ENGINEERS ARE this week battling to save a vital £32M coastal defence scheme in Dorset after a funding regime change slashed local authority coastal defence budgets.
The scheme to protect Lyme Regis from landslips is so vital that advanced works had to be carried out to stabilise ground around the harbour over Christmas.
But a £480,000 cut in West Dorset District Council's (WDDC) coastal defence budget has left the scheme under threat.
Tender documents for the scheme are being prepared but WDDC has said that it will not award a contract following changes to its funding regime by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The cut is an indirect consequence of a new 'floors and ceilings' system to control local authority spending.
Before April 2003 coastal defence projects carried out by local authorities were 65% funded by a grant from DEFRA.
The remainder was paid for with a loan from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).
The ODPM would then grant the council sufficient funds in the next year's budget to repay the loan.
But under the 'floors and ceilings system' introduced in April 2003 councils' ODPM budgets can increase by no more than 7% annually.
WDDC needs an extra 11% to cover the cost of its approved coastal defence projects, the difference equating to a £480,000 cut.
It is now lobbying DEFRA to implement a 100% capital grant funding system for coastal defence projects, as has recently been made the case for flood defence projects (NCE 27 November 2003).