ENGINEERS ARE battling to save a vital £32M coastal defence scheme in Dorset after a funding regime change slashed local authority budgets for the work.
The scheme to protect Lyme Regis from landslips is so crucial that advance 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 are being prepared but WDDC said it would not award a contract unless the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) changed its funding regime.
The cut is an indirect consequence of a new 'floors and ceilings' system introduced in April 2003 to control local authority spending.
Before April 2003 UK 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 future year's budgets to repay the loan.
But under the floors and ceilings system, councils' ODPM budgets can increase by no more than 7% annually.
West Dorset council needs an extra 11% to cover the cost of its approved coastal defence projects - the difference equating to the £480,000 cut.
It is now lobbying Defra to implement a 100% capital grant funding system for coastal defence projects. This was recently made the case for flood defence projects.