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.

 

Sedgemoor, will the HPC community monies provide a real legacy?

Bridgwater and the surrounding district area of Sedgemoor continues to be dominated by claims regarding the benefits of the HPC monies. This is money  the community received  as part of the planning process; will it actually be a tangible legacy?  The litmus test might be an imaginary HPC plaque similar to the blue ones put on buildings remembering that famous people were born or lived there. In a generation or so could we take our children around the district pointing to things that we got because of HPC? The answer is probably No.

HPC has for Bridgwater and the surrounding area been like winning the lottery and like many winners the win has been frittered away on things that would in time have come anyway. New Infrastructure is always good value but difficult to do cheaply in our crowded and over developed land yet Sedgemoor until recently had everything on a plate, time, available strategic land in the right place and money. Bridgwater Cellophane site (BCL) factory in Bath Road cleared and the old Bridgwater Livestock Market cleared on the other side of the railway provided a unique opportunity to do something constructive with our HPC legacy to the benefit of the local town., its residents, businesses and the  economy. Transport and communication is all.

Like the Somerset Flood Action Plan that did little more than recognise the  EA’s lack of maintenance that had been permitted across the Somerset Levels whilst the EA had previously spent £20M on the Steart Peninsular project; the HPC legacy is more of the same, money is without doubt being squandered in the wrong places. Sedgemoor did it before with the now demolished Splash when it sold the Lido to Morrisons, its decision not to go for a Northern Bridgwater bypass a recent example and not to spend this money strategically and well when you have the opportunity is not a track record to be proud of.

A quick look back

Bridgwater over 40 years like most towns has changed. Once our manufacturing sites were spread throughout the town, Clarke’s beside the railway station, Wellworthy in Colley Lane, Gerber in Wembdon, Cryptons in Bristol Road, Van Heusen  and Leffmans in Bath Road. The multiple locations and predominance  of cycling to get to work meant our road system  could quickly absorb and dissipate traffic whether on two or four wheels. Employment and where we live have become divided, employment has largely migrated to the outskirts of town  mostly to the north and  we mostly live in the south and west with development slowly marching towards North Petherton.  If not we have to find our way over one of the inadequate number or river and rail crossings we have. The Railway and the River Parrett dominate how we live.as they divide Bridgwater into a series of strips running north to south.

Every day  the town get up and has to traverse the Cross Rifles roundabout whether to commute, shop go to school or  get to the bus and rail stations largely because of the Bath Road railway  bridge. There is no sign of  a plan to deal with this problem. 

What could have been done

In my view two related  and not too grand things to improve the town and areas with HPC money could have been done. and still should be  pursued.

  1. Move the Bridgwater Railway Station north onto the then empty BCL and market sites and include a  public foot/cycle path over the railway.
  2. Extend The Drove through to the market site linking the NDR directly to relocated railway station.
Alternative Bridgwater Railway Station Location

This would put the railway station near business, the Bridgwater College,  The McMillan Theatre and on existing bus routes. HPC workers could have arrived by train directly to the HPC accommodation on Bath Road.  Rail would provide a viable alternative to inward commuting. Encourage people going to work in the town to cycle. avoiding the Cross Rifles roundabout. If you cant fix the road at least give people choice of other methods to get to work  or to the station. There is no bus link to the existing station.

Bridgwater Railway Station is simply of the wrong era has short low platforms and is in the wrong place. It  serves nobody at the end of St John Street. Spending money on it is throwing good money after bad. Its time is up.

Bridgwater Railway Station

With the delay of HPC starting and the availability of these sites there was plenty of time to ensure the HPC legacy was used to secure long term infrastructure benefits that would generate increased economic activity. Activity that would in turn generate wealth that would have multiplied the HPC money many times over in the generations to come, there is simply no excuse for the lack of vision and competency shown at County and District Level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Bridgwater Northern Bypass – another opportunity lost

Bridgwater will not be getting a northern bypass anytime soon. Sedgemoor District Council’s HPC strategy to pursue in town traffic improvements in place of a bypass  is now widely known.  It was delivered in no small part by an option report commissioned by SDC and others Strategic Options Appraisal of Transport Proposals In Bridgwater that came up with a scheme whose cost and schedule ensured that both EDF and SDC could kick the bypass into the long grass.

