Cuckmere consultations

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An attempt to claim “victory” for safeguarding the iconic Cuckmere meanders by maintaining or raising the river banks (as per one letter on the outcome of the Pathfinder consultation event June 7 June) was misleading.

We had been urged by a previous correspondent (letters, June 3) to turn up in numbers to vote for the status quo, although the event had not been devised as an election (and, as a self-selecting, unrepresentative body a “first past the post” result wouldn’t tell us much), and there can’t actually be a status quo for long because of climate change.

In the event, the scorings from the appraisal we carried out on June 7 were interesting from a variety of viewpoints, not least how far we’ve shifted in the past few years away from a straightforward belief in the “status quo”.

1. If I’m reading correctly the meeting notes widely circulated last Friday, if one takes the number of attendees and assumes that almost all will have submitted a score sheet, combines that with the number of assessment criteria and the range of possible scores, we end up with a leading score (“maintain existing defences”) well below half of the maximum score available (I make it 3,159 from a possible 6,850 in terms of that option’s ability to meet the assessment criteria). Ok, this is an over-simplification and one shouldn’t read too much into it, but it does look to me like a less than ringing endorsement.

2.The range of “scores” for the seven options (3,159 to 2,274) seems quite small, and in particular, the gap between the leading option and the next most popular, with 2,953, (“Engineered reactivation of meanders and meandering creeks”) is narrow. Bear in mind that this second option is one of the most radical and one can see that we still have some differences.

3.There seems to be some evidence of tactical scoring (by all sides?) in that assessments of the possible impact of the various options on issues like the flood risk to the A259, flood risk in Alfriston, potential threat to property like the coastguard cottages, would appear to have factual answers (indeed the computer modelling had provided answers) but were nevertheless scored differentially.

When East Sussex County Council’s Andy Robertson summed up the day’s outcome in terms of a consensus around a commitment to the meanders and continuing public access, he was correctly identifying what had emerged. Maintaining the existing flood defences can only be a short-term measure unless we decide to ignore evidence of climate change and sea level rise. Building up the banks on a continuing basis would mean leaving an unpleasant and expensive-to-maintain landscape for future generations and this society has “voted” for showing respect to this special place, both now and in the future.

By all means seek to conserve what we love most about the estuary, but let us put all the undoubted affection and knowledge that exists to good cause and work to bring about the best package of landscape, recreation and wildlife measures in the short and long term.

Steve Ankers

South Downs Society