Splash Point - when will the Environment Agency contribute its share?

An old postcard picture of Seaford Head
An old postcard picture of Seaford Head
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While the news on page 7 of last week’s Express is initially encouraging, just over two years ago I wrote to the Express (April 13, 2012) regarding the deteriorating state of the terminal groyne at Splash Point, stating that an on-site visit of the responsible authorities, in particular those from the Environment Agency, was required to sort out the question of liability for structures in that area.

Since the damage by the winter storms, Seaford Town and Lewes District councils, have agreed eventually to pledge around £10,000 each to repair the damage to the end groyne while still not admitting to any long-term liability for maintenance. However, when the EA are approached for a further £10,000 to make up the “pot” to £30,000 which it has been estimated basic repairs will require, they refuse on the grounds that “the terminal groyne does not act as a flood defence”.

An old postcard picture of the view from the cliffs.

An old postcard picture of the view from the cliffs.

As readers will know I have carried out much research into the sea defences in this area and recently purchased two old postcard views of Splash Point, which appear to date from the 1930s. They clearly show that while a certain amount of the cliff at the area protected by the groyne has since been worn away by erosion, it is nothing in depth compared to that further east on the rise up to Seaford Head.

On a recent Sunday, I stood on the Martello Field while at a boot-sale, and looking eastwards the “buttress” effect of the Splash Point cliff protected by its groyne is immediately apparent, but not to the eyes of Environment Agency it seems. Without that terminal groyne the cliff would have been eaten back to the extent that residential development of the old harbour basin behind – where incidentally I and hundreds of Seaford residents now live – would have been impossible to contemplate.

The restraining effect of the terminal groyne was so manifest by the early 1960s, I understand, that it was felt urgently necessary to strengthen the area immediately to the east by placing a number of concrete blocks to prevent the sea from trying to by-pass the groyne in its attempts to scour out the cliffs. Those blocks were placed by the Sea Defence Commissioners who at least at that time seem to have appreciated how necessary it was to prevent further erosion at Splash Point, where the chalk is mixed further back from the edge with strata of extremely porous sandstone.

This is not the only Victorian flood-prevention structure that the EA seem to want to disown in this area; in the Cuckmere Haven the canal walls originally put in place in 1846 have been neglected by the EA ever since its creation 150 years later. In 2003 the public were told that the EA would not be maintaining these walls, and unless they were removed, the sea would inevitably in ten years or less break through them and flod the lower Cuckmere valley.

I attended a recent meeting of the Friends of the Cuckmere to learn that – reluctantly – the EA had agreed to permit limited repairs to be carried out on a couple of locations in the west wall where, following the ferocious winter gales, the tides had inflicted limited erosion damage. The total cost of these repairs, only authorised in wooden materials rather than stone in order apparently to ensure their temporary nature; a matter of £2,000. Our MP has estimated that meanwhile the EA has wasted more like £1 million on exhaustive studies, forums, discussion groups etc on how to remove this “artificisal” structure and leave the lower Cuckmere open to the elements it has not faced for nearly 170 years.

It’s good to learn that the local Minister for this responsibility Greg Barker, MP for Bexhill, has paid a visit in the past few days to review the situation at Splash Point; I believe the Government should now consider whether the Environment Agency in its present form is “fit for purpose”, rather than structures they claim responsibility for, but which were built when the policy was to maintain and enhance sea-defences rather than to abandon them.

Bob Brown