Following on from the flood of 2014  the Government select committee Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) published its report in 2016  Future flood prevention.  It proposed that common infrastructure with multiple uses should be built that would maximise value for money; in Bridgwater’s case a bridge with a tidal barrier is value for money.  Despite the delay in the start of the Hinkley Point C and the promise of money for the Tidal Surge Barrier no councillor or official considered  looking at or revisiting the bypass option.

Logic said put a bridge on the barrier it makes sense.

B300 was a project that started life in 2013 six months before the 2014 floods; it is a commercially viable scheme that includes a proposal to relocate the proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier downstream of Dunball and incorporate a road bridge over the River Parrett. The road  bridge providing the important first stage of a Northern Bridgwater Bypass and allowing  the expansion of Bridgwater to the north of Chilton Trinity.

Bridgwater Tidal  Barrier and  Road Bridge

Technically there are no major issues with building a barrier downstream of Dunball and in someways  its simpler and easier than the proposed site. No need for a diversion channel.  The EA did work during its option studies that indicated that if the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is sited downstream of Dunball  the flows in the river system of the River Parrett and King Sedgemoor Drain would be increased ; there was fluvial as well as tidal benefit . Nor is it difficult to put a bridge on the barrier structure. Experience gained on such projects as the Severn Second Crossing brought the costs of the alternative scheme towards the budget for the EA’s proposed site near the Police Station. B300 also proposed to close the gap between the end of the Polden Hills and Wembdon Hill sealing off the South Somerset Level’s from the sea. A proposal with considerable greater integrity than the present novel scheme of an in- town tidal barrier and raised river banks on ground that cannot allow the process of raising them to continue into the future . The B300 scheme would have seen everyone protected and new banks that could be raised in the future unlike the existing scheme that is limited by existing ground conditions.

There was a solution and the additional funding available to deliver a large more comprehensive scheme including tidal flood protection to 1:10,000 return  period compared to the 1;200 offered by the EA, a development including low energy homes and industry. The problem is that not all landowners want it. They reason that the ratepayer will ultimately build a bridge to their land and they will not need to make a contribution to the cost, The landowner taking maximum possible value whilst someone else (SDC ratepayers) pay.

Sadly with the EA delivering its Business Plan at the end of the 2017 those few landowners have run the clock down and the opportunity to implement the scheme is fading.

Beyond B300

If a bridge is built sometime in the future as part of a bypass linking the M5’s Junction 23 to Cannington both rate and taxpayer will have paid twice for work in the River Parrett that could have been done once. The aims of the EFRA report on taxpayer value for money will have been completely ignored and the rate and taxpayer left to pick up avoidable costs.

It will also mean that the opportunity will have been lost to protect a larger area of land from the sea  and with it the safeguarding of Bridgwater’s future economic expansion to the North West. Bridgwater’s economic expansion and long term flood security sacrificed largely through a sense of entitlement ingrained in many members of the farming community.

Landowners and farmers were recently given assurance on the long term protection of land Chilton Trinity and the Pawlett Hams. People cannot expect to be immune to their decisions; landowners should not expect those that foot the bill (ratepayers) to miss out on better tidal flood protection

Sedgemoor District Councils’s ratepayers should now carefully consider if supporting landowners at Chilton Trinity is acceptable or whether retaining the EA’s current plan to save money through planned managed realignment of the River Parrett is preferable.

There is good reason that the current managed realignment should be implemented as described in  Parrett Estuary Flood Risk Management Strategy. The economic benefit of maintaining the land is small and of no consequence to the majority of SDC ratepayers.

SDC ratepayers should therefore not be expected to provide long term financial support to protect landowners’ assets in Chilton Trinity  when a few landowners chose to do nothing and actively block improved flood protection to their land. It is an issue that needs to resolved  before the EA and SDC formalise the commitment to farmers in Chilton Trinity on maintaining the river banks and the liability of the maintaining the banks of the River Parrett is added to the tax and ratepayer’s  shoulders.

Squandered Opportunities  

This is the second time in a decade that Bridgwater has squandered an opportunity to create a bypass, HPC was the first and SDC chose road improvements over a bypass.  This time a few landowners are blocking  a possible £500M scheme moving forward that would have provided better flood protection for all and possibly a route for EDF.

Public money is being squandered on a single use structure ,Bridgwater Tidal Barrier, as well as the opportunity to secure the future of Bridgwater.

Somerset Flooding- A silver lining lost

A year or so ago  when Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) and the Environment Agency started work on  the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier  (BTB) scheme they jointly decided not to spend money on an economic impact assessment.

