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May 30 2014.

Bob Brown writes:

Just over two years ago I wrote to the media regarding the deteriorating state of the terminal groyne at Splash Point, stating that an on-site visit by the responsible authorities, in particular those from the Environment Agency, was required to sort out the question of liability for structures in that area.

Since the damage caused by the 2014 winter storms, Seaford Town and Lewes District Councils have agreed, eventually,  to pledge around £10,000 each to repair the damage to the end groyne, whilst still not admitting to any long-term liability for maintenance. However when the EA were approached for a further £10,000 to make up the "pot" to £30,000, which it has been estimated basic repairs will require, it refused on the grounds that, "the terminal groyne does not act as a flood defence".

As readers will know, I have carried out much research into the sea defences in this area and recently purchased two old postcard views of Splash Point, which appear to date from the 1930's. They clearly show that whilst a certain amount of the cliff at the area protected by the groyne has since been worn away by erosion, it is nothing in depth compared to that further east on the rise up to Seaford Head.

Last Sunday I stood on the Martello Field at a boot-sale and looking eastwards the "buttress" effect of the Splash Point cliff protected by its groyne is readily apparent, but not to the eyes of the Environment Agency it seems. Without that terminal groyne the cliff would have been eaten back to the extent that residential development of the old harbour basin behind - where incidentally I and hundreds of Seaford residents now live - would have been impossible to contemplate.

The restraining effect of the terminal groyne was so manifest by the early 1960's, I understand, that it was felt urgently necessary to strengthen the area immediately to the east by placing a number of concrete blocks to prevent the sea from trying to by-pass the groyne in its attempts to scour out the cliffs. Those blocks were placed by the Sea Defence Commissioners, who at least at that time seem to have appreciated how necessary it was to prevent further erosion at Splash Point, where the chalk is mixed further back from the edge with extremely porous sandstone.

This is not the only Victorian flood-prevention structure that the EA seem to want to disown in this area; in the Cuckmere Haven the canal walls originally put in place in 1846 have been neglected by the EA ever since its creation a hundred and fifty years later. In 2003 the public was told that the EA would not be maintaining these walls, and unless they were removed the sea would inevitably, in ten years or less, break through them and flood the lower Cuckmere valley. I attended a recent meeting of the Friends of the Cuckmere to learn that, reluctantly, the EA had agreed to permit limited repairs to be carried out on a couple of locations in the west wall, where following the ferocious winter gales, the tides had inflicted limited erosion damage. The total cost of these repairs, only authorised in wooden materials, rather than stone, in order apparently to ensure their temporary nature; a matter of £2,000. Our MP has estimated that meanwhile the EA has wasted more like £1 MILLION on exhaustive studies, forums, discussion groups etc. on how to remove this "artificial" structure and leave the lower Cuckmere open to the elements it has not faced for nearly 170 years.

Its good to learn that the local Minister with responsibility for this, the MP for Bexhill, Greg Barker, has paid a visit in the last few days to review the situation at Splash Point. I believe the government should now consider whether the Environment Agency in its present form is "fit for purpose", rather than structures they claim responsibility for, but which were built by our forebears when the policy was to maintain and enhance sea-defences rather than to abandon them.

Bob Brown

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