Flood protection is first priority

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Your letters columns have quite rightly recently been full of comment on the impact of the storms. We cannot be other than moved by the stories of destruction and even as I write here on our local coast we can see evidence of that along our beaches and more particularly at Birling Gap.

However the problems are evident throughout the Lewes District.

Since the Lewes floods in 2000 the council has worked with the Environment Agency to ensure that the district is protected from flooding, but it has to be accepted that the events of this winter have been exceptional but who is to say in a time of volatile weather patterns it does not happen again?

Thus, it must be that our efforts should prioritise protection and that while having a sandy beach in Seaford would be nice, it has to justify itself in terms of protection and cost.

The shingle did do its job of protecting the town.

Over the period since 2000, the subject of flood and coastal protection has consistently been on the agenda.

What can be shown is that new flood defences in Landport were delivered in October, 2013, and they did their job over the winter having successfully protected 40 homes, a community hall, an electricity transformer and a sewage pumping station.

Nevertheless properties in Malling and Barcombe did flood but Lewes Town did avoid the problems of 2000.

Our staff have been active over the winter helping out with sandbanks and pumps, alerting vulnerable residents checking for damage and being on call to provide rest centres or other emergency assistance.

Much of this effort was successful but our task now is to try to reduce the need for such assistance by preventive measures.

The recently announced City Deal has resulted in the Cabinet office ringfencing £6.5m/£7m to deliver flood defences in Newhaven with the work starting in 2015/2016.

The implications for Newhaven as a growth hub with employment opportunities are self evident. Indeed taken in the round the various schemes could deliver 5,000 new jobs.

We anticipate the setting up of a flood and coastal management project to deliver a package of projects.

These include river flooding including the Upper Ouse, surface water management and plans, coastal management including defence of the A259 at Telscombe, the management of Seaford beach and inland drainage.

It should be added that the Civil Contingencies Act makes Lewes District Council a category 1 responder and that became most obvious during the recent weather with the provision of the assistance I mention above.

So there is much to be done .We will continue to work with the Environment Agency and others so that the protection we require is achieved and, if this brings other benefits, so be it.

Cllr Tony Nicholson

Cabinet Member for Health & Environment
Lewes District Council