The Pier Road Diaries are delighted to be joined by Andrew Walker of the Environment Agency, who has kindly taken the time out of what is now a very busy time for him and his colleagues to answer our questions and concerns regarding Littlehampton’s biggest ever sea defence and regeneration project.
Hello, Andrew. Thank you for taking the time out of what must be a very busy period for you to talk to the Pier Road Diaries.
Can I begin by asking you to introduce the Environment Agency’s Team responsible for managing the Sea Defence works?
AW: Thanks very much for inviting me to talk about the Littlehampton East bank flood defence scheme. The first thing to say is that this is a partnership scheme. That means we [Environment Agency] work with other organisations, in this case primarily Arun District Council to deliver a range of different benefits. In this case we are building a new flood defence to increase the standard of tidal flood protection to the town as well as greatly improving public spaces in Arun Parade, Pier Road and River Road.
We are delivering a major tidal flood defence scheme, which will protect over a thousand homes and businesses upon completion; as a result we have a large, dedicated team. I will name check just a few. Peter Borsberry is our Project Manager, he mainly deals with contractual matters and ensures we stay on time and budget. Katharine Matthews is the Project Executive, she is accountable for the overall delivery of the scheme. Richard Woodward is the Environment Project Manager, he makes sure that the works have a positive effect on the environment wherever possible and that if there is any negative impact then they are minimised. My role, which is called ‘Senior User’, is to act as a channel between our project team and the Littlehampton community. I listen to local people and feedback their comments, in order to ensure that we get a scheme that works for the people who will be living with and benefiting from these new works in their town.
You will see a lot of our scheme contractor VolkerStevin on site in Pier Road. Their Public Liaison Manager, Eric Smethurst, will be available to answer any of your questions regarding the scheme. Eric will be most often be found in the public drop-in centre in Arun Parade.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge when constructing the sea defences, for example many of us in Pier Road are concerned about the potential impact that adverse weather could have, while others worry about unforeseen problems that may arise?
AW: There is no doubt that this is a huge civil engineering project. I think the scale of the works is a real challenge but one I am very proud to be involved in. We will be working over a site which is 2.5km long; from the lighthouse in Arun Parade all the way up beyond the A259. For me personally I enjoy the challenge of ensuring that I am speaking to the right people at the right time. In this regard I feel like I am the voice of the town within the Environment Agency, representing residents and business owners in the manner in which you would all expect. It goes without saying that the weather has the potential to play a huge part in these works. It is in everyone interest that we have a nice quiet winter. Fingers crossed!
However, we have done a great deal of preparation to ensure that we reduce some of the unforeseen risks in advance. Just one example of this is the ground investigation work we did in October 2012; where we drilled into the ground, in multiple locations all over Littlehampton, to fully understand the nature of the soils underneath the surface.
At the recent consultation meeting with the Pier Road Traders and other stakeholders, you and the team were very optimistic that the works in Pier Road would be completed by June 2014, yet the Environment Agency have applied and been granted road closure orders by West Sussex County Council until early August 2014. This disparity is as you can understand quite worrying for those of us in Pier Road who want to see the road open and functioning as soon as possible. How confident are you that you will achieve the June deadline?
AW: It is in everyone’s interest that we get these important works completed as quickly and safely as possible. We applied to West Sussex County Council for a single road closure for the works. This meant that Pier Road and Arun Parade were included in the same road closure application. This is why you may have seen notices advertising the road closure until August 2014.
The construction work in Pier Road in scheduled to be completed by the end of May 2014 and by the end of July 2014 for Arun Parade. We are all working hard to ensure that both areas are re-opened on time. Please be in no doubt that we sympathise with the concerns of local business regarding the necessary closure of these roads. We have an excellent contractor building the scheme, they have extensive experience in constructing schemes of this nature. If we all work together as authorities, businesses and residents I am confident that we can achieve these critical re-opening dates.
Can you explain to our readers what Pier Road will be like during the construction process and how easy do you think it will be for visitors and residents to navigate the area We have a plan for pedestrian access and for vehicular traffic diversions. If for whatever reason things aren’t going to plan then I urge people to contact the Public Liaison Manager, Eric Smethurst, immediately with their concerns, so we can review our approach and make any relevant changes.
AW: Of course Pier Road is going to look different from normal during the works – and for good reason. It is extremely important that we segregate the working area for the crane and heavy plant from the pedestrian area which will be maintained through the course of the works. It is important to point out that pedestrian access along the eastern footpath, in front of the shops, will remain in place through the works. We have made the decision, in response to feedback, that we will use a mesh panel style of fencing. This choice has a number of key benefits. It will allow us to be flexible in allowing access for deliveries. It will allow light into the shop frontages when we are working in a different area. It will also allow passersby to see how these interesting works are progressing.
