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Next steps in ambitious Looe Flood Defence scheme

Following Cornwall Council’s decision to support the development of the Looe Flood Defence Project last year, significant progress is being made in turning the original designs enthusiastically supported by the local community into an exciting and ambitious flood protection and economic regeneration scheme which will benefit both the town and the wider South East Cornwall economy.

Sometimes described as “the most frequently flooded town in the UK”, Looe’s geography makes it particularly vulnerable to flooding caused by both high sea water levels and wave action in the inner harbour, and surface water flooding from intense rainfall during storms.

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As well as regularly affecting homes and businesses in the town, causing £39m of damage in the last five years, sea levels are expected to rise more than 1 metre over the next 100 years as a result of climate change. This means flooding will threaten even more parts of the town in the future.

Potential areas at risk include the local GP surgery, police station, main food stores and cafes, the fish market and potentially the fire station, as well as major transport links such as the A387 which crosses the Looe River joining West and East Looe together, and the railway station which connects the town to the mainline at Liskeard.

With tourism worth around £47.8m to the local economy and supporting more than 1,500 local jobs, a decline of the town centre could not only deter people from visiting the town and reduce future investment, but could also affect holiday parks, communities and businesses right across South East Cornwall. 

With both key partners and local residents united in the need for a tidal flood defence scheme to maintain Looe as a viable fishing and tourism destination and secure its environmental, social and economic sustainability, a draft design put forward by Looe Harbour Commissioners was backed by more than 95% of local residents and landowners.

Following last year’s allocation of £2.3m to support the development of the project , Cornwall Council members and officers have been working with Looe Harbour Commissioners, Looe Town Council, Looe Development Trust, West Looe Town Trust, East Looe Town Trust, the Environment Agency, the RNLI and local MP Sheryll Murray to turn the draft design into an economically viable and environmentally friendly solution to the town’s tidal flooding challenges. 

With the current costs for delivering this project estimated at between £60m and £75m, work is now taking place on preparing a bid for funding to submit to the Government later this year.  Discussions are also planned for South West Water, Devon and Cornwall Police and Network Rail to encourage joint working and additional funding. In parallel to this, more detailed work is being progressed for the outline design of the scheme, with a detailed laser scan and sonar survey of the Harbour, Banjo Pier and Seawall.

“This is a vital project for Looe and the wider economy of South East Cornwall” said Tim Dwelly, Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for culture, economy and planning.  “The Council is committed to supporting the development of this long awaited and much needed flood defence project.

“We will continue to work with local partners to develop a robust strategic outline case for the Government so we can secure the funding needed to take it to the next stage”.

Tina Hicks, Chief Executive of Looe Harbour Commissioners, is clear that the flooding is getting worse and that something needs to be done to prevent key local services being overcome in the future. 

“The local community has been pushing for a permanent solution to be provided for the town for more than 20 years” she said.  “There was overwhelming support for the draft design put forward during the last public consultation event and I am pleased that the proposals presented are being taken forward.  

“Not only will the proposed scheme safeguard the entire town centre, fishing fleet and harbour from increasingly frequent tidal flooding and allow the emergency services to remain operational, it will also support the regeneration of Looe and the wider South East Cornwall economy.

“By reducing the risk of tidal flooding and encouraging incoming business growth, providing improved rail links, 24/7 access to new sea and coastal ferry links, and the development of a new south east Cornwall cycle hub, and delivering improved water quality and access to water for all parts of the community, we can regain our reputation as a thriving fishing port and a key tourist destination rather than being seen as the most frequently flooded town in the country.”

The proposal, which aligns with the Looe Neighbourhood Development Plan, includes:

  • A tidal barrier which will be closed when a flood warning is issued
  • An inner breakwater which will prevent overtopping of the flood gates during tidal surges and a shelter for vessels when the flood gates are closed 
  • An extension to the Banjo pier, creating a low water landing stage providing all day easy access to the harbour. This may have the additional benefit of improved bathing water quality
  • A cut-off wall below East Looe beach to prevent tidal flooding bypassing the tidal barrier
  • A new walkway from Pennyland in the town to Hannafore to provide access to the coast path and protected access off the main road.

Work on developing the strategic outline case is due to be completed in the Summer when it will be presented to Ministers. If this receives Government support, a detailed business case will be developed to be presented later to the Government. If funding is approved the scheme could be constructed as early as 2025/2027.