Thirty-four million reasons for the destruction of my confidence

I am grateful for Tony Cox’s latest contribution to the Shoebury sea defences debate (Shoebury Common Flood Defence Review). Whilst I will often find fault with his views on things, Tony is an intelligent debater. I miss our verbal jousting in council committees and meetings.

Let me cut to the chase: I admit to having little knowledge regarding what makes for an effective defence against rising sea levels. I am not able to pass judgement on the relative technical merits of the schemes being proposed.

I have no real opinion on building homes in the east of the borough beyond wishing to see the local housing shortage addressed somehow, and not wanting this solved by cramming them into the centre of town.

Firstly, I do not think I have described “wanting to protect people’s homes, lives and livelihoods” as a “vanity project“. I try to pick my words carefully. However, to choose a scheme in defiance of cost is (arguably) an exercise in vanity.

Tony then makes comment about the toilets. He should know that I have asked for the decision on toilet closures to be revisited – and I suggest he watch this space for developments. I hope I have been successful in my entreaties.

My decision at the time was not just on cost but other factors including aesthetics and environmental impact” writes Tony. I cannot refute that. But he will remember the debates we had. He will remember that cost was a factor for me, and for other councillors too. Costs are important – we are spending tax-payers money here. Besides, we are seeing local government finances under duress at the moment.

The reasons for choosing one scheme over another are largely irrelevant to my latest contention though. I have contended that we, the council members, have been misinformed. I have yet to see anything to disabuse me of this idea.

We have been presented with figures on the costs of the relevant schemes, and at every turn these costs change. This, in itself, leads to a destruction of confidence in what we are told.

Not only do the numbers vary. Up to the production of the Mott MacDonald report we were informed that the council’s preferred option was the cheapest. That was the consistent message in 2013. The numbers changed, but the preferred option was always shown as cheapest.

The Mott MacDonald report stands in distinct contradistinction to reports delivered when the decision on flood defences was initially made.

I value the work of our officers. I trust their impartiality and their wisdom. I respect other councillors, even if I profoundly disagree with them. But, but. Something has gone terribly wrong.

At the moment I see nothing but thirty-four million reasons for the destruction of my confidence. I actually hope that I have been a dullard here, because the alternative is less than pleasant.

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