Why aren’t the Environment Agency supporting UK steel industry

This week sees the sad and shock announcement that Redcar steel works in the North East of England has been put into liquidation threatening 2,200 jobs.

Given the enormous, ongoing massive investments in building new  flood defences, why is the Environment Agency continuing to source steel from abroad?

I’ve repeatedly put this question to the Environment Agency since 2013. My most recent request being in early August.

Thus far, no explanation.

I don’t think that’s good enough, do you?

Why are we buying steel from the Netherlands and beyond when we have steel plants here in the UK which are now facing closure owing to lack of sustainable orders?

Surely even if UK steel plants aren’t as competitive as elsewhere in the world, we should still support our home-grown industries – after all – what’s the likely cost of the lost of 2,200 jobs on the economy, let alone the costs of the loss of other ancillary businesses that will be undoubtedly be forced to close their doors also?

There may be a very good reason for why the Environment Agency doesn’t buy from UK steel plants.

But if so, why are they so reluctant to tell us?

The steel used to construct Littlehampton’s new flood defences was shipped from the suppliers in the Netherlands and the contract to build Littlehampton’s defences was awarded to the Dutch company, VolkerStevin.

It seems not only are the Environment Agency unwilling to support the struggling UK steel industry, but also continue to award highly lucrative construction contracts to companies outside of the UK.

Gareth Stace, Director of Trade Association of UK Steel  says they’re operating in an unsustainable situation. He says: “Chinese imports were 2pc of UK steel demand in the first half of 2011, that’s expected to be 8pc this year. Britain’s steel makers also face a strong pound, high energy costs, environmental levies and high business rates that foreign competitors don’t.”

So ironically, the UK’s steel industry is facing unfair and punitive environmental levies and extortionate business rates.

Why are UK industries having to pay punitive environmental tax levies, while their competitors don’t?

Why are we the UK tax payer funding the Environment Agencies extensive flood defence building schemes, when the steel and construction contracts are not being awarded to UK companies?

Surely we’re better off paying higher prices for steel sourced in the UK than paying the financial and social costs of massive job losses – particularly in area of the UK where jobs aren’t easy to find.

And as for the low carbon footprint nonsense

The Environment Agency made great play of the fact that they had insisted the steel for use in Littlehampton’s flood defences be transported by ship from the Netherlands as opposed to by road – thereby significantly reducing the project’s carbon foot print.

Walter HammannAbove steel arriving by ship from the Netherlands and being offloaded in River Road.

Once the steel arrived in Littlehampton harbour it was stored in Littlehamton Harbour Board’s storage area in River Road.

However, it’s here the Environment Agency’s low-carbon footprint plans fell apart.

In order to transport the steel from River Road to Pier Road (less than a mile) a road haulage company was appointed. Not a local based haulage company, but a London based company.

So for a over a year all the steel was transported from River Road to Pier Road – distance less than a mile – by a company who had to drive to and from London each time a batch of steel had to be moved.

A distance of over 112 miles driven for each occasion the steel had to be moved a distance of less than a mile.

Yet, Littlehampton is home to a number of quality transport companies.

How’s that for ensuring a ‘low carbon footprint.’?

Pretty much all hire vehicles/plant and machinery used for the construction of the flood defences came from Essex and beyond as the Environment Agency operate a ‘central procurement policy’ which means that they couldn’t source anything locally in Littlehampton as Littlehampton (and surrounding businesses) were not on the pre-agreed approved procurement list for contractors.

So even the most basic piece of plant machinery had to be transported relatively great distances by road in order to comply with the Environment Agency’s buying policy which is clearly at odds with the Environment Agency’s green credentials.

Our thoughts are with those facing loosing their jobs and a uncertain future at Redcar Steel works.

 

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As always, your comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading!

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Pier Road finally re-opens after 18months

Closed since 21st October 2013, Pier Road’s new riverside walkway and road finally re-opened today.

I have been following the construction of Littlehampton’s flood defences and have taken in excess of 3,000 photographs of the works at every stage. It’s impossible to put them all together in one post, so here’s some of my favourites, which diary the progress of the works finally arriving at today’s memorable opening.

Starting with a look back at Pier Road in bygone era.

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Pier Road as it was as a working fishing port. As you can see the buildings were mostly houses, and not commercial. Only later, when sea-side holidays and day-trips became popular, did the road change to meet the changing visitor needs.

Pier Road, Littlehampton

Pier Road, Littlehampton

My favourite vintage pictures of Pier Road (above and below)  taken when it was a working fishing port.