As  a result of that decision there is now no way for councillors, ratepayers and business to measure and benchmark the wider commercial and economic impacts of BTB project.  The project  is now simply valued and measured by government rules. This is especially important for those ratepayers and the HoW LEP who will directly pay for a proportion of this scheme.  For Somerset’s councillors there is no visibility of  the potential direct local (Somerset wide) benefit. With a preferred location agreed and the full details still yet to be seen or shown to the public it is difficult to see  how the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier  can be proceeding as it is.

There is a need to scrutinise the  EA’s proposed Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and its management of the delivery of the scheme. There urgently needs to be some form of independent peer review to support the decisions of councillors and EA employees who do not have suitable engineering qualifications and experience. No private company would do this.

The  River Parrett catchment  and its capacity affects much of South and Central Somerset; almost every town is on one of its tributaries. The wider opportunity that Somerset’s flood defence expenditure presents has to date been largely ignored and is in danger of being squandered. Sensible promises made in 2014 have been quietly allowed to disappear.

If you live within the Parrett Catchment or  in West Somerset this article will be worth reading for economic reasons alone.

River Parrett Catchment Area

By 2024 nearly £100M will have been spent on flood related work within Somerset and the majority of the money focused to the north and north west of Bridgwater. The EA’s  managed realignment at Steart Peninsula and the adjacent Bristol Ports property deal for it proposed container port that is of no economic benefit to Somerset sees nearly 3000 acres of farmland removed from the the local economy.

However

  • The Levels will still flood and as they did in 2014; they will simply drain more quickly.
  • A flood defence system will have been built that only works for sea water (tidal) and that will probably have to be replaced because it will not be viable to extend its design  life because of the ground conditions along the river banks.
  • The expansion of Bridgwater over the next 100 years ignored.
  • The rather novel concept of putting a tidal flood barrier 5 miles upstream of the mouth of  the River Parrett and into the town implemented.
  • An additional 2,000 acres of productive agricultural land will be in the process of being lost  to agricultural bringing the total of land lost to the local economy to 5,000 acres including Steart Peninsular and the Bristol Ports land deal.
  • There will be no bridge over the Parrett although the myth that you cannot easily have both on one structure will have been discredited albeit too late.
  • No beneficial integration with a future Bridgwater bypass considered or provided.
  • An important relationships  between the capacity of the KSD/Sowy expansion and the impact of the location of the BTB never mentioned or costed.
  • The planned loss of Pawlett Hams to the sea lying hidden in the Parrett Estuary Flood Risk Management Strategy.

Perhaps the most unfortunate decision to date  was naming  the barrier/barrage the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier and sending mixed messages as to its purpose. That single act has reduced interest and scrutiny both in Sedgemoor and further afield to almost nothing. Only 180 people came to a public consultation in September 2016.

The  introduction on the SDC barrier website reproduced below implies on the last line that it “could play a critical role in reducing flood risk” (tidal) and not the fluvial flow it started talking abut; they are not the same thing but did meet once in 2014. Two different things have been conflated  into one message.

The barrier is not designed to mitigate a another 2014 flood

with regard to fluvial (rainfall) flooding

  • Would it now have had an impact on another 2014 flood?          NO
  • Could it be made to have an impact on another 2014 Flood       YES.

Somerset’s councils seem to have no interest in this scheme yet they should because

Somerset County Council (SCC)

Despite having the SRA under its wing and councillors jointly at County and District level there is little in the way of a long term vision that can be see being developed.

A shorter more strategic tidal scheme closing off the South Somerset Levels from the sea  by closing the short gap between the hills from Combwich to Pawlett Hill has not been considered.

Such a scheme would

  • Secure the south Somerset Levels from the sea.
  • Improve the fluvial capacity of the River  Parrett to the benefit of Taunton Deane and South Somerset as well as Sedgemoor.
  • Provide a bypass and improved  road link to West Somerset using EDF’s extended Cannington Bypass.

 

West Somerset

West Somerset’s economic development is constrained by two roads (A39 & A358) and the need to navigate across either Bridgwater (A39) and Taunton (A358)  road systems to get to the M5. With little or no options and no Government money available as part of its road budget it is an area of Somerset where the wealth and opportunity of its population is always constrained and likely to continue. No doubt why it loses industry and income.

It is difficult to understand why West Somerset isn’t trying to improve its economic link to the M5 motorway and via the A39  to Frome, Wells, Shepton Mallet, Street, Glastonbury and Yeovil.

