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Councils warn thousands of coastal properties at risk from rising sea levels

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THOUSANDS of properties along the New Forest and Christchurch coastline are in danger of being lost to the sea or flooded if nothing is done to protect them, experts have warned.

New Forest District Council has teamed up with BCP Council to shape a new coastal strategy covering the shoreline between Hengistbury Head and Hurst Spit.

In the lead-up to presenting options for defending the land, the authorities have outlined the dire consequences over the next 100 years of “doing nothing” with sea levels predicted to rise by a metre.

Christchurch harbour is prone to flooding during storms
Christchurch harbour is prone to flooding during storms

By 2122, up to 2,207 properties and businesses would be at direct risk from flooding around Christchurch harbour, and 1,370 would be damaged by or lost to coastal erosion across the strategy area.

As part of the councils’ public consultation over the development of a plan to manage the coastline, certain sites have been highlighted as being at particular peril, including Naish Cliffs at Highcliffe and Christchurch harbour.

“The area predicted to erode fastest over the next century is Naish Cliffs, immediately to the east of Chewton Bunny,” warned the councils.

“The coast transitions from a defended area at Highcliffe to the west, to an undefended, eroding cliff-line to the east.

“If we did nothing in this area, the defences at Highcliffe would be outflanked, leading to their ultimate failure as the natural level of erosion continued.”

Flood risk was said to be “concentrated around the low-lying Christchurch harbour”, which is vulnerable during periods of high tides combined with storm surges.

“The eastern end of the frontage at Milford also has flood risk, mainly from the Keyhaven direction but also from waves overtopping along the coastal frontage,” the authorities stated.

“Hurst Spit is an important coastal feature and landmark, and we are working collaboratively with the Environment Agency to ensure it is fully integrated into the strategy.”

Maintaining beach levels by topping up materials is currently the first line of defence against flooding and erosion.

The coastal strategy covers the shoreline between Hengistbury Head and Hurst Spit
The coastal strategy covers the shoreline between Hengistbury Head and Hurst Spit

But despite regular recharging at Milford, levels continue to decrease there, and long-term decline was being seen right up to Becton.

Some council sea defences in “poor condition” have been identified in the strategy for priority work, including at Hengistbury Head, Mudeford and Friars Cliff, and Milford.

The shoreline covered by the strategy was said to be problematic due to complex tides – mainly due to its proximity to the Isle of Wight and the shape of the coastline – the water flow from the rivers Stour and Avon within Christchurch harbour, and unstable cliffs with an ageing drainage system.

By doing nothing to protect it, the councils said defence structures like groynes would fail if a high and wide beach is not retained.

That meant wave energy would increase and cliff erosion would escalate without the regular topping up of beach material.

At this stage of the consultation, the councils are seeking feedback from the public over whether they have “missed something in our initial findings”.

The next stage will identify possible options with a view to drawing up a draft shortlist of measures.

Drop-in information events will be held at Christchurch library on Monday 6th June from 10am-6pm and at Milford Community Centre on Thursday 9th June from 10am-4pm.

Additionally, an online event will be held on 14th June at 7pm. Free tickets are available at www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/christchurch-bay-and-harbour-fcerm-strategy-engagement-tickets-332761617957

To complete a survey, go to bcpcouncil.gov.uk/christchurchstrategyphase2

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