Pier Road Littlehampton

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Pier Road in its hay day when visitors flocked from all over the South East to visit Littlehampton’s wonderful sandy beaches and enjoy traditional fish and chips.

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Per Road’s original ferry which crossed  the River Arun taking visitors from the East Beach area/Pier Road to the West beach.

In 2010, it was announced that Pier Road and Arun Parade would benefit from a £13.5 million investment in creating flood defences and a new public realm.

Consultations began with residents and visitors and a number of workshops and consultation meetings were held where visuals of the proposed scheme were put on display.

ADC Plan for Pier Road

Above is the visual presented at the public consultations which took place at Arun District Council’s Civic Centre.

Work begins

First mark for the first bore hole, Arun Parade Littlehampton

The above picture is the first mark made prior in the road that was made some time before the main works actually began. The yellow mark marks the point where the drilling rig began boring  for soil samples.

Drilling Pier Road Littlehampton

Drilling Pier Road Littlehampton

Drilling rig operating in Pier Road.

Pier Road closed

On the 21st October 2013 Pier Road was closed to vehicular traffic.

Littlehampton Sea Defence works

Conditions in Pier Road during the works were difficult, to say the least. The narrow, caged walkway had an enormous impact on visitors to the road.

Pier Road works by Environment Agency

Very little room for anyone and especially difficult for those travelling with children in buggies or pushing wheel chairs.

Fish Kiosk moving 7

Pier Road’s Fish Kiosk was removed and re-sited opposite the Nelson hotel where it remains today. It will move back to the riverside site once the works there are completed.

Piling works in Littlehampton 2

Piling works begin.

Littlehampton Flood Defences crane bridge

As Pier Road was deemed to unstable to take the weight of the piling crane, a specially adapted crane bridge was constructed which essentially carried the crane along Pier Road. A time-consuming task, which added to the ongoing construction delays.

Littlehampton Flood Defences 3

Piling crane sits on its bridge, above and below

Littlehampton Sea Defences 1

The size of the crane bridge was enormous, to say the least as can be seen in the close up picture below.

Crane Bridge

With works on such a scale, it’s hard to believe that the Environment Agency could have forecasted this would all be complete in six months.

Littlehampton harbour 2

A view of the crane bridge situated along the river.

Littlehampton Flood Defences 1

Equipment had to be craned onto the new platform and flying machinery became a common and interesting sight as the work progressed.

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An aerial view of Pier Road as the piling bridge and crane makes it way along Pier Road. Picture courtesy of VolkerStevin and the Environment Agency.

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With the piling complete in Pier Road, work began on completing the flood defence wall and capping off the exposed piles.

Littlehampton Sea Defence Construction 1

As the height of the wall became apparent, many became annoyed as this height wasn’t clearly depicted in the visuals shown at the public consultations.

ADC Plan for Pier Road

The visuals don’t really show the actual scale of the height of the wall from road or lower pavement level.

Littlehampton Flood Defence works

With the piling completed, concrete walkway complete, work began on finishing the landscaping, street furniture and taking up the old Pier Road.

Littlehampton Flood Defence Works 5

Evidence of Pier Road’s old cobbled surface was uncovered during these works.

Littlehampton Flood Defence works 3

Work continued on preparing and laying the new Pier Road

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Pier Road’s new surface is laid.

Finally, it’s all finished and ready for today’s opening.

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Pier Road’s new riverside walkway with an excellent disabled ramp to allow easy access for visitors.

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Arun District Council’s new signs form part of the public realm.

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A view of the ramp leading up to the new walkway. The walkway itself offers amazing views, which some great places to sit and relax.

Pier Road

One of the seats, which are lovely and comfortable and beautifully finished. In my view, the woodwork in the public realm really is amazing and the company who built these features should be very proud of their achievements.

Pier Road 3

It’s an impressive, bright and airy pubic realm space, which when fully opened will link Littlehampton town centre to the seafront promenade.

Pier Road

The colours of the road blend with the new realm. I wasn’t gone on this in the design, but I think it really does work well. The railings are superb, easy to handle and grip and blend in well with the design.

In addition to the river-facing seating, there are lots of wooden seating areas which face the restaurants, out of sight of the pictures.

Pier Road 1

Given time the sparse planting will grow and mature, but it’s a shame that more mature, dramatic specimens couldn’t have been included in what is a £22m build.

Pier Road 2

Members of the press and local business community gather for the official photographs.

