Who will take responsibility for coastal damage?

I am writing concerning the battering our coastal areas and those further inland have been receiving almost continuously over the past three months from winter storms.

Last week’s Sussex Express carries very good photos of Splash Point at Seaford on the letters page, unfortunately with no accompanying letter. They show the huge chunk washed out of the promenade surfacing in the part of the promenade which has been the area of disputed ownership that protected the interior chalk cliffing and I am concerned that the high tides will now be able to serious undermine the rest of the structure.

Since there is still no designated authority to admit responsibility for maintenance of this part of the promenade, I really fear that this damage will be left unrepaired.

Lewes District Council and the Crown Estates Commisioners cannot continue to brand each other as the responsible owners, which I believe was the position in 2011 when the repairs were made to the railings by Lewes District Council on a “not liable” basis.

I understand then that the costs were split with Seaford Town Council 50:50. I have asked our MP to pursue this matter again, as in 2011 he wrote to me that there appeared to be a “stalemate” between the authorities over the admittance of liability for future maintenance.

Yesterday I travelled by bus through the community of Alfriston, where I understand the road to the North has repeatedly suffered from severe inundations. Parts of the River Cuckmere seemed to cover the entire valley basin, particularly to the South of the town while the A27 near Berwick roundabout was surrounded by meadows under water, and looked also to be a potential flooding area.

While this localised flooding cannot compare to the tragedy involving the Somerset levels, which has commanded national attention including the involvement of the Prime Minister, I believe that the conditions in the Cuckmere Valley have been aggravated by the same policy adopted by the Environment Agency as that in Somerset, that being to treat the dreaded “D” word for dredging as inappropriate to deal with tidal flooding.

I understand the EA stopped regular dredging of the Cuckmere before the year 2000 and consequently there will have been a massive build-up of silt and rubbish in the river since then.

This must aggravate the flooding around Alfriston by raising the river levels at high tide.

In 2005, while on Lewes District Council, I actively supported a proposal by Alan Edgar, the former proprietor of the “Golden Galleon” and a qualified planner, with the backing of Nigel Newton (one of the Coastguard Cottage owners) to resume dredging of the Cuckmere below the A259 in order to raise and reinforce the surrounding banks as a viable alternative to the policy adopted by the EA to flood the valley. That planning application was backed unanimously at the time by the LDC Planning Committee but was “kicked into touch” by a reference to Natural England higher up the planning ladder. There it has remained in limbo and presumably has since lapsed.

Now that the Prime Minister himself has endorsed the concept of dredging as a way of protecting coastal areas from flooding, perhaps it is time for the EA and English Nature to stop their opposition to a measure which was the normal pattern of protection from flooding long before they were ever a gleam in the eye of the bureaucratic establishment.

Bob Brown