Sea defences row over funding as Solent LEP refuses to help Portsmouth City Council with £17m extra costs
A ROW has broken out over funding for 'vital' sea defences set to protect thousands of homes from rising sea levels - with the city council forced to cough up an extra £17m.
Cost estimates for the Southsea sea defence scheme have now soared from £114m to £131m but economic development group the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership has repeatedly refused to provide any funding.
Portsmouth City Council had asked the LEP to provide £10m of funding.
Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson branded the refusal as 'extremely disappointing' as the authority is set to be hit with a total bill of £24m, unlocking £107m from the Environment Agency for the £131m project.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: 'Lots of other LEPs around the country have funded sea defence schemes but Solent has taken a different view, which is extremely disappointing.
'We have continually asked the LEP for the money. We have got to make sure the sea defences are built, we can't not do this.'
Across the country various LEPs have granted a combined total of £74.4m for defence works including at Oxford, Shoreham and Hull.
But in a report due to be heard at a cabinet meeting next week, council officers note Solent LEP said 'their prioritisation is given to the creation of new housing and new jobs, not the protection of existing homes and businesses'.
Portsmouth council has already pledged £7m to the project.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: 'Personally I think it is better to protect existing housing but that is not the view of the LEP.'
It comes after it was revealed a total of £7.5m needs to be slashed from the council's budget between 2020 and 2023 to ensure the authority stays in the black.
This is in addition to around £80m in savings the council has had to make since 2010.
But for Cllr Dave Ashmore, the council's environment boss, the defences were a necessity. 'This work is vital,' he said.
'With the thousands of homes and businesses and people who live there, this needs to be done.'
The LEP is currently inviting bids for its Solent Prosperity Fund, including for projects that help the 'renaissance of our coastal communities'.
The organisation previously gave the council £4.5m for Dunsbury Park and £4.8m for the Hard Interchange, both in 2015.
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan added: 'It is about time Solent LEP stepped up to the mark and started pulling their weight.'
A spokesman for the Solent LEP said: 'The Solent LEP is unable to comment on individual funding applications but welcomes applications for any project looking for financial support if its circumstances have changed.'
A full business case for the £107m grant from the Environment Agency will be submitted by October 23.
If funding is found and planning permission is granted it is hoped work will begin in spring 2020.