At the confluence of three tidal rivers, the community of Rye should welcome the announcement today by the Chancellor about funding for flood defence projects (£2.3bn to help prevent £30bn of damage in high risk areas; 1400 projects to protect 300,000 homes) is already generating debate about what lies behind the figures.
The Environment Agency is also pleased to have a commitment for more funds, but underscores that they now have 800 fewer flood risk management staff than in 2010-11. Others argue that with some infrastructure in decline, the new money will only “play catch-up on flood defences”.
Whatever the politics, locally the risks are very real. In Rye, with over 1000 homes “at risk” because they are kept dry by sea and river defences, we have sections of river bank, which are in poor condition and may not bear many extreme events as we saw last December (2013). It is with some relief that work on flood defences between Folkestone and Cliff End is now firmly in the Environment Agency programme for the next 7 years.
Responding to the Chancellor’s statement , locally the Environment Agency reports that “there is now funding for construction in the current statement to enable work towards delivery of all the Folkestone to Cliff End works over the next 7 years. So if the funding from Government remains in place the Rother walls will be delivered by 2019, just behind work at the Lydd Ranges and the Hythe because these are a higher priority, necessary to improve defences in worse condition and with more properties at risk.
This is not good news for all! Those monitoring the Rye Neighbourhood Plan, will know that any disposal of the former Freda Gardham School site is dependent on the Rother Eastern Tidal Walls flood defence work. Therefore, it now appears that if the project proceeds according to plan (by 2019) the Freda Gardham could be sold by East Sussex County Council by that date. If it is, then the Plan will have to take account of that and in particular to consider future accommodation for organisations such as ARRCC, which have temporary accommodation there.