4. January 2018  indicates the cost is now around £100M as noted below from the published SRA draft minutes.

In a period of around 15 months from September 2016 to January 2018 the cost of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier scheme rose by around £50M or 100% and not one word of concern is  expressed or recorded in the public domain. This cost is now  nearly 4x  the original cost estimate in 2014.

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is now a £100M scheme where

  • the financial investment makes no contribution to mitigating a repeating 2014 fluvial flood,
  • repeated saltwater flooding onto farm land from the River Parrett is seen as being an acceptable regime despite poisoning farmland and wildlife. 
  • there is no plan in place beyond the barriers  100 year design life
  • brings saltwater  onto our agricultural land

Looking at the numbers the only thing that can be concluded is that the cost estimates presented to the public and to councils for the purpose of decision making were widely inaccurate or inconsistent either of which is unacceptable for investment decisions; especially decisions that affect the long term future of Bridgwater and Somerset Levels beyond.

The selection decision of the current site (Site 5) was chosen purely on the basis of the width of the river and must now be called into question.  It would appear that the cost of the other downstream elements of the scheme must be causing this cost escalation. A cost and concern that were dismissed at the time of the consultation. 

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is now a £100M scheme where

  • the financial investment makes no contribution to mitigating a repeating 2014 fluvial flood,
  • there is no plan in place beyond the barriers  100 year design life
  • repeated saltwater flooding onto farm land from the River Parrett is seen as being an acceptable regime despite poisoning farmland and wildlife. 
  • the EA wants to dig up the very land its meant to be protecting to win the soil  for flood defences.

No project should be seeing this amount of budgetary increase  without  challenge.  Cost escalation on this scale is unacceptable and unnecessary. There is clearly a continuing problem regarding a  lack of oversight both technically and financially in this project.

What should be done?

The extra £50M buys a much better scheme than the one Bridgwater is getting. £100M would allow

  1. the barrier to be located as is normal practice as close to the mouth of the river as possible which in this case  is Combwich. Combwich was never looked on the basis of cost, clearly that is an argument that can no longer be supported.
  2. elimination of most of the downstream river works that the EA’s tests indicate will need to happen every 35 years or so.
  3. increased fluvial capacity in the River Parrett and the King Sedgmoor Drain potentially benefiting communities beyond Sedgemoor
  4. a solution that can be economically extended beyond the 100 year design life currently offered.

£100M is £1M a year for next 100 years on scheme that will be rendered redundant once the river banks can no longer be raised to combat sea level rise; the scheme in present form is throwing money away 

The public expect that those on scrutiny committees to use there position to bring transparency  and accountability to the process of public expenditure. Such bringing to account appears to be sadly lacking together with visibility of any independent engineering review that a project of £100M warrants. The project is growing in value and the oversight is not growing with it.

Unfortunately what we see happening is the management of infrastructure projects by people, primarily councillors  and  officers who are unqualified to do so. The SRA is a prime example of an organisation primarily engaged in  the commissioning of engineering activities with no engineers in lead roles.  The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier has become a Grand Designs episode of Civil Engineering

Way forward

A  Public Inquiry  into the management  of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier scheme should be convened that should look at

  1. Cost
  2. Management
  3. Consultation process
  4. Location  (including the examination of Combwich)
  5. Competency and experience  of councillors  and officials  to manage civil engineering works such as the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and other SRA projects.,

 

 

Environment Agency – Landowner Information Pack

The Environment Agency (EA)  like the many  political parties with the word Democratic in  their title seems ever farther away  from what people imagine the organisation to be about. Protecting the Environment and the people seems not to be one of them if it gets in the way of its long term Parrett Estuary agenda  at Chilton Trinity north of Bridgwater.

However any doubts that the EA  doesn’t have a sense of humour or understands irony was firmly dispelled by its latest offering to the  Chilton Trinity landowners.  These are landowners whose land is impacted by downstream works  resulting from planned construction of the £100M Bridgwater Tidal Barrier close to the town rather than is conventional practice at the mouth of the River Parrett.