Constructing the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier at Combwich with a road bridge taking advantage of the recently constructed EDF extension to the Cannington Bypass would provide a significant economic benefit to West Somerset.

Taunton Deane & South Somerset

Both local authorities rely on their respective tributaries Rivers Isle, Cary and Tone to convey surface water to the River Parrett and onwards to the sea. No amount of SUDs, storage on the Levels or slow the flow is going to change the fact that you can only get so much fluvial flood water out through the River Parrett. That constraint will ultimately have to be faced by limiting economic development  The opportunity has not been taken to leverage  the long term benefits for the two districts by moving the  barrier downstream.

The reason to relocate the  selected  Bridgwater Tidal Barrier site downstream is that its preferred location does almost nothing to improve the conveyance of surface water to the sea. Where it is now proposed above the King Sedgemoor Drain outfall means that the full benefit of the KSD/Sowy expansion cannot be achieved or the capacity of the River Parrett optimised. Capacity that would benefit largely Taunton Deane and South Somerset. That scheme is being paid for by everyone and is simply not as good value for money as it could be. Rising sea and tide levels will reduce the time the KSD sluices can discharge. That situation will invariably negatively impact both districts by limiting how much water can go in to the system at their end.

It is therefore surprising that neither council has been pushing the barrier downstream where it could be used to increase conveyance in the same way as the Thames Barrier does. Increasing the overall capacity of the system when the Levels again flood is the priority and an opportunity not to missed offers one less obstruction to those two districts economic development.

Sedgemoor District Council (SDC)

South Somerset Levels

Sedgemoor opted to support a 15Km long scheme that cannot be extended (raised) as sea levels rise. Somewhere a bigger one will be required. Its consultants never looked at what would be the best scheme for Somerset or indeed wider Bridgwater. It is just what would be the cheapest for the EA whilst the SRA and SDC looked on. A location for the barrier where a bridge cannot be added to it is hardly planning for the future but it does ensure the ratepayer does not get value for money.

North Somerset Levels

Defending the North Somerset Levels could be achieved by the construction a new barrier from the Polden Hills to end of the Mendips (Brean Down). Such an undertaking could be easily done providing undeveloped land is identified. We could create a second line of defence over the next 30 years letting Somerset contractors run recycling operations allowing trains to bring in recycled materials to form a continuous flood defence. Its time managed retreat was abandoned.

What is disappointing is that with the SDC Local Plan under development there is no land being reserved for future improvements to the flood defences. The organised surrender of Somerset’s hard won land is being orchestrated by the EA under its Managed Realignment process and no one is challenging it. Everyone in Somerset should be interested in what is being done along the coast for safety and economic reasons. There is simply no plan.

Heart of the South West LEP

The Heart of the West LEP with its support of the BTB a project will ultimately damage local businesses based in most districts (£16-20M of lost land values) whilst in a current study is looking at improving rural businesses . The LEP is an organisation facing both ways to the detriment of everyone.

Somerset needs some joined up thinking and understand the very negative implications of some of Somerset’s flood defence scheme.Only when its built and its limits apparent will people say “if only”. 

The Options looked at by the EA lacked any sort of imagination or offered a long term solution; were simply variations on a theme and ignored the nearby topography that offered other options for the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier

It is unacceptable that better engineering options were not  identified and presented to councillors; ultimately it should be the ratepayers decision to go for a better solution if they want to. The EA should not presume as it has in this case.

On the 14th July  starting at 10.00 am  the first opportunity to do something takes place when the SRA scrutiny committee meets in open session at Somerset County Hall, TA1 4DY. 

Some Questions to Ask

  • Why is the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier not also designed to help to mitigate the effects of a similar flood to 2014?
  • What is the replacement plan for the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier?
  • What is the cost of a scheme with a bridge ?
  • Should we only be spending our money on such a limited scheme?
  • Why wasn’t Combwich and the resulting shorter flood defence system that protects a larger area than the current scheme considered by the EA?
  • Does the extension of the Cannington bypass towards Combwich necessitate the reassessment of the present scheme?
  • Should Somerset County Council be looking at a more holistic scheme for Somerset?
  • Should SCC commission a county wide economic assessment of what an alternative barrier scheme might deliver?
  • Do we need the EA or should the SRA be expanded to become a delivery focused organisation and the EA limited to a statutory consultee ?
  • Is the role of environmental charities in developing and influencing flood policy beneficial and do they have a conflict of interest?
  • Why after 3 years since the flood and 8 years since the barrier identified as the preferred solution is there almost no information about the scheme on the http://www.sedgemoor.gov.uk/bridgwaterbarrier website?

