£17m agreed to plug hole in Southsea sea defences budget - so work can start in 2020

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BUILDING work to protect thousands of homes and businesses from rising sea levels is likely to start next year as Portsmouth councillors unanimously agreed to pledge the extra £17m needed.

The 'critical' Southsea sea defence scheme was at risk due to under-funding after Portsmouth City Council revealed its predicted cost had risen from £114 to £131.

Some of the latest designs for sea defences in Southsea

Some of the latest designs for sea defences in Southsea

Attempts to secure £10m from the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) had also failed, leaving a funding 'blackhole.'

But during a full council meeting today (Oct 15) members were united and agreed to approve the cash, which will also ensure a  £107m grant from the Environment Agency will be 'unlocked.'

Speaking at the meeting Lib Dem Councillor Hugh Mason said: 'The LEP said this fails to meet their local criteria. I would love to know what meets the criteria if it is not this.

'We need the funding and we need it now. We need the project because the defences in Southsea are inadequate. We have seen them breached, and they are old.'

READ MORE: Council vows to push for further cash for sea defences

Council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, agreed. He said: 'It's really important we get this right not only in terms of protecting all these homes but because Southsea is the jewel in our city.

'If we don't I don't think the people of Southsea will ever forgive us for saying we are going to leave their homes at risk, their businesses at risk, their cathedral at risk.'

The council has already promised £7m to the scheme, which will run from Long Curtain Moat to Eastney.

Former council leader, Tory Cllr Donna Jones, stressed the importance of the defences. 'I remember on Boxing Day three years ago getting a phonecall from the leading officer to say some of the sea defences have collapsed,' she said.

'Within 72 hours a 4ft-wide hole become a 40ft-wide hole. This is a significant issue.

'And we know that cash doesn't hang around forever. If that money slips we are all going to be in trouble and the council will have to pay far more than £17m.'

A full business case for the £107m grant from the Environment Agency will be submitted by October 23.

It is hoped work on the sea defences will begin in spring 2020.