THE owners of beach huts and homes near collapsed sea defences at Milford may have to contribute to future upgrades costing millions after New Forest District Council denied liability.
Chunks of the concrete sea wall have broken away and two of a group of 13 beach huts have pitched forward close to the sea after the battering during the recent storms Ciara and Dennis.
It prompted warnings by residents and the New Forest Beach Hut Owners’ Association that the advancing water could pose a risk to clifftop houses in the future.
Some directed their ire at NFDC, questioning why it did not act when cracks first appeared in the sea wall around a month ago.
Now Colin Read, NFDC’s deputy head of operations, has revealed the authority does not own the affected land so other organisations would have to sort out and fund the repair work.
“We do not have a legal obligation [to fix the affected sea defences] because we do not own the land,” Mr Read told the A&T, but added NFDC would soon organise a meeting between interested parties.
“What we are trying and looking to do is figure out how we can co-ordinate all of the different land owners in that area that have an interest to understand what the problems are and what the options are going forward.”
He went on: “NFDC does not have the liability to pay for coastal repairs as it is on private land. Introducing large boulders in front of the sea wall is an engineering solution that can be considered.”
Mr Read revealed NFDC had already secured an estimate for the installation of boulders from a contractor, which stated it would cost anywhere between £1.5m and £4m.
The amount was variable because it depended on how deep the rock revetment work needed to be.
Eventually, Mr Read said, any improvement work would have to be carried out by the Environment Agency which uses a funding formula to pay for its projects.
“The Environment Agency funding formula relies on people whose properties are at risk to contribute,” Mr Read said. “That’s the reason why we are keen to get the Environment Agency in the room to talk to all the land owners.”
He said he understood why people may have assumed NFDC should have acted before now because they were under the misapprehension the council owned the land, or assumed it was responsible for doing the work because it is a local authority.
That is not the case though, he said, and highlighted that NFDC coastal policies, such as ‘hold the line’ – maintaining sea defences – were actually “aspirational” in nature.
NFDC recently closed off the seafront path close to the affected site because to build it the council leased land from the Needles Point Management Company and it was responsible for looking out for public safety on its land, he added.
“We are still in the process of understanding how this all works,” Mr Read stressed. “We are not just doing nothing.”
Outlining the land ownership issue, Mr Read said the area of sea wall affected and the Westover beach huts were positioned on land owned by Proxima GR Properties Ltd.
Companies House lists the firm’s address as Regents Park Road, London, and describes it as a firm that buys and sells real estate. Its last published accounts, dated December 2018, state it had £2.1m in investment properties and total equity of £1.7m.
A parcel of land adjacent to the affected area was unregistered, while land on which nearby developments of homes stood was owned by management companies, Mr Read said.
NFDC wanted the meeting between the Environment Agency and interested parties to happen in the “coming weeks”, he continued, although it was felt there was “no immediate risk” to nearby homes.
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