Tom Fletcher, Cornwall Strategic Project Team Manager at the Environment Agency (EA), explains, “Previous proposals for Looe were developed within a fairly constrained system, generated from flood defence grants and aid. However, this time, we're considering a much wider project asking: what will encourage economic growth in Looe? How can we better connect the town to neighbouring, larger towns such as Liskeard? How can we draw people from Liskeard down to Looe, perhaps through sustainable travel ways such as cycle paths? What role might Looe play in raising GDP for South East Cornwall if the town could fulfil its economic potential? Also, and most importantly, what does the community want the project to look like?”
The business case
A scheme of the breadth proposed for Looe is expensive - at least £74m. EA funding alone cannot cover this, so the project board must make the case for additional funding to the Treasury. This means demonstrating how the flood defence project constitutes a sound investment in Looe, making the town a better place to live, work and visit.
Hamish and his team are investigating ways to integrate the project into a wider regeneration context that can create benefits for the town beyond a flood defence. Ideas include designing the breakwater so that it could provide additional berthing areas for fishing and leisure boats, dramatically boosting the number of boats the town could accept, bringing further opportunity to Looe.
Likewise, the team is considering how the tidal barrage might enhance the town’s offering with the addition of walkways on either side of the structure. The broader aim is to create an uplift to the local economy, encouraging new businesses, particularly from within the hospitality and leisure industries, to Looe.
The environmental case
Looe’s success as a tourist destination is based on its natural environment; its accessible beaches and clean bathing waters. Its coastline and rivers combine to produce a sensitive ecosystem, supporting a wealth of biodiversity. Hamish says the flood defence project aims to go beyond protecting these natural assets and enhance them for the benefit of people and nature: “Whatever flood risk management scheme is delivered in Looe, we want it to be something that improves the town on multiple levels.”
Early engagement with the community on the project is fundamental to its success and local people are already helping to shape the proposal. “This insight is critical”, says Hamish. “And local people will continue to shape the project; the fishermen; boat owners, business owners; and of course, the residents. There is no one single expert. As a group of individuals, we have to come together to decide what's right. And what's best for our community.”
The EA’s Tom underlines that while the whole community needs to be consulted to ensure that the scheme delivers maximum benefits, compelling engineering solutions will underpin the engagement process:
“When you are dealing with a high energy environment like the sea then then we need to make sure we get the engineering right, and that it is well understood. So while it’s important to explain the economics behind the project, the engineering - the flood modelling must be well understood.
Together these strands will come together to instil people’s confidence in Looe as a place to invest, as well a place to live, visit and do business. By making the case for the flood defence project and winning the support and involvement of the local community, the project team aims to bring forward a scheme that could secure Looe’s long-term prosperity for generations to come.