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Seaside homes at “imminent risk” of storms erosion due to sea wall damage

Waves from recent storms have damaged the seawall at Milford
Waves from recent storms have damaged the seawall at Milford

A BOMBSHELL report has revealed more than a dozen coastal properties in Milford are at “imminent risk” of damage this winter after the sea wall was smashed by two ferocious storms earlier this year.

The failure of a 270-metre section of the concrete protection, which lies to the west of the Grade 2 listed White House, means the luxury 14-home facility is under threat.

The report, commissioned by New Forest District Council, warned that if nothing is done, a further £38m worth of properties could also be affected in the coming years – including 25 houses in Shingle Drive and the four £1.5m luxury Nautica Reach homes.

The analysis by contractor Jacobs, whose experts visited the site twice this year, revealed more could be in danger in the future.

The report suggests stabilising the wall in the short-term and compensating for the loss of beach material which caused the failure. In the longer term it advised installing a large series of protective boulders.

That would cost about £3.1m if carried out along the entire affected section of the wall, the report stated, or around £900,000 for just the highest risk section.

However, it remains unclear where the money would come from since the work would need to be carried out by the Environment Agency (EA).

Milford Parish Council chair Cllr Bob Bishop told the A&T: “The situation is of great concern to a large number of people immediately in the area.

“We’ve been in contact with NFDC and are really looking to and pressing NFDC to come up with a proposal that will work. I know it’s a challenge and you are talking big money, plus it also needs to be addressed with a great sense of speed.

“But if we get another winter like the last one, goodness knows what the impact would be.”

He said the parish council would be prepared to offer financial support to the final project, although it would likely only be a “small percentage”.

Setting out the risk to the White House, the Jacobs report said should the “current progressive failure” of a nearby area of the wall continue, the homes would be “at an increased level of risk from coastal erosion”.

It went on: “It is likely that if left unchecked, the erosion will outflank the remaining wall in Area 3 and place the White House directly at risk on its western side. Should this occur, the whole structure will be at risk of damage.

“Due to the observed rates of erosion and proximity of the White House to the sea wall in Area 3, it is possible the White House could be at imminent risk from erosion either directly through the collapse of the sea wall or indirectly through the western hinterland being eroded, outflanking the sea wall.

“This could happen as soon as the winter of 2020/21, depending upon the frequency and severity of winter storms.”

As reported in the A&T, the responsibility for fixing the problem is complicated. Many assumed it should be sorted by NFDC, which formulated and adopted a ‘hold the line’ policy – maintain the existing defences – at Milford.

However, the policy is aspirational in nature and NFDC does not own the land affected at Milford, so has no legal responsibility. It has pledged to bring the interested parties together to find a solution.

Any improvement work must be carried out by the EA which uses a funding formula to pay for its projects that relies on contributions from landowners and people whose properties are at risk.

In summary, the Jacobs report said 25 properties at Shingle Bank, 15 at the White House, seven at Needles Point and four at Nautica Reach face being at risk in the “coming epochs” – which relate to decades-long periods.

Addressing the White House risk, the report said “emergency work” could be required in late 2020.

The report went on: “However, it cannot be assumed that this represents all the properties at risk without further investigation and modelling being undertaken to fully understand the continued nature of erosion and potential flood paths both now and in the future.

“Assuming that the wall continues to fail unchecked, erosion will continue and will likely become more rapid during the storm season and over the coming winter.”

The report further recommended the “pragmatic” solution of maintaining people’s safety by keeping closed the public path near the west section for the time being.

The sea wall had been showing signs of “progressive failure” in November last year before a 95-metre section began to move in January, the report went on.

Storms Ciara and Dennis exacerbated that, and another 70-metre section in front of the beach huts fell away.

It suggested the failure of the seawall was down to loss of material at its base. Because the beach had lowered, the deeper water allowed larger, more powerful waves to strike.

The wall had no “recovery time” between the storms and once its failure started “a continued and accelerated rate of dilapidation” occurred, the report said – resulting in part of the wall “catastrophically” collapsing during Storm Dennis.

Beach erosion was mitigated in front of new beach huts to the west by the installation of large rocks, which was not done at the affected site “due to differences in land ownership”, the report noted.

A Poole and Christchurch Bays Shoreline Management Plan in 2011 considered a ‘no active intervention’ approach and estimated the Milford cliffs would retreat at an average rate of 1.3 metres per year, leading to a loss of up to 16 metres by 2025, 50 metres by 2055 and 85 metres by 2105.

However, the report said it was considered more likely that “significant cliff retreat” would happen over a “relatively short period of time”, such as during an extreme storm.

A spokeswoman for NFDC revealed council officials held talks this week with the EA and would be meeting property owners next week to bring them up to date with the situation.

She said: “The wall is believed to have been constructed around 60 years ago and currently sits on private or unregistered land to the west of the White House at Milford.

“Throughout the period since February 2020 when the failure commenced, inspections and surveys have continued for the whole section of affected seawall. These continued surveys have identified that movement of the seawall is continuing.

“The report identifies 14 properties that are of imminent risk this winter as well as the coastal footpath, which from February 2020 the council closed for safety reasons and a diversionary route has been signposted for visitors.

“The council is in communication with local residents and has already held two briefing meetings for those properties adjacent to the failure.

“Meetings have been held with the EA as officers from the council seek to understand the complexity of this issue, which centres around land ownership, responsibility and funding.”

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