A scheme to build a huge flood barrier to protect one of the biggest towns on the east coast has been halted suddenly after costs soared.

The project would have seen gates built near the mouth of Lowestoft’s outer harbour to prevent sea surges from reaching further inland.

Around £124m in additional funding is needed to construct the barrier but with "crippling" increases in the costs of building materials, labour, design changes and inflation, East Suffolk Council bosses have been forced to put it on pause. 

Lowestoft Journal: Work began on the Lowestoft Flood Protection programme in 2021Work began on the Lowestoft Flood Protection programme in 2021 (Image: Mick Howes)

Waveney MP, Peter Aldous, explained: "The scale and ambition of the project has increased over the past 10 years and likewise its anticipated cost has risen.

"In 2014 this was estimated at approximately £24m, in 2020 it had increased to the order of £70m and today it is estimated at approximately £200m.  As a result, there is now a funding gap of the order of £124m.

"In 2020 the government provided £170m to 22 flood defence projects across the country, of which the Lowestoft Flood Defence Scheme at £43m was the largest recipient.

Lowestoft Journal: Waveney MP Peter Aldous Waveney MP Peter Aldous (Image: Generate)

"The government is currently considering representations from East Suffolk Council, the Environment Agency and myself to meet the current shortfall. They are doing so against a backdrop where it is clear that the current national flood defence budget is inadequate, even though at £5.2bn it is double what it was previously.

"Moreover, there are other similar schemes around the country facing the same inflationary challenges."

Kay Yule, the council's cabinet member for planning and coastal protection, is "devastated" by the decision.

Lowestoft Journal: Councillor Kay Yule (middle) said the loss of funding has left the town defenceless Councillor Kay Yule (middle) said the loss of funding has left the town defenceless (Image: Newsquest)

"The business case for the barrier could not be clearer," she said.

"Before the scheme, Lowestoft was the only UK coastal town with no formal tidal flood defences, leaving the town at great risk of climate change impacts."

The barrier project is part of the wider Lowestoft Flood Protection programme that is designed to reduce the risk of flooding from tidal surges, such as those in 2013 that seriously damaged more than 160 homes and businesses along the seafront.

READ MORE: Flood walls unveiled with 'landmark' reached in Lowestoft

In July 2020, East Suffolk Council was awarded £43m by the government which was used the following year to build 1.5km of tidal floodwalls in the Kirkley area, one of the worst hit.

Construction of the tidal floodwalls officially began in May 2021 and was completed in autumn 2023.

However, the main element of the project - which when completed would help protect more than 1,500 homes and 800 businesses - would see a tidal barrier built across the channel entrance to Lake Lothing on the seaward side of the Bascule Bridge.

Lowestoft Journal: A visualisation of the 40m tidal barrier earmarked for LowestoftA visualisation of the 40m tidal barrier earmarked for Lowestoft (Image: East Suffolk Council)

A 28m wide gate was initially designed but it was changed to 40m over fears large vessels would not be able to pass through.

This would potentially make it one of the largest floodgates in the UK and it was earmarked as the final phase of the town's permanent flood defences.

READ MORE: Significant step forward for major tidal barrier bid

According to East Suffolk Council, £15m has been spent on the barrier project already but an additional £20m is scheduled to be spent from January to July 2024 which cannot be covered by pledged funds - creating a £20m risk for the council. 

Lowestoft Journal: An artist's impression of the tidal barrierAn artist's impression of the tidal barrier (Image: East Suffolk Council)

Ms Yule added: "In 2013 the town suffered significant tidal flooding of homes, businesses and critical infrastructure and without the scheme, were the same event to occur again, the overall cost of the damage to Lowestoft could reach £168m.

READ MORE: Glass walls unveiled for flood defence works in Lowestoft

"The barrier would provide considerable reassurance, and further confidence, to investors in a burgeoning and strategically important location."

Further north on the coast, the village of Hemsby recently missed out on £15m of government funding to build a new rock berm, leaving locals feeling increasingly abandoned and forgotten as the sea reclaims more and more of their community. 

Lowestoft Journal: East Coast Cinema was flooded as a tidal surge hit Lowestoft in December 2013East Coast Cinema was flooded as a tidal surge hit Lowestoft in December 2013 (Image: Nick Butcher/Newsquest)

The project team has already engaged with both the government and the Environment Agency to seek the necessary funding needed to complete the project but a decision is not likely to come soon, officials say, prompting the sudden halt in work.

Ms Yule continued: "It would provide better protection to key brownfield sites ideally placed for redevelopment, as well as access roads to the new Gull Wing Bridge - the economic benefit of proceeding is simply unarguable.

READ MORE: 'Very disappointing': Reaction as flood barrier is halted due to £124m shortfall

"It would also provide a huge boost to the government’s commitment to net zero by 2050, enabling further development in the offshore wind industry."

A Defra spokesperson said in response to the news: "We have been made aware that East Suffolk Council is unable to progress with the proposed Lowestoft Tidal Barrier Project due to cost increases caused by scope changes to the project and inflationary pressures.  

"We are investing a record £5.2 billion between 2021-27 to better protect communities from flooding right across the country, including in Lowestoft, and will continue working with the council and other partners to help them develop a viable and affordable proposal."