Need for a shift in focus in Seaford beach issue

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The “controversy” over the form, state and stability of Seaford beach has emerged once again, and some of the old arguments are being trotted out yet again, despite having been thoroughly challenged in the past.

So let’s be clear: during the worst gales to hit Seaford for several decades over the winter of 2013/2014, the beach did its job. It protected the town from flooding, as it’s done since 1987. Of course the beach degraded, which was inevitable given the battering it took, but the Environment Agency has been as good as its word: it undertook the essential emergency repairs at the time and is now working on the annual maintenance. I see no reason for doubting the EA’s intentions of maintaining a safe sea defence for the town.

But this letter is not intended as a defence of the EA: it’s big enough to look after itself! But it is a further attempt to show that the decision taken in the mid 1980s, which led to the current arrangements, were well considered and based on sound technical arguments and conclusions.

For those who either didn’t know, or have forgotten, three technical solutions were considered by Southern Water, who took over responsibility for the beach in 1981.

They were (1) a traditional groyned beach; (2) the provision of “offshore breakwaters”(or artificial islands which would remain submerged for 60 per cent of the tide), located 160m offshore, and (3) a version of the arrangement we have now.

The costs in the mid 1980s were estimated as £28 million for the groynes; £17.5million for the offshore breakwaters and £12.5 million for the existing setup. The annual cost of maintaining and recycling the shingle was estimated to be £60,000. Interestingly, that would also have been the cost of moving the shingle on the beaches between the groynes if that option had been chosen (as happens from time to time at Eastbourne where a groyned beach solution was chosen).

Tests undertaken in the hydraulics research facility before the decision was taken concluded that “no satisfactory solution evolved” from the offshore breakwater option, in part because of the very deep water just off the beach and in part because of the large difference in the wave height measured between peak and trough (7m on one occasion during the test period).

I have written about this before, and as I said before, I am not an engineer, I have no connection with the EA or any other agency, but I have read the reports which were published at the time (and which are still available if you look beyond the limits of your prejudices). I share the view that it would be splendid for Seaford if we were able to improve the appearance and facilities provided on the seafront, but we won’t get that by attacking the EA for not doing something which is anyway beyond its legal remit!

In any event, the excellent work undertaken by the Coastal Communities 2150 group and others in examining the impact on rising sea levels and other environmental issues on our coast and river valleys is what we should be focussing on now.

David Swaysland