PORTSMOUTH’S flagship sea defence scheme, set to protect 8,000 homes from flooding, could face a £20m black hole in its budget, a council leader has admitted.
The project is set to futureproof the island from rising sea levels and climate change for generations to come.
So far Portsmouth City Council has secured £96m for the defences - £90m from the Environment Agency and £6m from the authority’s own cash reserves - with work currently underway in shoring up Tipner’s seawall.
However, council chief Gerald Vernon-Jackson has warned of fresh concern over the total price of the project, claiming uncertainty over how much it would cost to rip out the old defences and replace it with new ones, had left a potential £20m shortfall.
Portsmouth City Council has already approached Solent LEP for £10m, of which Councillor Vernon-Jackson said there was ‘no guarantee’ the city would get.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘There’s no guarantee the LEP will produce this. But even with all this funding, we would still be short.’
Now, the council has launched a plea to government to sign a cheque worth up to £20m to pay for the project to protect the UK’s only island city.
The Lib Dem veteran insisted the project would still go ahead, regardless of whether government money was secured.
But he said that if additional cash wasn’t gained, parts of the city’s new sea wall would have to be temporarily abandoned.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘The scheme will have to go ahead because we have got to protect businesses and homes for people to live in.
‘It’s just if there isn’t enough government funding then the scheme will have to be reduced.
‘We always hope that we will get enough money to do the whole thing at once.’
The scheme could vary by millions in cost, Cllr Vernon-Jackson claimed, ranging from £106m to more than £120m.
The extra government cash is being sought to act as a float if the defence hits the top end of the possible costs.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson added if the city couldn’t afford to pay for the project in one go, that it was likely the small stretch of seafront in Eastney, between the Yomper statue and St George’s Road, would be temporarily abandoned.
‘It’s better to do this all at once,’ Cllr Vernon-Jackson said. ‘But we don’t think the defences are needed there for the next 50 years.’
City council environment chief, Councillor Dave Ashmore, said the money from government would be ‘vital’.
‘We’re coming to the final stages and we don’t want any nasty surprises,’ he said. ‘We don’t want to be left short. We want to make sure we have enough money at the end.
‘We absolutely don’t want to leave anything to chance.
‘This money is vital. It’s not for a vanity project. This is something that is going to last for generations. It’s a necessity.’
Environment secretary Michael Gove has since been written to by Labour leader Stephen Morgan.
The Portsmouth South MP has urged the Tory chief to visit the city and meet him.
He said: ‘The work should transform the seafront for future generations alongside protecting the heritage that is so important to the people of Portsmouth. The council and its partners also want to help stimulate further regeneration in Southsea and create a more vibrant place for residents, businesses and visitors alike.
‘Following initial public consultation, the council is now working up plans to submit to
Treasury for funding. I am very keen to ensure this national funding is secured and
suitable match from appropriate agencies delivered so that the scheme delivers on my
ambitions for Portsmouth and my constituency.’