Pier Road 5

The public mood today in Pier Road was one of genuine admiration and awe. I think the contractors and those involved with the project should be very proud of what they’ve created in Pier Road. It’s an impressive and wonderful new space, which undoubtedly will be enjoyed by many generations to come.

The official opening for the entire scheme isn’t scheduled until June 2015.

Arun Parade is due to be open in time for Easter.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read.

 

Paul

 

 

 

Works reveal old road surface

As West Sussex County Council’s Highway’s Contractors began work on scraping off the old Pier Road surface to make ready for the new, they revealed a rare glimpse into Pier Road’s cobbled past.

Littlehampton Flood Defence works 2

Contractors machinery running along Pier Road and scraping off the original road surfacing. Owing to the poor sub-structure in Pier Road, it’s been decided to skim off only the bare necessity.

Littlehampton Flood Defence works

In the above picture, you can see the difference in levels. The old Pier Road surface to the right and the freshly scraped off surface to the left.

Littlehampton Flood Defence works 3

The machinery used for the works were impressive.  The above machine simply ran along the road ‘scraping’ off the old surface to a preset depth. The top layer is then spewed out into an accompanying lorry ready to be taken off site and disposed of.

Littlehampton Flood Defence works 4

During this scraping off process, the machinery went deeper in one stretch as this had been identified by engineers as needing an additional depth. It was here the old cobbled section of Pier Road was revealed. You can just see the little patchwork in the above picture.

Littlehampton Flood Defence Works 5

A closer view of the old cobbles shows how well-preserved they are despite years (no one knows how many, maybe you do?) of having the newer road surface laying on top.

Pier Road, Littlehampton.2

Above, one of the earliest pictures of Pier Road available.

My thanks to Tom Collins, Senior Highway’s Engineer at West Sussex County Council’s Highways Department for taking the time to show us this rare gem before it gets filled over next week when the new road surface will be laid.

Latest Update from the Littlehampton’s Flood Defence Works:

(Information provided by Arun District Council and The Environment Agency)

Weather permitting, Pier Road should be opened either by the end of February 2015, or in the event of adverse weather, early March. The public realm walkway in Pier Road is due to open by the end of week commencing, 2nd March. However, the full landscaping is not expected to be finished until Easter when Arun Parade is also due to be finished.

Are VolkerStevin really deserving of a £14.5 million Sea Defence contract?

The Environment Agency, a much derided government quango, have appointed their favourite contractor, VolkerStevin to construct Littlehampton’s £14.5 million sea defence scheme.

Thus far, this contractor has not only managed to fall seriously behind in terms of its finishing timescales  – the original dates being July 2014 – now expected to be at least March 2015 – but has charged the tax payer for its ongoing failings.

I was made aware earlier this week by reliable source that VolkerStevin’s Contract from the Environment Agency includes no penalty clauses, but allows for VolkerStevin to bill the Environment Agency for its ongoing delays.

If there ever was a reason for the Environment Agency being down-graded to an authority that supervises and issues leisure fishing licenses, then the current costly and incompetent farce now playing out in Littlehampton’s Pier Road is it.

Where possible, I’ve tried to remain positive in reporting on the current construction works. Ignoring, the many health and safety breaches that the contractors have committed, which have been conveniently ignored by the Environment Agency.

Health and Safety breaches which have included breaches in noise levels, dust levels and more seriously lying to us in Pier Road about what we could expect during the building works.

Time now that those of us who care about the future well-being of our lovely seaside town became more aware and more involved in the current ‘do-as-you-please’ contractor scheme operated by VolkerStevin and we demand fair play.

Let’s start (in this post) with the basics.

Ask yourself, would you trust a company who is being paid £14.5 million to build Littlehampton’s sea defence walls when it cannot even construct a temporary fence to protect its own construction site during the works?

VolkerStevin 1

The above is the scene on Sunday, 10th August 2014 showing the entrance to the VolkerStrevin site in Littlehampton. The fencing, unable to withstand the predicted high winds. Ironically, it was the Environment Agency who issued strong wind warnings to us all, warnings which went un-heeded by it’s contractors.

DSCF4971

Fencing blown down in the strong winds in Pier Road.

Of course, you could forgive VolkerStevin and the staff at the Environment Agency if they actually reacted to these fences down, but they don’t. There’s no policing of the site and despite my telephone calls to their Security Company, tweeting their Twitter account and emails to:

  1. Peter Borseberry, Project Manager at the Environment Agency
  2. David Robinson, Operations Manager at the Environment Agency
  3. James Humphry’s, Area Manager, (Solent and South Downs) of the Environment Agency

by 1pm, the fence is still down, unattended and blowing to the potential determinant of public safety.