The EA plan another consultation on the full scheme later in 2017. Councillors of all Somerset’s districts  might like to look at the economic impact of this scheme (BTB) on their own areas and perhaps county might look at the bigger picture.

An unintended consequence is only the failure to adequately consider a decision before it was made.

The River Parrett – how it works

Rivers that discharge into the Severn Estuary are very different from most UK rivers. With a tidal range in the estuary of around 11m  MLWN -3. 0 and MLWS -5.7 AOD and the river bed level at around 0.00 AOD.  These levels means that at low tide in the estuary the water level is always below the bed of the River Parrett and the river simply empties into the estuary. In the case of the Parrett its a process that goes as far upstream as Oath and the changing tide sees the river refilling from the sea.

What is seen looking over the Bridgwater’s bridges is just one half of the normal tidal cycle you would see at the coast; at low (ebb) tide its purely fresh water going out and that can be seen on the West Quay tidal gauge where the graph flattens. Equally the point at where incoming seawater (saltwater)  takes over from the  freshwater of the Parrett and becomes  a relatively small component of the rivers water can also  estimated.

At low tides the river empties so completely that during periods of low fluvial flow it can actually dry out so much so that upstream of Combwich there is an old iron age path where people simply walked across the river at low tide.

High tides can be nearly 2m above the surrounding land and at Bristol Road nearly as high as the head of the doors and over the next hundred years that will  continue to grow .

Ecologically it is largely a  dead river. Nature likes, however bad, a consistent environment and the Parrett offers the greatest of changes twice a day from empty to full and freshwater to saltwater. The large amounts of Seven Estuary silt that arrives with the tides exclude sunlight and there is nothing to generate oxygen. Fish(salmon) and Elvers just transit the river on their way to the fresh water of the River Parrett and its tributaries.

It is a true challenge for The EU Water Framework Directive as  there is little negative actions that can be done to it. The lack of water does not deter unrealistic claims that fisheries exist in the river.

The images below show River Parrett tides ( courtesy of  GaugeMap)

West Quay One days Tides
West Quay One weeks Tides
HPC Tide Gauge

The Hinkley Point tide gauge above shows the full cycle of the tide in compoarison to the truncated cycle at West Quay which is caused by the river bed being higher than the sea bed in the Seven Estuary.

West Quay- One Months Tides

Looking along the river it could be shown

River Parrett at Low Tide

2014 Flood

In 2014 the Somerset Levels flooded, normally excess water is stored on the levels and then pumped back into the river  when the weather improves and fluvial flows have reduced. The floods occurred because the flood storage capacity  of the land was exceeded.

The response to the flood and still the current plan is pumps some more fixed ones and temporary platforms for hired pumps such as the permanent platform at Dunball made ready for the next time the levels flood and improvements made to how fast the flood water can be drained off the Levels.

One important question is whether its  possible to increase the  amount of water that flows  down the river without pumps? 

The answer is yes;  the Thames Barrier is used in that way when there is flooding and the Thames and its tributaries are at capacity. The barrier gates are closed at low tide creating a shallow reservoir normally filled by the incoming tide and floodwater coming down the river fills it up. Previous references to the Thames Barrier and the River Parrett were in relation to the type  of gate rather than how the system operates.

How might it work in the River Parrett?

There are two sources of fluvial floes into the Parrett. The Parrett and King SedgemoorDrain (KSD) /Sowy River.  Water unable to get down the River Parrett is diverted around Bridgwater via the KSD/Sowy and re-enters the Parrett at Dunball.

Dunball Clyce (River Parrett side)

Both  sources can discharge when the tide is out  but become tide locked when the sea re-enters the river.  Creating a large temporary empty length of river downstream of Dunball would allow both sources to continue flowing and when full and matched with the tide allowed to go to the sea.

River Parrett – Increasing the Flow

To do this a gate is needed downstream of Dunball and the best location would be Combwich or somewhere in between.  The Bridgwater Tidal Barrier is a gate that could  have been used to do this.