In March 2018 each landowner was the recipient of a document called BRIDGWATER TIDAL  BARRIER  DOWNSTREAM FLOOD  DEFENCES Landowner information Pack.

The EA’s  apparent lack of understanding of the impact of salt water flooding onto farm land. is worrying. The expected  floodwater  is not like 2014 when the water that covered the Somerset Levels was predominantly fluvial run off (freshwater). This will be seawater coming up the River Parrett from the Seven Estuary that over tops the river banks. 

This document also asks farmer’s to allow the Environment Agency to dig borrow pits in the land the EA are meant to be protecting.  Borrow Pits are meant to be refilled  with other less suitable soil so it does not lessen traffic as the EA claim but only if  they are left as  just open pits in which case they aren’t borrow pits.  Do we really need to excavate the land we are meant to be protecting?

The  alternative is a sustainable construction method that also seems to be a low priority of the EA.  Construction of the bank improvements could be phased over a number of years using local contractors and material reclaimed from new developments. 

The proposed pits will hold  the seawater (saltwater)  rather than see it quickly flushed away back to the river. Saltwater is poison to agricultural land and the habitat  we currently have in Chilton Trinity.  These  pits  will, according to the  trial embankment test done for the Cannington Bends improvement scheme, need to be reopened or enlarged every 35 years of so to make up the levels as the made up river banks settle.

The  EA promise going forward regarding maintaining bank  levels quite rightly only talks about intent; the EA cannot provide a firm promise however they do know  that once the land is poisoned the cost for further expenditure on bank raising will not be justified.

No one can say that the EA does not have a sense of humour especially when  the Chilton Trinity farmers are encouraged  by the EA to act as turkeys to vote for Christmas.  The EA’s long term ambition of an inter tidal habitat remains our pantomime villain  – he is behind us and  we chose not to look around and see him. Whilst appearing to help the EA  are actually creating a self fulfilling prophecy that will see  the area become salt marsh.

This document

  • Only talks about 2024 and not 100 years in the future (2124)  which is much more interesting for long term prosperity of everyone including our farmers handing land onto future generations. ( nobody says what happens when the banks can no longer be raised)
  • Confirms the level of protection they are planning to maintain to farm land is very low.
  • Omitted the future flood maps.
  • Omitted to  mention that the flood water will be seawater .
  • Demonstrates on page 4 a complete lack  of understanding of the impact of saltwater onto agricultural land. (Some Lincolnshire farmland has still not fully recovered from the 1953 flood when the North Sea over topped the sea defences)
  • Encourages the formation of borrow pits (actually just pits) that, when the banks of the River Parrett are overtopped, will trap seawater and ultimately destroy the value of the land its meant to protect.  Destroying wildlife and fauna in the process that cannot handle saline conditions A case of the medicine killing the patient.
  • Creates through the use of borrow pits mores areas of stagnant water that in our warming climate will be a breeding ground for insects, one of the reasons given for not damming the River Parrett.
  • Fails to mention the pits will need to be used and extended at least 3x as according to the embankment trial the river banks will need raising every 35 years.
  • Does not mention the final height of the river banks in 100 years’ time, for every metre raised the bank get wider by  2 x 4.0m and the banks will need to be raised by around 0.80m. (2’6″) excluding the continued settlement of the river banks that always means 2 steps forward and always 1 step back.
  • Re-confirms that agricultural land will be preferentially flooded.
  • The EA commitment is qualified as only an “intent” . Will SDC ratepayers pay for the maintenance when they don’t get anything back? It’s a huge liability that SDC could end up with that has no benefit to the town.  In a very short period of time, the cost of maintaining river banks to protect a small area of land and some ponds (flooded borrow pits) will not be considered worthwhile.

No one can say we were not warned about this  EA scheme and still no one asks what happens after the proposed scheme, the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier, can no longer counter rising sea levels?

