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Seasiders' nerves shredded as new West Sussex sea defences feel the storm strain
11:27am Tuesday 7th January 2014 in News
West Sussex beachside residents fear their houses may succumb to the sea after defences were battered by the storms.
Bungalow owners at Pagham beach near Bognor were saved by the recently completed £600,000 defences outside their homes as waves crashed on Saturday.
But the toll taken on the rock-based defences has seen some fall into the sea and the beach has had to be closed.
Residents fear unless work is done to repair the damage soon the rest of the rocks will fall away, leaving their properties at the mercy of the sea.
David Huntley, chairman of Pagham Beach Residents Association, said: “It is very worrying. All our savings are stuck in our houses. I am retired.
“It has been very nerve wracking.”
Gary Crossley, a 55-year-old who lives in one of the affected bungalows, added: “I respect the sea but I have never been so scared as I have been over the past few days.
“You hear what you think is thunder but realise it is the sound of rocks collapsing into the sea.
“There were times when I thought ‘this is it, the house is going to go’.”
Resident Phil Isom was responsible for getting the beach closed after fearing for people’s safety as the rocks began to subside.
He said: “We have had extreme weather but it started to crumble and the waves were hitting it hard.
“If it had not been for the sea defences we would have been washed away. But it is only a sticking plaster.”
Residents are concerned repair work might not be possible as machinery on the beach could cause a landslip.
A spokesman for Arun District Council, which is responsible for the revetment sea defence, a sloped structure which protects the shoreline, said yesterday an engineer was on site to assess the situation.
A statement added: “Following the recent exceptional weather, with the combination of high tides and storm force wind, the rock revetment at Pagham beach has suffered minor damage - movement of some rocks and a small area of beach to the West of the revetment has experienced localised erosion.
“However the revetment which was completed in December 2013, performed as expected and minimised the extent of erosion to the frontage it was intended to protect.
“Had this defence not been in place, the prolonged period of bad weather and high seas would have resulted in much more extensive erosion, as we have seen elsewhere along the south coast.
“Arun District Council will consult the Environment Agency and English Nature with regard to possible options for any future works that may be required and assess sources of funding.”
Mr Isom said 60ft of beach has been lost from the front of his house in the past 10 years due to erosion, which he believes is the result of a lack of management at Pagham Harbour by the Environment Agency since 2004.
Residents are demanding the organisation cut a new channel in the spit opposite the beach closer to the harbour, in the hope it will reduce the ferocity of the swell along the channel and reduce the erosion.
But Andrew Gilham, floods and coastal manager for the Environment Agency, said the situation was far more complex.
He admitted it was difficult to predict what might happen to the beach, so the Environment Agency had adopted a plan of “adaptive management” to respond to each possible outcome.
Any plan to cut a new channel into the spit would cost millions due to the removal of thousands of tonnes of shingle, he added.
Mr Gilham said: “All coastal defence projects that require a grant need to present an economic case for investment.
“We have a limited budget to protect as many affected houses as possible. At Pagham it is a small number of properties.”
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