Southend Council faces a race against time to put together a new seawall proposal, the Echo can reveal.
The joint administration has just eight months to put together its own seawall project, including planning permission and consultation, if it decides to scrap the Conservatives’ proposal.
For the first time, the Environment Agency has confirmed it will pay the council £1.4million towards the project, but only if finalised by March 2015.
It leaves the whole seawall saga, rumbling on since 2011, in jeopardy – with opposition Tories claiming that lives could be put at risk.
The new Independent, Lib Dem, and Labour administration has put previous rubberstamped plans on ice, carrying out a review into the £5.18million buffer, earmarked for Shoebury Common.
John Lamb, leader of the Tories on the council, said: “By not going forward with a seawall, business and residents are being put at risk.
“People will be put further at risk the longer this continues.
They are not on the frontline with this at all because it could be months before it goes to cabinet and August tends to be a quiet month with people off.”
The review was rubberstamped at a full council meeting and the new Independent, Labour, Lib Dem, ruling coalition has promised to review all options for improving sea defences for 237 homes and 58 businesses along a 1,000 yardlong stretch between Ness Road and Bay Gardens.
The previous Tory administration pushed through the proposals in the face of a huge public backlash, with only four people backing their preferred option in the face of thousands denouncing it.
If the Tories’ project was retained, the council would still have had to finalise funding already approved from the Environment Agency, subject to just a few outstanding questions.
The new authority, if it loses the £1.4million, can re-apply, but nothing will be guaranteed.
Martin Terry, Independent councillor responsible for public safety, said: “If we have until March, then that is better news than I was expecting.
“I can’t be confident of meeting the deadline, but given a lot of the work has already been done, I have some confidence that it can be done.
“There is a chance we will do and we will hit the ground running.”
In the wake of the elections, where the Tories did not win one seat in the eastern part of the borough, many believe because of the unpopular scheme, Southend East MP Conservative MP James Duddridge came out and urged the new council to reconsider the project.