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Apologies after £8m funding gap error leaves Welsh coastal defence scheme £1.2m short

23 Nov 2022 4 minute read
Main picture: Plans for rock scour protection (eastern section from Splash Point to SeaQuarium) in Rhyl.

Richard Evans, Local Democracy Reporter

A Welsh council has apologised after estimating the cost of a major coastal defence scheme at £58m – £8m short of the actual cost of £66m.

Denbighshire Council’s cabinet had to revisit their decision to back the scheme after council bosses realised the error.

Back in October, the cabinet agreed to progress a coastal defence scheme in Prestatyn and Rhyl to the construction phase, but now face a shortfall of £1.2m.

The existing coastal defences are decades old and at risk of being breached, threatening around 2,000 properties in Prestatyn and 600 in Rhyl with flooding.

Whilst Prestatyn’s new flood defences are to feature an unpopular earth embankment, Rhyl is to benefit from a rock armour scour protection buried beneath the existing sand level, as well as concrete repairs to the existing sea wall.

The Rhyl project will also include a concrete revetment, beach access ramp, raised and widened promenade, and a sea defence wall.

At the last cabinet meeting, councillors agreed to back the project, estimating the Prestatyn work at £26m and the Rhyl coastal defences at £58m – £8m short of the actual cost.

Whilst the Welsh Government were set to cover 85% of these costs, council officers noticed they had made an error before submitting the bid for the Welsh Government grant.

The shortfall amounted to around £1m in council costs (15% of £8m).

At a cabinet meeting this week, Denbighshire’s corporate director of economy and environment Tony Ward apologised for the mistake but said it was “good” that the council had robust checks in place to spot the error.

“We are bringing this report back today,” he said.

“This report is fundamentally the same report that we brought to cabinet on 18 October.

“Unfortunately, we discovered that there was an error in the paper and the incorrect project cost for the Rhyl central flood scheme was used in that report.

“So, the figure of £58m was used instead of the figure within the business case, which was £66m.

“The error was picked up by the team in the process of finalising and submitting the full business case to Welsh Government; therefore, I think it is good that we have robust checks and balances in place to ensure the correct figures are in the full business case, but it is unfortunate that this wasn’t picked up, so I apologise for that.”

He added: “There are only two points I wanted to make.

“The first point is that these schemes are still worthy of council support.

“The absolutely important point is that we need to protect the towns of Rhyl and Prestatyn from flood risk. Nothing has changed in that regard.

“The second point is that the team are currently exploring opportunities to reduce the cost of the Rhyl central scheme because it is a significant cost, and I hope the figure may have come down by the time we go to full council in December; however, we do currently need to assume that the two schemes combined may cost up to £92m that is highlighted in this report.”

Important schemes

Cllr Julie Matthews responded: “It is really important that these schemes go ahead because communities will be vulnerable to flooding and what that entails, so we should be protecting the towns of Prestatyn and Rhyl, so I don’t think anything should be any different. Both projects need to go ahead.”

Cllr Gill Germain also said: “The big question for me is if this figure had been on the paper the first time around, would it have made a difference to my decision or to the cabinet’s decision generally as far as the need for these flood defences? Would it have made any difference that this figure is higher than was originally put forward?

“And the answer is no because it is absolutely imperative that we protect these communities.”

Cllr Gareth Sandilands said it was a risky project and asked if Welsh Government backing would increase if the costs went up.

Council officer Tony Ward said there were lots of things that could go wrong with such a big civil engineering scheme but added the budgets accounted for risks and costs increasing.

Cabinet again backed the scheme, which is set to be discussed at the next council meeting in December with the anticipation that Welsh Government funding will be granted by the end of the year.

A Denbighshire County Council spokesman added: “The increase of £8m means that DCC could be expected to find an additional £1.2m; however, this figure includes significant allowances for risk which may not materialise.”

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