The £27.1 million sea defence at Anchorsholme was officially opened yesterday – amid claims it is already in need of significant repair work.
While the Environment Agency’s chairwoman Emma Howard Boyd said the new flood defence would ‘protect nearly 5,000 homes and businesses’, others said wonky slabs – which have come away from the existing sea wall at Cleveleys – have left builders scratching their heads.
Contractor Balfour Beatty pledged to put the problem right, while Fred Jackson from Blackpool Council said: “We must not lose sight of the huge benefits that the sea wall is providing and will deliver in the future.”
The new flood defence at Anchorsholme will safeguard the Fylde coast’s famous tramway, reduce the flood risk to 4,800 properties, and, is is hoped, protect the town’s tourism and recreational income for the next century, it was said yesterday.
Environment Agency chairwoman Emma Howard Boyd said: “Blackpool’s iconic beachfront is visited by thousands of families each year.
“This new coastal defence, delivered in partnership with local councils, will better protect the town’s popular tourist attractions as well as nearly 5,000 homes and businesses.
“It’s great news and demonstrates how our work benefits people and the environment.”
She officially opened the scheme with Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for environmental services, Coun Fred Jackson.
Coun Jackson said: “We now have a sea wall that will provide much stronger flood protection for years to come.
“We also have a wonderful new promenade for all to enjoy which makes access from the seafront to the park and town so much easier.”
Floods minister Therese Coffey said: “Anchorsholme’s new sea wall was made possible thanks not only to £20m of government funding, but also the huge support of local government and other partners.
“The result is brilliant news for the community - regenerating the area and providing better protection for almost 5,000 homes and Blackpool’s iconic tram network ahead of winter.”
The project, which saw around 1km of sea wall replaced, was funded by the Environment Agency using government cash.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “This important project means thousands of my constituents will now be better protected from flooding for decades to come.
“We have seen in recent weeks just how powerful a force the sea can be.
“Thanks to this very significant investment we now have a sea wall which protects homes, business and our tramway and a fantastic new amenity for local people and visitors to enjoy.
“I hope any problems that have been identified can be addressed quickly and in a manner which minimises disruption for local residents.
“I will monitor the situation and hope the work will be completed soon.”
There are fears the new sea wall will ‘not stand the test of time’ as contractor Balfour Beatty admitted some of the huge concrete slabs in the new sea wall had ‘lifted’.
Pictures show the wall has shifted sideways, with some of the massive pieces buckling outwards, sparking alarm from residents and councillors.
Local councillor Tony Williams said the new sea wall should have ‘seamlessly’ joined up with the existing wall at Cleveleys, but said it had ‘slipped’, leaving a gap.
“It’s a huge job to replace it,” he said. “It needs sections to come out. It has been filled with concrete but it won’t last. It will erode.
“The timing of this opening ceremony is rather embarrassing. I’m baffled why they went ahead with it when there’s a breach in the sea wall.”
Builder Paul Hewitt, 59, from Hewitt Brothers Construction, lives opposite Anchorsholme Park and said cranes will be needed to put the problem right.
He said: “It’s holding at the moment; it could quite easily go. If that collapses, part of the Promenade could go with it.
“I have been watching the construction since it began ... and have questioned its stability several times. It will not stand the test of time.”
In a statement, Balfour Beatty said: “We are aware of the localised lifting of some concrete sea defence sections near to the northern tie-in with Cleveleys, resulting from the recent storms.
“There is no evidence that the rest of the sea defence is at risk and investigations are currently underway to establish the most effective solution.
“The safety of the public is our primary concern and precautionary safety measures were implemented immediately.”
Coun Jackson added: “With any project of this size there can be additional work required to rectify any issues.
“Balfour Beatty is our appointed contractor for design and build and any repair solutions; work and related costs remain their responsibility.
“This significant project is reducing the flood risk to 4,800 properties and businesses in Blackpool. “It also safeguards the tramway, road and major pumping station infrastructure on the northern seafront.
“This protection cannot be underestimated when looking at the project overall.”
Retired mechanical engineer Glenn Spinder, 71, said he suspected the problem was caused by water managing to get behind the huge concrete slabs where an outfall station – once used to pump storm water out to sea – used to be.
He said: “If you buy a house and two years later the wall started buckling and bending, and someone came along and said, ‘Don’t worry about it’, you’d say, ‘Sorry, that does not look right. Things like that should not happen’.
“There’s an old adage that says, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, the design is wrong’. Somebody has not taken into consideration something.”
This is not the first time concern has been voiced about the sea defence work, which started over three years ago, used around 2,500 concrete slabs, and was said to have a shelf-life of around 100 years.
Residents and councillors spoke out in December 2014 after stone foundations and a concrete base crumbled after a storm.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard met contractors to discuss claims that part of the wall was ‘unsafe’ in February 2015, while Balfour Beatty used a radar machine to scan the wall after pictures were posted to Facebook.
They appeared to show water seeping through the wall, with dog walker John McNicholas, of Norwich Place, Bispham, saying at the time: “It’s marvellous that they are spending so much money on this coastline, but let’s have the job done properly and get some value for tax-payers.”
Local councillor Paul Galley said ‘euphoria’ over the scheme had been replaced by ‘genuine concern’.
And after attending the opening yesterday, he said: “It’s a project that on one hand is amazing, but obviously as part of that, you want it to be the best it can.”
Coun Galley said contractors don’t yet know what caused the latest problem, and said the council will not sign off their work until the repairs have been done.
He added: “They have done a number of things to stop it getting any worse, but they are still trying to work out what’s caused it.
“What I’m trying to get across is this is not costing the council taxpayer any more.” A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food, And Rural
Affairs (Defra) said a junior minister was also set to attend the opening, but couldn’t because of a diary clash. He attended the World Dairy Summit in Belfast instead.