THE WASH BARRIER PROPOSAL - By Robin Limb, agricultural consultant
- 29 April 2020
Town and Around's agricultural correspondent's column for May
The Wash area is roughly 20 km by 20 km wide and 5.00 metres deep, on average, and equates to roughly two billion cubic metres of water. It is a natural coastal enclave, and a haven for wildfowl and wetland species.
If a Wash barrier was built between Boston and Hunstanton, circa 20 km long, this has the potential to create the greatest inland freshwater reservoir in the UK - and this is not the first time it has been suggested, going way back to the 1970’s.
It would not only provide potable water supplies for the mass population, but also ample irrigation water for agriculture. Three main rivers drain into the Wash: the Great Ouse, the Nene and the Welland, so this freshwater inland sea would always remain fully supplied.
The Ijsselmeer, known as Lake IJssel in English, is a closed off inland bay in the central Netherlands, bordering the provinces of Flevoland, North Holland, and Friesland. It covers an area of 1,100 km, with an average depth of 5.5 metres. The river Ijssel flows into the IJsselmeer. The final stage was never achieved, due to budget cuts, but the first two stages were successfully completed.
The estimated cost of this project is £25BN – but that would probably ‘over-run’ – as always. I think this proposal has some merit, but others may disagree violently. At a time when natural resources are under pressure, we need to look at every opportunity – no matter how extreme.
The dual carriageway running along the top of the barrier would need to be speed restricted to say 50 mph by average speed cameras, and security stations to control the movement of so-called ‘cross county gangs’ and illegal immigrants. Toll booths would also be required to gradually recover the capital costs - £3.00 per car and £10.00 per lorry.
The vital port of Kings Lynn would need to remain accessible, which could be achieved by two-way lock gates and a fly-over bridge section for road traffic. Consideration for wildlife and the environment would also need to be a high priority and be factored into the project plans.
The recreational opportunities could include a stop-off restaurant and play area, plus both sea and freshwater fishing options for anglers.
If you need an argument against the preservationists you may like to raise the point that the current marshlands are not all natural either. The Dutch did a superb job of polderising and draining the Wash surrounds a few hundred years ago and if all the silt that is dredged and gradually dumped and planted outside the dike, you create a new marsh. Wetlands can be created as easily as they are destroyed.
Engagement with all relevant stakeholders would be required – DEFRA, the RSPB, the EA, planning authorities, agricultural organisations, drainage boards, water authorities, etc.
Consultants with experience in such similar projects would be necessary – the Dutch basically.
Part of the feasibility study would take into account the relief of existing traffic on the A17, A16, and other major trunk routes.
A detailed assessment of the environmental impact would be required to determine the inflow and egress of water into the newly-created Wash area. This could include flood release and drainage opportunities in times of excess.
The economic benefits need to be clearly defined, measured, and accounted for from the outset.
Surge tide contingencies need to be considered in the construction in case we have a repeat of the floods of 1947 or 1953.
Would a private management company be engaged to run the newly-created barrier, and if so on what terms - payback guarantees, penalty clauses in case of failure to deliver, and so on?
Opportunities for solar panels and wind turbine locations may also be a consideration, together with monitoring of marine life habitats. The project has considerable potential for job creation (5,000?) plus contractors (200?). Development grants may also be made available.
We only have to look to our Dutch counterparts to see how the sea can be contained, controlled, and managed for the benefit of both mankind and the environment. We may not find King John’s jewels, but there may be a greater prize to be had in the process.