will Eastbourne’s sea defences give us all a bad case of shingles?

Today I thought more about the ever increasing threat of flooding to the Eastbourne area from climate change, and I’ve just seen an article that says 95% of all new homes in the Eastbourne Borough Council’s jurisdiction between 2001 and 2011 were built on floodplains! But the council says that’s because 49% of those homes were built at Sovereign Harbour and they’re protected by sea defences. So that’s OK then! Er, except that the sea defences they’re talking about are ‘soft’ rather than ‘hard’ sea defences. That is, Sovereign Harbour is essentially only protected by a shingle bank, which gets mostly washed away by winter storms and has to be rebuilt every year at great expense by dredging shingle from elsewhere and then dumping it back in front of Sovereign Harbour! This is hardly a sustainable solution in the long-term given that sea level will rise by at least a metre by 2100 because of climate change and that there is a natural limit to how high you can manageably build a shingle bank! Plus, there is always the danger that a major storm will hit Sovereign Harbour before the shingle bank can be adequately rebuilt. And there is always the issue of whether or not there will be enough money to keep rebuilding/improving the shingle bank in the long-term. I gather that the residents of Sovereign Harbour already have to pay a very stiff levy to help cover the cost of their sea defence works, and they are not happy about the quality of the shingle bank protecting them, as their latest newsletter shows! Indeed, the killer paragraph in the newsletter is:

It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that a change in weather patterns requires a change in beach maintenance strategy; in particular that the constant erosion and replacement of shingle is just not sustainable.

There are also concerns about other areas of Eastbourne where homes are being built within flood zones, and even the local MP, Stephen Lloyd, has expressed his concerns about one site in particular! The Environment Agency has a map of the area of Eastbourne most at risk of flooding, and it’s very sobering to look at, as much of the town centre east of the train station is at significant risk. A fascinating study of how the Pevensey Bay shingle defences are managed shows the sheer scale of shingle recharge that is necessary – over 20,000 cubic metres of the shingle defences are washed away every year by the sea, and a lot more than that was washed away in last winter’s storms! One interesting issue that this study raises is: is there enough shingle around to keep replenishing the local sea defences year after year? It quotes one study done in 1996 as saying that at current extraction rates there will be no local sources of shingle left to dredge after 25 years. 18 of those years are up already! And so far there does not seem to be any plan for getting hold of more shingle after that date! Yet another sustainability issue kicked into the long grass, no doubt!

That elephant in the room is beginning to get smellier…

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One thought on “will Eastbourne’s sea defences give us all a bad case of shingles?

  1. This problem came about because the Environment Agency failed to honour an agreement with the land owners and, rather than take responsibility for is failure, entered into a further agreement that transferred all of its obligations onto Sovereign Harbour property owners. The Sovereign Harbour Residents has been challenging the Agency’s position for several years and has received opinion of counsel that it has been acting unlawfully.

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