Call for vision on protecting New Forest coastline amid hike in cost to fix sea wall
CALLS have been made for a clearer vision of how to protect the district’s coastline following news that £1.5m of emergency repairs to a section of sea wall at Milford had soared by £325,000.
Speaking at New Forest District Council’s latest full meeting which agreed to spend the extra cash, opposition councillors accused the Conservative-controlled council of a “piecemeal” approach to the crisis.
Emergency work to safeguard a 180-metre section of sea wall near Paddy’s Gap was launched by the authority in August following a consultants’ report which warned that around 50 properties, including the Grade II listed White House, were at “imminent risk” this winter.
But project costs shot up after storm damage and bad weather led a further 38-metre section of the sea wall to fail, resulting in the erosion of a seven-metre section of cliffs.
Cllr David Harrison, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, told members this should serve as a reminder of how “vulnerable” the district council is to any changes along the coastline.
“Most members would benefit from a presentation from officers which details issues like land ownership and the necessary protections that must be in place, because we are addressing this issue in a piecemeal fashion,” he said.
“With a lack of government resources to deal with these problems, I think members need to better understand exactly where we are and where we may be in the future.”
Cllr Malcolm Wade accused his Conservative counterparts of failing to declare a “climate emergency”.
“Clearly we have a serious situation here in that we had no plan for that [damage],” he said. “This significant damage to our district costing £1.5m is a sign that you should have declared a climate emergency and looked at how seriously this problem is starting to affect the New Forest.”
Tory cabinet member for environment Cllr Alison Hoare stressed she had “never been a climate change denier” and understood the seriousness of the situation.
“All our policies and actions going forward have climate change and our carbon footprint as a major part of them,” she insisted.
“But if you look at the horrendous and unusual storms we’ve had there, it’s definitely a warning sign for the future.”
Cllr Edward Heron pointed members to the shoreline management plans put together by the council which set out proposals for areas in need of defence.
“I would urge members to have a look at those,” he said. “While I agree with much of what has been said, I’m not certain that signing a declaration would have stopped a 60-year-old wall from falling – but I admire your optimism.”
Cllr Hoare told the meeting NFDC was working with the Environment Agency on a plan for sea defences from Hurst Castle to Lymington and between Christchurch Bay and Milford.
A £600,000 contribution from the Southern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee was confirmed in September towards the urgent work already under way at Milford. NFDC is currently working on a bid to the Environment Agency for up to £1.2m to offset the cost of the project.
NFDC had initially been reluctant to take on the work, claiming it had no legal responsibility as it did not own the land concerned.
However, the authority subsequently agreed to underwrite the £1.5m cost of the first phase of urgent repair work in the hope that money could be recouped via grants from the Environment Agency and the Southern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee.