This week council engineers were forced to cordon off an area of seafront public footpath close to the White House after chunks of the sea wall broke away and two beach huts pitched forward precariously towards the sea.
The huts are part of a cluster known as Westover and all are at risk of disappearing into the sea – prompting warnings from New Forest Beach Hut Owners Association and residents that the advancing water could pose a risk to clifftop houses in the future.
New Forest District Council’s coastal policy to ‘hold the line’ – maintain the existing defences – has been questioned by some who suggest upgrades would be better.
They have pointed out pre-fab huts nearby, shielded by boulders, weathered the recent storms well.
Cllr Alison Hoare, the council’s cabinet member for environment and regulatory services, blamed the damage on the storms Ciara and Dennis, and said land ownership complicated the situation.
She revealed the authority had been “exploring” remedies with partners, including the Environment Agency, and kept local residents and beach hut owners updated.
The question of whether boulders would have offered better protection was raised by Jan Wise, honorary secretary of the New Forest Beach Hut Owners Association.
“You should be questioning the NFDC policies about coastal defences as these storms now will begin to affect homes at the top of cliffs,” she told the A&T.
“If you go and look at Hordle, the huts nearest to Milford are also in danger again as the cliff has now crumbled and huts there are also cordoned off,” she said, adding the group was “devastated” by the latest damage.
Colin Holdsworth, the group’s Milford representative, said he did not believe the nearest housing was at threat in the “medium term”, adding: “Clearly, two or three of the Westover huts are no longer viable and it may be that the rest in this range are threatened in the short to medium term.
“I’m told that the repairs to the sea wall – once the reason for its failure is established – will cost a considerable sum and the council have appointed a consultant to advise them on the challenge.”
A number of Milford residents have contacted the A&T over the past fortnight as the problems with the sea wall worsened, with many unhappy with the apparent lack of action by NFDC.
Rob Grasswitz accused the coastal department of “sheer apathy and negligence”, adding: “It isn’t rocket science to see what could have done to protect the shore… Evidence is there for all to see, just along to where the pre-fab huts are, on the promenade.
“The area behind the smattering of boulders is protected and has virtually no shingle washed up on it, whereas the exposed part has tons of it. It should be obvious these few boulders are breaking up and dissipating the force of waves and swell, thus protecting and preventing erosion.”
He added: “It’s also alarming how much erosion and collapse has taken place in the past couple of months along the cliff between Milford and Barton; there’s even a short stretch were walkers have to go into the field to get by one recent collapse. There will be more.”
Pete Linnington, who has lived in Milford for 35 years and regularly enjoys walks along the sea wall, said: “It’s sad, especially for those who are local and love that area, as it appears as though we are going to lose so much.”
He believed NFDC’s response was “pretty slack” after the crack first appeared.
On Facebook some residents have echoed the criticisms, while others suggested the council could do little when faced with the power of nature.
In a statement, Cllr Hoare told the A&T: “The damage to part of the sea defence wall at Milford-on-Sea was a result of the persistent stormy weather since November, and following storms Ciara and Dennis, has meant that cracks have appeared, and part of the sea wall has now collapsed.
“This part of the coast is not owned by the council and our building control team is in communication with the landowner. We have taken measures to make the area safe for the public by restricting access. We are inspecting the site for further deterioration several times a week.”
The A&T asked NFDC to identify the owner of the land, but did not receive a response prior to going to press.
Cllr Hoare continued: “As the coastal protection authority for the New Forest coast, we have been exploring possible remedies with the Environment Agency and a specialist coastal engineering consultant.
“Options for further work are complicated by the fact that we do not own this part of the coast and by the relentless bad weather we have been experiencing, which is making fully inspecting the damage extremely difficult.
“Large waves and storms have reduced the beach level, resulting in the loss of protection that the beach provided to the sea wall. We understand the concerns of residents living nearby and we are in touch with them to keep them updated.”
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