Government ministers, MPs and council bosses have called the start of the new £100 million flood barrier the key to unlocking further potential in Boston.
The minister for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Thérèse Coffey joined a number of guests at the Environment Agency’s hub on Marsh Lane, before heading to the bank of the Haven to ‘turn the turf’ with Boston MP Matt Warman and Toby Willison, executive director of operations for the Environment Agency.
The massive defence project will protect 14,000 homes and businesses in and around Boston, and form part of a £229 million investment from the Government over the next four years to reduce the risk of flood for Lincolnshire.
Mrs Coffey said she was ‘pleased’ to see the work starting
She said: “From the very outset of our six year programme Boston Barrier has featured as being a national priority.
“I know its felt like a long process, but we’ve now got spades on the ground.
“This investment will make Boston one of the most protected parts of the country, the town will have a 1-in-300 protection which is the most significant scheme I’ve been involved in.
“This is going to be a Christmas present for Boston when it opens in 2019.”
On the potential for future funding and focus on the town, Mrs Coffey said: “We wouldn’t be making such a significant investment if it wasn’t key to the Government. It’s one of our national projects and it will get some attention.
“It’s a vote of confidence in Boston and Lincolnshire. Clearly in the next four or five years this is part of the investment across Lincolnshire.”
Work is already underway to dredge the Boston Haven, and in the coming months, 2,000 tonnes of steel sheeting will be put in place to strengthen the riverbanks in preparation for the barrier.
It is expected that works will be complete by the end of 2020.
The scheme will feature a moveable gate across the River Witham together with a new control building to operate the barrier, flood defence walls on both banks and a replacement gate across the entrance to the existing Port of Boston wet dock.
The barrier’s 25-metre wide hydraulic-powered gate, when not in use, will lay flat on the riverbed out of sight, but will be raised to close off the River Witham when flooding is expected.
MP Matt Warman called the groundbreaking a ‘fantastic day and huge milestone’ for the project, saying it would ‘make a profound difference to the local economy and people around the town as well’.
“Today we’re standing here for what is literally the single biggest public investment in Boston’s history,” he said, adding it was a ‘huge vote of confidence for the town’.
“I hope that by Christmas 2019 we are standing here and the view behind us will be rather different but it will be delivering on a promise we have made over many years and finally will be here protecting those businesses and unlocking that local possibility as well.”
Pointing to Chris Grayling’s bypass fund announcement a few weeks ago, Mr Warman said the town’s chances of further investment were the ‘best they have ever been’.
“We have to be mindful there’s a real window of opportunity for more attention if we work together.
“There’s certainly a potential for that, and there’s a loud demonstration that the councils are all looking to grab that opportunity.”
Boston Borough Council leader Michael Cooper said the start of the work was ‘the moment we have been waiting for’.
“It really is a big day for Boston, to get this barrier started and the work going.
“It’s going to be so good for Boston. It’s going to protect so many homes and businesses, and it’s going to make a huge difference.
“Let’s hope we can bring further investment in to the town. Get some major infrastructure projects going and bring jobs and homes to the area.”
Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill said that the sooner the barrier was up ‘the better’, adding that then people would be able to see investment that had gone in and the potential for the future.
He added: “In our conservative manifesto we made a commitment we would support a relief road for Boston and bypass, so it’s still the commitment. We are working with Boston Borough council and Government as well to make as much progress as we can.”