EA  Downstream  Scheme 

The   current plan is to build the Bridgwater Tidal  Barrier upstream of Dunball Clyce and with sea and tide levels continuing to rise  allowing the sea to reclaim the farmland  at Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams.  The existing  system returning to an inter tidal saltmarsh/mudflat covering the existing farmland at Pawlett Hams and most of the land to the north of the village of Chilton Trinity. The drawing below shows how the regime will change over the years to come.

River Parrett at Chilton Trinity & Pawlett Hams showing planned next 100 years

The information can be found in

The Parrett Estuary Flood Flood Risk Management Strategy

Full copies of the EA policies can be found at

Steart Peninsula (Stolford to Combwich) 7d34 to 7d37

Parrett Estuary (Combwich to River Brue) 7d38 to 7d42

further information with flood maps can be found in the article on

Chilton Trinity and Pawlett Hams

 

 

 

 

Bridgwater Tidal Barrier a Fatal Flaw

The existing Bridgwater Tidal Barrier scheme has a flaw.

Water can go  around it.

Any  system including a flood defence system is  only as good  as its weakest link. The banks of the River Parrett  is the  Achilles heal of the EA’s scheme.

The ground along the river is simply too weak to support the continued raising of the river banks and from the EA’s point of view  too expensive to maintain.  The Parrett’s highest tides hidden behind the  raised banks are already at the top of the doors of Bridgwater’s houses along the A38.

Even before it’s been built and the complete  scheme revealed to the public the  EA is working on adding secondary flood  banks (dashed red lines) on the premise of a bank failure  or  a future decision not to maintain the existing flood  defences. The drawing below is a scheme the EA has to fix the flaw.  The red arrow is the open back door at Walpol where a breach to the north could circumvent all the defences. When the Dutch build a dyke they don’t build another one a few hundred metres behind it; clearly the EA expects a failure to occur or the river to over top.

The line in green is an option never considered  by the EA but one that would offer much better protection than what is being proposed.

EA Secondary Flood Barrier, Downstream Bank Modifications and Alternative Barrier Route

This is information never presented to the public in any of the consultations in 2016.

To my knowledge Bridgwater will have the UK’s  only tidal surge barrier not located at the mouth of the river it’s meant to control. At Bridgwater’s present rate of expansion the proposed  barrier will in 100 years time not be just near the centre of Bridgwater but within  the centre of its developed area. Only in Somerset would anyone come up with  the plan we have and think its acceptable to have a scheme that has such an obvious flaw. Let’s also not forget that the EA’s other wider site downstream is being reserved for a road bridge to  land  that the EA is not  protecting in the same way as existing housing.  What happens when that is to be developed? Start again?

The ratepayer should have had real options presented rather than the EA’s version of  the Henry Ford motto “any colour you like as long as its black”, ie anywhere in the river as long as its at the narrowest part of the river we can persuade people to accept.

The letter below confirms that the barrier can be circumvented.

EA Letter to Chilton Trinity landowner

 

A Tidal Surge Barrier, A Bridge & Dunball Wharf

One of the problems with building the Bridgwater Tidal Barrier downstream of Dunball Wharf is the marine traffic to Dunball Wharf. Sedgemoor District Councils current draft local plan states “The Council will support the continued operation and potential development of Bridgwater Port including Dunball Wharf and Combwich Wharf (Policy D16 applies). It will also support the re-establishment of active commercial wharf’s at suitable locations elsewhere on the River Parrett. In all cases the construction or operation of new wharf’s should not adversely impact upon the Severn Estuary internationally designated site.”

The reality is that  the Dunball Wharf’s with their tidal drying berths, dependency on  high tides and difficult navigation is never going to be a commercial success but the 200m wide river at Combwich might. Construction of  the tidal surge barrier could enable the relocation of Dunball Wharf to a better location.

Much hangs on what is considered to be adverse.

Concepts of what the river structures might look like have not been forthcoming since 2009. Apart from the tower  and turning vertical gate Bridgwater’s gate structure will be considerably shorter than the Hull Barrier structure we have  been repeatedly shown.

What would a barrier with a road bridge  options look like?

Another wharf at Combwich, EDF have  one there already, would not require an opening bridge or clearance much more than Drove Bridge on the NDR. A tidal surge barrier with a 40m fixed navigation span and a road deck might look like

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjX20a1a7sg

Keeping Dunball Wharf  would require a one larger gate and an opening bridge. Dunball currently sees 40 or so vessel movements a year so its operation would not affect the bypass traffic.

The engineering is relatively simple and with a purpose built wharf everything could be shipped in during construction.