One can only appreciate the irony and the humour of the situation  along with the EA’s other recent bits of entertainment

  • The   gathering up the local newt population at Steart and their subsequent disappearance
  • Diverting migrating elvers away from their normal route to our freshwater river system into the Steart Peninsula scheme.
  • Planning to build a tidal barrier as far inland and upstream as possible contrary to all normal accepted good practice.

to paraphrase Churchill

never has so much money been spent in such a small place to so little effect 

This document is at best poorly put together and at worst a device designed to obscure the true impact of the  plan from those most affected

As this slow-motion environmental, and for Bridgwater, and economic car crash occurs we should not forget that three prominent members of the Wessex Regional Flood and Coastal Committee live within a mile or so of where this unnecessary and increasingly misrepresented process is going on.  No objection or question is heard regarding the impact of the EA Scheme; there is no visible oversight.

The Internal Drainage Boards are equally silent as is the Somerset Rivers Authority

Finally, you know its wrong when that well-known litmus test is applied; The  scheme in its present form  has the support  Ian Liddell-Grainger

 

 

 

Severn Estuary Forum 2017

The Severn Estuary Forum met for its annual meeting 2017 in Bridgwater, Somerset on the 5th October following hard on the heels of Question Time and the Antiques Road Show at the McMillian Theatre.

An event to see people working together to resolve climate change, flood risk and wildlife preservation it was not.

Richard Hickmet the High Sheriff of Somerset opened proceedings.

The day was split into three sessions and some notes on the highlights follow.

Energy and Climate Change

Session Chair SDC councillor Ann Fraser MBE introduced the session noting the increased trade (marine aggregates) going through Dunball now rising to 70,000T per year as a reflection of increasing economic trade. Fortunately, Ross Edwards in his following update on Hinkley Point C (HPC) noted that their aggregates jetty being built as part of the enabling works was still underway. The real reason for Dunball’s growth was more to do with HPC immediate need rather than some wider reason. The irony of the councillors assumptive claim was not lost.

Ross Edwards (EDF) was able to explain, whilst maintaining a serious face, the extreme lengths that EDF were going to protect the beach from the small feet of a jack up barge and a few discreet foundations. Yet another large corporate organisation feeling the need to succumb to the irrational demands of the modern environmentalist. He also noted that EDF had spent £20M on road improvements as part of the HPC project enabling works.

Dr Judith Wolf of the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool provided a fascinating talk that actually dealt with the session subject. The moderating impact of the edge of the continental shelf in dissipating energy should make us all worry a little less about that large piece of a volcano that threatens to slide into the sea in the Canaries at La Palma causing a tsunami. The great flood of 1607 also got a brief note and it was not a tsunami.

What was more important was Dr Wolf’s comments on global warming and the best scenario of sea level rise being 0.5m and the worst at nearly  2.0m. Dr Wolf confirmed they really don’t know the figure as no one knows how the melting polar ice caps will impact on the world. It was received with little or no comment. 2.0m is around twice the figure that the EA is using for the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier (BTB).

Planning Governance & Flood Risk

Andy Hohl (EA) project manager of the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier project explained the mechanism of the floodgates but avoided the mechanism of the planned flood defence system.  A diagram was shown showing the planned flooding of Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Ham’s when there is coincident high tides and storm surges. It is an event that will increase in intensity and frequency as sea levels rise and after a few events will have poisoned the land.

River Parrett at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams; EA flood model Bridgwater Tidal Barrier 5th October 2017; How the River Parrett will increasingly flood the Levels

The EA missed the opportunity to explain why a tidal barrier is to be built in Bridgwater rather than the conventional locations at the mouth of rivers such as at Newcastle and Barking.

Mr Hohl was asked what comes after rising sea levels makes the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier ( gate and river banks) ineffective in protecting the area from the sea. Apart from some irrelevant comments about things being done today, there was no answer about tomorrow. Tomorrow, if Dr Wolf is correct, will be only 50 and not 100 years away before a replacement solution is needed.

Wessex Water’s Lucy George gave an interesting talk on the construction of the new sewers being built around Bridgwater. Clever engineering in bad ground.