And of course, diversion routes for road traffic will be clearly sign posted. I must point out that there will be free parking in Green West car park to off-set the car parking which will temporarily be lost in Arun Parade and Pier Road whilst the works are taking place.
There’s a certain amount of skepticism surrounding these works. Understandable when you consider that the Environment Agency is only enhancing the sea defences on the East Bank, which surely will have a potentially devastating impact on the West Bank. Why has this area of the harbour been left to the mercy of the rising sea levels that the Environment Agency are predicting and what reassurances can you give the residents and businesses of this area that what you’re doing on the East Bank isn’t going to accelerate their demise?
AW: The construction of the new flood defences on the East bank will have no negative impact on the West bank. Once the works are completed the tide will continue to rise and fall in the way it always has done in Littlehampton. You are right though; sea levels are predicted to rise.
At the current time there are a comparatively low number of houses and businesses on the west bank. This means attracting government funding for a major flood defence scheme is difficult.
There will come a point where something needs to be done to improve the height of the flood defences on the West bank of the river Arun in Littlehampton. Much like the current East bank scheme, this future work will need to be delivered in partnership, which means input from local authorities and the wider Littlehampton community will be key to protecting the West bank from tidal river flooding.
This project is coming in at considerable costs – circa £14million. How many local jobs will the scheme create – and what do think will be the positive impact, if any, on the town’s economy during the works?
AW: On previous major EA schemes we have seen an influx of people coming to visit the area to see what is going on. Sometimes that is just interested people from the surrounding area, or Universities Engineering departments, or it could be the national and local media. Personally, I will continue to do everything I can to publicise this scheme as widely as possible, in order to bring people into Littlehampton, because I know that is important to the town and to businesses.
Bringing in the one hundred strong construction team alone is going to have a positive impact on the town’s economy. All these staff will need to stay and buy food locally, which will bring money into the town.
Subcontracting the services of small and medium size local businesses will not only help ensure quick delivery, but will also benefit the local economy. This is an approach which our contractor has used regularily in the past, so I am expecting to this approach used in Littlehampton.
As you know there’s considerable anxiety amongst the businesses in Pier Road that these works will have a detrimental, perhaps even fatal impact on their livelihoods. Can you outline briefly what steps the Environment Agency are taking to help the Pier Road traders?
AW: From the feedback we have received over the last 12 months or so, when speaking to businesses in the area, it quickly became apparent that we would need to help local businesses through the construction phase of the works. I am delighted to say that the Environment Agency has responded to this request for help and we have been able to offer a compensation package to businesses, which will see directly affected business owners paid for any potential disruption at intervals through the scheme. The approach we have taken to compensating businesses is far beyond what we are required to do by legislation. I really need everyone who is directly affected by these works to stay in regular contact so I can ensure that disruption is minimised as far as possible. We will be doing everything we can to ensure a good pedestrian footfall in Pier road, which in turn will help to keep businesses open and trading through the construction of the scheme.
Finally, what would you like to say to the public who might be thinking of avoiding the Littlehampton seafront area, particularly Pier Road during these works? Is there anything worthwhile for them to come and see or it is going to be all mud and bullets?
AW: I would strongly encourage people to come to Littlehampton during this period of extremely interesting change for the town. It’s not every day that you have a multi-million pound engineering investment in your town. Funding for flood defence schemes is limited nationally, particularly on major projects of this scale. When complete, Littlehampton will have world class defence against tidal river flooding that the community and the project partners can be proud of.
There will be a public drop-in centre on site at the northern end of Pier Road, I would like to invite anyone who is interested in future of the town to come down and have a chat with us about the town and works. Anyone who visits the town will be able to see this major infrastructure project simply by turning up on site and viewing the works through the fencing, and of course, they can pop into the shops on Pier Road whilst they are here.
I would just like to finish by saying that I would love to hear people’s opinions, comments and feedback on this project. You can either leave a comment below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew, thanks for taking the time out to speak to the Pier Road Diaries .
AW: It’s my pleasure.
You can follow progress on the scheme in a number of ways. You can follow the scheme on Twitter using #LittlehamptonFAS and following @EnvAgencySE
There will be weekly photograph updates of the works on our Flickr page at:
Or you can go the scheme webpage at:
If you have any questions for Andrew, please use the comments box and Andrew has agreed to reply to them.
Once again, thank you to Andrew for taking part in this interview, which we are aiming to make a regular part of the Diaries throughout the Sea Defence and Regeneration works.