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Pevensey Bay Sea Defence

Category: Coastal Defense

As far as Pevensey Council and most residents are concerned the PFI has worked very well. I think the main reason for this is the approachability of the contractors. They have been very open in what they intend to do and are keen to have local feedback and implement it if necessary. Most of us feel that we are working together in the project and that it is not them and us!!

Carole Clarke, Pevensey Parish Council

April, 2004

Pevensey Bay is an old fishing village founded in the 1600's as Wallsend, the end of the sea wall from Eastbourne. This stretch of coastline acts as an important defence against flooding and storm damage from the sea for a large area of low-lying land immediately behind the beach. Situated in this area are some 17000 properties, several caravan parks, road and railway links, and the Pevensey Levels SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest and Ramsar site.) These are all at risk from flooding if a breach of the defences occurs.

In 1992 the sea defences were deteriorating faster than could be prevented by normal maintenance expenditure and the National Rivers Authority, who was then responsible for the beach, began to look at ways of attracting major capital investment.

In June 1999 the Environment Agency named Pevensey Coastal Defence Ltd as preferred bidder for the UK's first PFI contract for a flood defence scheme. Under the £30 million contract, the consortium - comprising contractors Westminster Dredging, Dean & Dyball and Mackley Construction together with consulting group Mouchel Parkman and financial advisor KPMG Corporate Finance - was set to manage the defences for 25 years, starting early in the year 2000.

The PPP Forum interviewed Peter Midgely from the Environment Agency, Ian Thomas from Pevensey Coastal Defence and Ron Gardner from Westminster Dredging.

The PPP Forum also received comments from Cllr Roger Thomas Sussex County Council, Cllr Carole Clarke of Pevensey Parish Council and Robert Chase of the Norman's Bay Residents Association.

Peter:

Was there any particular reason why you chose to do this stretch of beach as a PFI project?

"When the PFI projects were coming to the fore the Environment Agency was asked to look at a number of its capital construction projects round the country to see if any of them was suitable for PFI procurement. We chose two very different projects. One is the Broadlands flood alleviation scheme and the other is the Pevensey Bay Coastal Defence.

The Pevensey scheme has been particularly successful. It's interesting that here in East Sussex I've got an equivalent length of frontage at Shoreham and Lancing which we're refurbishing using standard procurement. We've been at it for about the same length of time and we're only half way through while the beach at Pevensey Bay has been brought up to the desired standard.

The reason that's happened is to do with the funding. Traditional capital schemes are financed by a combination of grant in aid from DEFRA and a local levy from the local authority. That means on average I have just over 20 million pounds each year for all work that needs to be done in Sussex. To have refurbished an entire stretch of coast Like Pevensey or Shoreham under traditional procurement would have used up that entire budget. So we normally split the work into chunks and rebuild the beach in sections. What the PFI does is to allow us to do all the work in one go and then pay for it over the PFI contract period so that makes it very attractive
."

If it's working so well why not have more PFI schemes?

"What we wanted to do was have a go with one and see how it went. PFI procurement is normally used for a road or hospital where you can see a concrete asset. You know how it's going to perform and you know what its future over 25 years is going to be. What we're talking about here is a single sea defence which can change from day to day and quite dramatically and could in fact disappear over night along with all the houses sitting on the top of it. So you're actually talking about something which is a different kind of beast to the normal contract and I think we all felt we wanted to have one to see how it worked."

And having seen it work would you consider doing it again?

"Yes, we have already extended the original contract to take in the southern half of the frontage. We could extend this contract further or set another one up but one of the difficulties is that it takes a long time to put one of these deals together and it's very expensive. We need to make sure that from our point of view it's value for money in the long term to use this method and that's what we're looking at.

We'd also like to test the contract under heavy storm conditions; the weather has been fairly quiet since Pevensey Coastal Defence took over the beach. I'm not saying anything will go wrong. I have every confidence in both the emergency response and the way the contract has been phrased in terms of how the beach will be reinstated. And I don't want to wish a really terrible storm on the area but I would just like to see how they do under more challenging conditions
."

Ian: "We haven't had horrendous seas but we have had to deal with storm force 11 conditions. And we're learning all the time from the way the beach is behaving. We took over the contract four years ago but spent the first eighteen months doing a detailed environmental impact assessment. Then in 2002 we started our main capital works which basically involved importing a quarter of a million cubic meters - that's half a million tons of shingle onto the beach. We have an output specification which sets out what the width of the beach should be but how we maintain it at that width is up to us."

Ron: "Because the contract will run for 25 years, we can make long term planning and investment commitments to the plant and equipment utilised. We have specially configured a vessel which is able to dredge shingle at sea but whose draft is shallow enough to allow it to come right inshore where it literally rainbows the shingle onto the beach."

East Sussex County Councillor Roger Thomas, whose ward includes Pevensey Bay and Normans Bay, also sits on the southern regional flood defence committee and Sussex local flood defence committee. He's been an active campaigner for funding to improve the sea defences and has been impressed by the way the PFI has worked, particularly during the initial period of beach reconstruction.

Roger: "The first dumping of shingle took place during half term so you can imagine the interest from the children on the beach. The company were instantly sensitive to this and made sure there was a safety rail around the area. But they also made sure there was someone on the beach to explain to the children or anyone else for that matter what they were doing and why. That's been a feature of the way the company has worked, they've always made sure they were accessible to the public and they were explaining what they were doing. The whole thing has worked magnificently."

Carole: "As far as Pevensey Council and most residents are concerned the PFI has worked very well. I think the main reason for this is the approachability of the contractors. They have been very open in what they intend to do and are keen to have local feedback and implement it if necessary. Most of us feel that we are working together in the project and that it is not them and us!! They have been lucky in that we have not had horrendous seas since they started the contract but they monitor the beach much more than the Environment Agency were able to due to their limited funding."

Peter: "I'm very happy with the way the partnership is working. If I wasn't I would be the first to complain because ultimately I am accountable for that defence. But we have good people down there who are doing a good job both on behalf of the consortium and on behalf of the agency. We're providing the sea defence on behalf of the residents but it's easy to get off on the wrong foot with people when you have heavy machinery on the beach at all times of the day and night. The work has to be done when the tides will allow and you can imagine how easy it is to offend people if a bulldozer is chugging past at the crack of dawn. They need to know why the work is being done and they need to understand it's for their benefit."

Robert: "We have been generally pleased with the way the contractors Pevensey Coastal Defence Ltd have responded to our concerns. They seem to be taking good care to maintain the level of the beach. They have also taken steps to check the speed of heavy vehicles and plant moving along the crest of the beach."

Peter: "The basic difference in having the PFI is that we've delivered a much higher standard of sea defence at Pevensey Bay much more quickly and probably to a better standard than we would have achieved using our conventional procurement methods."