COLUMN: MP Ian Liddell-Grainger on Bridgwater’s tidal barrier scheme

Written by on November 21, 2020

Here Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger gives his view on the Bridgwater tidal barrier scheme:

In terms of scale and cost it may be vastly overshadowed by Hinkley Point C but another local civil engineering project is going to impact directly on thousands of local homes.

It’s the Bridgwater tidal barrier scheme which is going to play a crucial role not merely in keeping the streets free of flood water but in ensuring that Bridgwater and the surrounding area can continue performing as Somerset’s economic dynamo.

And although one or two pressure groups will probably criticise me – as they always do – for saying so I believe it is entirely the right decision not to hold a public inquiry into whether we need the structure or not.

Public inquiries often serve little purpose other than lining the pockets of the legal profession. They can drag on for weeks, if not months, while evidence is presented, teased apart, disputed and argued over and then there is a further delay before the report and the decision it contains is published.

And even then the process is open to legal challenge, which can stall things even further.

I would argue that in the case of the tidal barrier we don’t need any evidence presenting within the solemn confines of a public hearing: it’s all around us. Anyone can see it. Climate change is happening, not merely in line with the predictions of 30 years ago but, alarmingly, at a pace slightly ahead of what was forecast.

Sea levels are starting to rise both as ice caps and glaciers melt and as a consequence of the sea itself expanding as it warms. Weather extremes are becoming more frequent – and experts warned only this week that soaring temperatures and more frequent and violent monsoon-type storms are threatening to make the entire Mediterranean basic uninhabitable within a few years.

In the UK we are witnessing precisely the kind of heavier and more localised rainfall that was predicted and flood risks are rising for many areas. Which is why there is no time to lose in pressing ahead with the tidal barrier.

The 2014 floods on the Levels delivered an awful warning as to what can happen if you take your eye off the work of flood prevention and protection. I am glad they acted as a catalyst for water management regimes to be brought up to date and improvements carried out – and for the all-important work of dredging to restart, even though, oddly the MP for Taunton has gone on record as saying she does not believe it to be cost-effective.

But having to some extent shielded Bridgwater from land-based flooding it is essential that we turn our attention – and urgently – to the threat from the sea.

It’s a threat that grows by the week and will continue to grow for decades whatever action we take to become carbon-neutral as a country and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.

The economic case for the barrier is unassailable. When originally suggested a figure of around £30 million was floated for the work. That has now climbed (as these things tend to) to £99 million. But even at that price the barrier can be looked on as a bargain because on the most conservative of estimates the property it will be protecting is valued at £2 billion.

And that’s without factoring in the immense, long-term damage it would inflict both on Bridgwater’s buzzing economy and on the lives of those who work in it.

There is, literally, no time to waste. Let’s get the barrage built.

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