Protected Sites and Species
Alys Lavers the WWT manager at Steart gave an update on the last 3 years entitled Climate Change, Flood Risk and Community Action. It has obviously become a go to place for students studying for degrees and PHD’s. Even some elver’s have apparently decided it’s a great place deciding that the swim to Oathe and the freshwater rivers of the Tone, Yeo, Parrett and beyond was simply not worth the effort and turned right into the Steart reserve. Whether that was in the EIA and is safer than getting past the locals elvering is no doubt a study in itself. However a look at the IDB asset map apparently showing every route to freshwater blocked by a clyce  does not paint a promising future for the lost elvers.

Ms Laver was also remarkably candid about Steart. That there would be no facilities built there apart from the existing toilets. No chance of a place to shelter from the elements and have a cup of tea. Little chance then that Steart will deliver the promised economic contribution when planning permission was sought by the EA. Someone in the audience from Burnham on Sea said it was difficult to find and Ms Laver explained that the lack of signposting was deliberate. Apparently keeping the number of visitors down was done for the benefit of the locals.

What was apparent to many in the audience was that WWT Steart is really only interested in the right sort of visitor; academia and other suitable people. The ordinary taxpayers who paid for Steart from their taxes (that is where the EA get its money from) most definitely not welcome.

Rob Shore WWT, session chairman and coordinator of the Severn Vision introduced the document that was first published in January 2017. What is interesting is the ambition of this recent document. A saltmarsh from Dunball to Highbridge. The proposal outlined in this document is clearly in line with the EA’s and SDC’s current strategies set out in the Shoreline Management Plan and Parrett Estuary Flood Strategy.

The map below was generated from the Severn Vision interactive map. If you live around the Severn Estuary its worth checking out the aspirations of the various wildlife organisations.

Areas of Potential Saltmarsh

One cannot help but feel that the EA and various wildlife organisations including WWT  have the ambition to turn the coastal part of Somerset into a wildlife theme park.   Trading off the land in Somerset for planning gain elsewhere such the Bristol Ports deal where Bristol gets the economic benefit and people in Somerset beyond made to feel to feel uncomfortable in their own countryside is unacceptable. Climate change should not be used as  little more than a Trojan Horse by organisations with an overblown sense of morality and entitlement.

A question on the morality of an island that cannot feed itself flooding food producing farmland to create saltmarsh was quickly pushed to one side.

Finally a question about mitigating the noise from exploding old military ordnance being found as part of the HPC outfall construction work. Ordnance, when located, is subsequently blown up by the Navy’s bomb disposal team; it did not find someone willing and able to answer it.

Observations

What was quite clear was climate change and rising sea level is really only a device and agenda for wildlife organisations to pursue the expansion of wildlife habitat.

There was no big picture presented,  no key numbers and no one to provide context as to how the wildlife of the Severn Estuary, ordinary people and business might co-exist. Key local councillors present on all the flood committees, Wessex, the drainage boards and the SRA were with the exception of Ann Fraser notable by their absence. Perhaps there were no expenses paid for attendance. Councillor Fraser it was noted in the Speaker Summaries although not an engineer had been “instrumental in leading a technical review of the flood risk in Bridgwater”. The Somerset Rivers Authority is no better with regard to engineering. There is a disturbing and dangerous precedent of non-qualified people in influential positions shaping Somerset’s flood and climate change plans. Google and mobile phones do not make an expert. 

There is simply no leadership or vision when we should be looking forward not 100  years but perhaps 2 to 300 years. Sea level rise is not stopping and schemes such as the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier that just look forward 100 years and stop with no apparent reason defy reason and responsibility; what is the plan afterwards? there isnt one.

Perhaps worst of all for an event sponsored by my own institution, the Institution of Civil Engineers, there were no engineers representing the many companies making money from climate change. Engineer’s created the landscape we have and the current generation should be leading process of planning for our future but seem to have abdicated their interest or responsibility in shaping the land bordering the Severn Estuary.

Somerset and the other counties of England and Wales that border the Severn Estuary need to have a serious conversation and take control of climate change issue at a regional level. The situation needs a champion with authority and knowledge.