To be fair, this is Sunday and we shouldn’t expect the senior management of the Environment Agency or their contractors VolkerStevin to upset their weekends worrying about our safety.

Clearly public concerns to senior officials at public bodies should only really be addressed during Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm and preferably be made to those staff in the lower echelons of the Environment Agency who can bear the brunt (as they always do) of the public dissatisfaction.

And it’s not just fencing.

VolkerStevin 3

Despite severe Weather warnings issued by The Environment Agency, here is VolkerStevin’s crane (one of two currently in Littlehampton seafront) still standing at full reach being battered by the severe winds.

Surely anyone with even the most basic grasp of health and safety would have ensured that these cranes were lowered in advance of the severe weather arriving? More especially as it was their own client, the Environment Agency who issued the warnings.

Are VolkerStevin the company who have continually demonstrated their inability to erect signs, fences and other feature really the ones who are going to build a sea defence structure capable of protecting this town for the next 100 years?

The pictures that follow are of previous fencing come-downs where again I had to contact the Environment Agency to make them aware the dangerous condition of their contractor’s fencing and signposting.

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Clearly fencing isn’t a strong point at VolkerStevin

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Pier Road’s site lighting junction box floating in the tide courtesy of VolkerStevin.

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More quality security fencing from VolkerStevin.

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The electrics pack hanging in the river.

The longer this project goes on, the more money VollkerStevin get paid.

To-date, they’ve been awarded £14.5million pounds.

Target completion date for this project: June/July 2014.

Target completion date for the Arun View – April 2014 – revised now to November 2014. A much-loved local business closed for the entire summer season.

Revised target completion date for the scheme: March 2105.

Despite the serious failings with this scheme, the Environment Agency’s Project Manager remains in post.

Why?

Littlehampton Flood Defence Scheme asking for a cash bail out from Arun District Council

The Environment Agency’s Team responsible for delivering Littlehampton’s £14.5 million Flood Defence scheme announced on Friday, (11th April 2014) to Pier Road Traders, that Littlehampton’s Sea Defence project is now overspent.

So much so, that they’re now having to cut back on the public realm enhancements (the landscaping of the scheme), and also asking the tax payer for additional funds to complete the project.

The exact figure of the overspend hasn’t been disclosed.

Reasons for the increased expenditure is explained in an email from the Project Team as follows:

“The contractor’s costs for the public realm are higher than initially anticipated due to the increased programme duration and additional information on work specification provided as part of the detailed design process.”

 

The email advises that savings will be achieved by:

” a revised design has been proposed that adjusts this slightly replacing some of the ‘harder’ elements with additional planting.”

Revised designs will include:

  1. Removal of the bottom two planting terraces in lieu of a planted slope with a steel panel visible at the rear of the planted area.
  2. Removal of 3 areas of timber terracing at the southern end of Reach 1 in lieu of planting.
  3. Replacement of southern steps, adjacent to the service access road, with planting and a shorter section of steps.
  4. Replacement of steps near the lighthouse with a low wall, maintaining a short section of pedestrian steps for access.


“The changes achieve some of the necessary savings, however additional funds are required to deliver the scheme. Arun District Council’s Cabinet meeting on Monday 14th April will be asked to consider the recommendation of a supplementary estimate to fully implement the proposed enhancements..”

 

This last line in the above paragraph gives rise to further confusion. Is the additional cash being required to deliver the original scheme as consulted and agreed upon. Or, provide funds to construct the revised downsized enhancements?

Essentially, Littlehampton’s Sea Defence Project promised at a cost of £14.5 million and promised to be delivered and ready by early July 2014 is now not only seriously behind in timescales – we’re looking at end of the year before the works are finished and then Pier Road will require works from West Sussex Highways Department, which will most likely result in Pier Road not being open again until early 2015 – but now the local taxpayer will be paying for what could only be described as gross incompetence.

What’s really annoying is just how many hours of our time in Pier Road was spent agreeing on a design for the public realm enhancements – this included quite literally days of our time – including attending workshops, consultation meetings, reviewing draft designs only not to see what we finally agreed on being quite literally altered and reduced in one simple email.

Why did we bother wasting our time?

Why were we so gullible as to believe that this shower of incompetents were remotely interested in how the final Littlehampton’s Seafront would look when in reality anything that was agreed could be instantly altered without any further consultation?

Here’s a brief overview of why this Project is both over-time and over-spent.

