What Are the Plans for Southsea’s Sea Defences?

Map showing the 7 sub-frontages of the Southsea sea defences scheme, East Solent Coastal Partnership.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Steve Pitt attended a briefing for city councillors on Tuesday 25th July to outline the plans for the next stage of upgrading the city’s sea defences. Here, he outlines for residents the history of the sea defence upgrade programme, the public funding supporting it, and the next steps for its design and delivery in Southsea. Introduction and internet links added by S&C’s Sarah Cheverton.

The Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership (ESCP) are developing outline designs to improve coastal defences along the Southsea and North Portsea Island coastline. The partnership is an alliance between Fareham Borough Council, Gosport Borough Council, Portsmouth City Council and Havant Borough Council, and consists of  ‘a team of officers and engineers who manage 162km of coastline’.

ESCP are undertaking coastal defence work at Southsea and North Portsea Island to reduce the long term coastal flood and erosion risk to:

  • 8700 residential properties
  • 800 non-residential properties
  • Critical infrastructure

The Portsea Island Schemes build on recommendations made by the Portsea Island Coastal Strategy.

Portsmouth Sea Defences – a timeline

  1. Initial plans to upgrade our sea defences began in 2004.
  2. In 2010, Full Council approved the proposal to proceed with drawing up a range of options for what the new defences might look like and put together a bid for funding.
  3. In 2011, the East Solent Coastal Partnership (ESCP) was formed in association with Havant, Gosport and Fareham.
  4. Also in 2011, a report was prepared to draw up a ‘long list’ of options and between then and 2015, an outline study was prepared. A steering group was appointed to work towards reducing the options to a shorter list, which could be presented to the public. There was extensive consultation with a range of partners.
  5. The City Council began to explore where the money might come from to pay for the new defences.
  6. As the lifetime cost of the project was estimated to exceed government department spending limits, the bid had to go to the Treasury, who will be ultimately responsible for releasing the monies for the scheme.
  7. In 2014, posters were distributed across the city, details were included in Flagship and there was an exhibition at the Royal Beach Hotel to show the proposals, which by this stage had become the ‘short list’.
  8. As a result of that consultation, 85.8% of respondents supported the options which had formed the short list.
  9. The short list remains ‘live’ and is the ‘concept’ which had to receive government support before proceeding to the design stage. From this short list, the ‘preferred option‘ is now in place (this is where we are now). The preferred option is to have either step of slopes (where needed) and a second wall of varying height, set back from the prom (exact position and height is still to be decided).
  10. Earlier this month, the Government agreed to release £5.9 million, approving the final stage, which involves appointing designers to work up the final scheme.
  11. A full business case must be presented with a comprehensive design by early to mid-2018.
  12. A planning application will be required.
  13. If approved, Government will agree to unlock around £70 million to begin construction.
  14. Construction ideally to begin in 2019.

Questions and Answers

1. Why not a scheme based on an offshore breakwater?

Explored at an earlier stage but not considered viable due to the shipping channel, concerns of the MOD, possible problems to the deep channel needed for the carriers, cost, lack of confidence in such a solution addressing the specific problems on Portsmouth’s Southsea shoreline. (There was a lot more technical stuff said about this which I can’t communicate effectively here as I’m no expert but I was asked to pose the question)

2. Why not a ‘soft engineering’ option, such as the one proposed by Walter Menteth?

    • Menteth’s proposal actually has about 80% similarity with the shortlisted proposals, the main difference being the stretch from Southsea Castle to Clarence Pier. This stretch was put forward by Menteth for sand dunes instead of a hard engineering solution.
    • It is felt that this will not be sufficient and fails to address some of the complex issues posed by our specific problems.
    • The Menteth proposal is uncosted but we do know that moving the Naval Memorial, Rock Gardens, Pyramids, Clarence Pier, building an underground car park etc, would be extremely costly (involving tens of millions of pounds) and could not be funded in any way by the money from Government.
    • The ‘dunes’ design would involve losing much of the Common.
    • However, there were favourable comments in regard to creating as soft a design as possible between the Common and the new defences, which was something the Menteth proposal wanted.

Other Key Points

  1. There will not be a 3.8m high wall across Southsea Common.
  2. The final design will determine the wall height in different places.
  3. The final design will be the subject of a wide public consultation and will offer a range of possibilities depending in no small part on what the public think are their priorities for what the defences need to achieve (more on this to follow in due course).
  4. The ‘stepping’ is still not finalised and in places could be replaced with a slope. The height and gradient of the steps is also part of the consultation. In some places, other design options may be possible.
  5. There will still be a shingle beach (except around the Castle). Sand is not a viable option.
  6. If we do not pursue the approved ‘in principle’ design and want to start again, the money will disappear. That would leave Portsmouth City Council responsible for funding ongoing maintenance of the existing defences and would not address the issues posed by the increased risk of flooding. It is unclear when a new proposal would be considered for funding but could be more than 5 years.
  7. A leading heritage expert will be employed to work on the project.
  8. The team delivering the project are the same team who built the new defences around Anchorage Park and Milton Common, both of which won awards and the defences at Tipner, which have recently commenced.

Next Steps

  1. A newsletter will go out to thousands of homes across the south of the city.
  2. The ESCP will be adding a lot more info on their website.
  3. The various options for the Common will be made available for public discussion and feedback, along with the rest of the project.
  4. There will be displays and opportunities for the community to interact.
  5. Councillors will be supplied with various resources to help inform their residents.

The Portsmouth Liberal Democrats tried to leave out anything which could represent party opinion in this report and instead summarise the briefing as we understood it. It was stressed that at every stage, this whole process has had full cross party support from all Councillors. Portsmouth City Council has had to assure government of that cross-party support. If that ceases to be the case, it could jeopardise the project.


Image of Preferred Option for Southsea sea defences: Map showing the 7 sub-frontages of the Southsea scheme, taken from East Solent Coastal Partnership website.

A version of this article first appeared on the Portsmouth Liberal Democrat Party website.