PROPOSALS to delay Kendal's £72m flood defence scheme amid fears it could hit the high street's post-Coronavirus recovery have been sunk.

South Lakeland District Leader Giles Archibald has highlighted the risk of losing the project as well as facing a multi-million compensation claim.

The rebuttal was in response to a letter sent by Kendal Business Improvement District’s letter with four demands.

They were:

ldeferring the proposed work

lthat major highways work is carried out only after diversions are signposted

lalterations should be made to the town’s one-way system to allow ease of access

lonce work begins signs should be erected on the M6 highlighting that “Kendal is still open and welcomes you”.

The open letter from Brian Harrison, chair of Kendal BID, led to a social media row with the organisation being forced to deny it had any connection to the ongoing anti-flood relief scheme campaign.

It also included a special section 97 request to the government to defer the Environment Agency’s work later this year.

But Mr Archibald has curtailed any notion of the authority using a Section 97 request due to financial penalties, fears over leaving the town more vulnerable to any floods this winter and not believing there 'are any grounds to grant the request'.

The leader pointed out the main construction work to Victoria Bridge is from underneath which will avoid closures while work affecting Aynam Road will not start until early next year, and any lane restrictions are to be addressed in Cumbria County Council’s traffic management plan.

He said: “The council is working hard to protect and support its residents and businesses at this challenging time. This includes administering millions of pounds of business support grants and setting up an economic renewal group, including key business leaders, to plan for South Lakeland’s recovery following the Coronavirus outbreak.

“It is also worth noting that under a Section 97 revocation order SLDC, as the planning authority, could be liable for millions of pounds of compensation to the EA for all the preparatory work on the project.

"Moreover, any delay to the scheme could jeopardise crucial funding essential to the viability of the whole project which includes providing flood protection in Burneside, Staveley and Ings, as well as Kendal.

“In short, if we were to apply to rescind the planning permission, we could be looking at losing the entire £72 million flood defence scheme protection for our residents and businesses and find ourselves facing a multi-million compensation claim – a cost that would be borne by all of the district’s taxpayers."

The traffic management plan will also provide for any work to be suspended for events such as the Kendal Mountain Festival with the EA being happy to discuss similar arrangements for other events which will support the town’s economic recovery.

Mr Harrison highlighted 'the 'real and unopposed concerns voiced' during a video conference about perceived disruption caused by the planned road works at Victoria Bridge and New Road/Aynam Road.

Mr Harrison added: “Likely negative media and Facebook coverage of those road works leaves little imagination.

"Negative observations will most certainly deter visitors and shoppers during what will be a crucial recovery period for businesses.

“I believe previous consultancy reports and recommendations confirm the risk of disruption and a need for serious consideration if those road works should go ahead at a time, when the very future of Kendal businesses is at risk.”

A Cumbria County Council spokeswoman said: “We absolutely understand the concerns raised by Kendal BID around the impact of any traffic disruption when the town is trying to recover and encourage visitors and shoppers back to the area following Covid-19.

“The essential repair works to Victoria Bridge being carried out on our behalf by Story Contracting will not involve any lengthy road works as all of the work is being carried out off the highway. There may be occasions when one lane needs to be temporarily closed whilst deliveries to the site are made but these will be carried out on evenings or weekends to minimise any disruption.”

Kendal BID's letter is the latest episode for plans which have split public opinion.

Nearly 300 objections were made before the council gave planning consent last year and led to a call-in to the Secretary of State, with backing from a host of organisations including Friends of the Lake District.

A key part of the opposition has been around the felling of 545 trees as well as increased air pollution caused by flood walls, problems caused by ground water and traffic disruption from construction work.

The plans, which are in response to the devastation caused by Storm Desmond in 2015 and include funding from both the UK government and the EU, are aimed at safeguarding hundreds of properties, with nearly 400 estimated to be at risk.

Stewart Mounsey, flood risk manager at the Environment Agency said: “We are continuing to deliver all of our Flood and Coastal Risk Management projects where it is safe for our teams and delivery partners to do so.

"We are currently carrying out detailed planning and design work required for Phase 1 of the Kendal Flood Management Scheme and expect to start construction in early autumn.

“We understand the sensitivities of traffic management in Kendal and we are working with Cumbria County Council and partners to finalise the traffic plan and have made improvements to the version submitted with the planning application.

“This includes minimising the working hours, extent and duration of lane closures and ensuring that we work as efficiently as possible to reduce the construction phase of delivery in key areas.”