1. Engineering/survey flaws.

Despite being repeatedly told by traders in Pier Road many of whom have lived here for over 50 years that Pier Road was unsuitable and incapable of taking the weight of the large machinery needed to undertake the piling works, the Environment Agency’s Project Manager, Peter Borsberry ignored this advice relying instead on surveys by his appointed engineers.

These surveys proved flawed and it was only after a period of 4 month’s inactivity in Pier Road, the Environment Agency’s finally admitted during one of our meetings that a specially adapted crane bridge would have to be constructed incurring an additional £400,000 costs to the project budget.

My view is that the engineering firm  who provided the original flawed survey should be responsible for the costs that resulted in their flawed surveys.

Why should the tax payer have to pay for this gross incompetence?

Let’s not forget that this mistake not only cost a whopping great £400,000 hole in the project budget, but also led to lengthy delays to piling works being undertaken in Pier Road.

2. Timescale Flaws

Again throughout the consultation project, the Environment Agency’s Project team were questioned as to their timescales with traders expressing concern that the project couldn’t be delivered in such a small window.

These concerns were dismissed and the arrogant ‘we’re doing similar schemes all over the country’ became their stock-standard response.

When you look now at the sheer technical problems this project poses, you’d have to be an idiot not to be able to see that the construction of Littlehampton’s Sea Defences could be achieved in as little as six months.

We were told by the then site manager that the piling in Pier Road would take 30 days. This during a consultation meeting. When asked by one of the traders in Pier Road how many piles would be needed to complete Pier Road, this was met with an embarrassing silence.

Who could honestly have any faith in a site manager who tells a group that piling can be completed in 30 days when he hasn’t even worked out how many piles would be needed?

In fact, it took the owner of a fish and shop to tell him how many piles would be needed and dig him out of the embarrassing hole he’d dug himself.

And, the piling in Pier Road is ongoing and has been since January and expected to be completed in May. A total of 5 months.

And we’re expected to pay for this level of competency?

3. Incompetent management

The contract responsible for constructing the scheme’s Site Manager has now been replaced.

I don’t intend to speculate on the reasons why he’s gone, but telling us that he could complete piling in Pier Road in 30 days might give you some idea. In any event, his replacement appears to have achieved more tangible results in the one month or so he’s been here, than what his predecessor didn’t manage to achieve in more than six months.

Why should the tax payer pay for incompetent site management?

4. Grossly underestimating compensation for Traders

Easy to see now why getting a fair deal on compensation was so difficult.

Clearly the Environment Agency hadn’t figured on just how great the impact would be on businesses trading in Pier Road.

Again, these concerns were brought (and continually brought) to the Project Team during the consultation process.

I suggested that the Environment Agency’s Project team undertake a survey of business activity in Pier Road in order to give them a better feel as to just how much their works were likely to cost us in terms of lost business.

These concerns were dismissed and no surveys undertaken – however the Project Team did spend time monitoring the comings and goings of fish in the River Arun and accessing the potential impact that their works might have on sea bass.

As we know now, businesses in Pier Road have been devastated by these works, which are ongoing and these losses are now set to increase seeing as the works will  continue throughout the summer period.

A once vibrant and brilliantly independent business location is now reliant on state-handouts to keep the lights on.

5. Excessive and ever-increasing ‘professional fees’.

What’s become clear with this project is that the Environment Agency is nothing more than a group of walking, talking pen pushers.

Any expertise/professional service  that’s required has to be bought in – and at considerable costs.

Whether it’s to assess trader’s compensation claims, or make a decision as to the type of pile used, the Environment Agency’s Project Team are either unable, unqualified or unwilling to undertake these tasks which then have to be farmed out private practices to provide.

Consequently costs spiral.

Ultimately, we (Pier Road Traders) were led to believe right throughout the lengthy consultation process that the Environment Agency has agreed a fixed cost contract for the works.

It’s unacceptable now that they’ve quite literally cocked up so much that we the local tax payer are not only having to fund their incompetence by way of providing additional monies, but also are seeing what was a somewhat under whelming public realm now being reduced further as they’ve overspent.

I have no doubt that Monday night’s Cabinet Meeting at Arun District Council will approve the additional funding – after all – what choice have they got?

In any event, it’s unacceptable that the public should pay for incompetence.

The Environment Agency will of course blame the weather and any other convenient peg they can hang their problems on. However, what they can’t get away from is that they fact that the fundamental principles behind this project were seriously flawed and data provided by expensive experts has proved detrimental to the costs and duration of this scheme.

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