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Environment Agency should use local construction groups says coastal engineer Andrew Crates with body to hand out £1bn of contracts to national firms

By Chris Price

The Environment Agency should be doing more to employ local contractors on its flood defence works, according to one of its coastal engineers.

Andrew Crates told a meeting of construction bosses from the county this week that national contractors often lack local knowledge needed when planning for major projects.

He also acknowledged the agency might not be getting the best value for money by employing big national firms, rather than local ones.

Heavy rain over Christmas caused wide spread flooding in and around the Maidstone area

Last year the agency gave £1bn of contracts to just six contractors across the country, to be carried out over four years with the option of a two-year extension.

Following the floods in October, over Christmas and New Year, it also announced plans to invest £2.5bn over the next 10 years to reduce flood risk nationally.

Large parts of the county were affected by flooding over the winter, with properties in Sandwich, Sheppey, Oare, Faversham, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Yalding affected.

Mr Crates said he “couldn’t agree more” that the agency might not be getting the best value for money by employing national firms able to travel across the country.

Environment Agency coastal engineer Andrew Crates

“We find that when we use some of our bigger contractors and consultants, they may be experts in what they do but they don’t have the local knowledge and that is usually more valuable,” he told the Kent Construction Focus Group meeting at the Village Hotel in Maidstone.

“We do a lot of work with local authorities and coastal groups in Kent, in particular the East Kent Engineering Partnership.

“We can’t do everything and we do have to come out to you guys.”

The next procurement review is due in 2016.

He added: “When we go through procurement reviews, we do get a say in what goes on and I can feed that back.”

The sea defences at Dymchurch

High profile projects in recent years include the Dymchurch flood defences, which were completed in two phases over five years at a cost of £60m.

This year the Environment Agency has a £28m budget for capital projects in London and the South East. The budget was closer to £48m when Dymchurch was still being built.

DxM Consult director Alan Adkins – who co-runs Kent Construction Focus Group – said: “We want them to use local people.

“To his credit, Andrew didn’t agree with the Environment Agency policy and accepts they have a massive job to do but we want to keep business in the local economy and that is not happening.”

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