FIVE beaches were closed over the weekend after an oil leak and a sewage scare.

Beachgoers in Brighton and Hove were surprised when thick black oil turned up on the shore over the weekend.

Brighton and Hove City Council closed five beaches on Sunday after a brown, foaming mass of fuel floated off the coast.

On the same day pollution warnings were issued for three beaches in Bognor after a false alarm caused a sewage scare.

Hove resident Mike Beau was walking along the shoreline with his girlfriend near Shoreham Port on Sunday when he noticed a “diesel sort of smell”.

Nightmare

“You could see fuel on top of the water while we were there,” he said.

“When we got home, I noticed my feet were stuck to my flip-flops.”

“We noticed we had this black stuff sticking to the bottom of our feet.

“It was an absolute nightmare to clean off.”

The five beaches were 150 metres east of Hove Lagoon, King Alfred, south of Grand Avenue, 200 metres west of the West Pier and central Brighton.

But as of Monday all beaches were open.

Environment Agency said the pollution was linked to an old gasworks site near Shoreham Port, where oil has appeared previously at low tide.

The old site closed in the early 1970s but has become a pollution problem in recent years.

Tony Parker, the port’s climate change director, said it was an annual problem that could not be fixed cheaply.

“It usually occurs once or twice each year since about five years ago, when we first had this problem,” he said.

“We thoroughly investigated this for two years and found no threat to public health.

“We’ve installed half a dozen extractor units to suck up the oil. We’ve taken 1,600 litres out of the ground.

“We can hope that the level of oil will reduce to a point where it does not become a problem, but this could take five or six years.

“But we can’t guarantee that.”

Mr Parker said the only other solution would be to dig up 30 acres of beach, which would cost hundreds of millions of pounds.

But even that drastic action would not stop any future spills.

“There’s no guarantee you will get it all out. You can probably only remove about 25 to 30 per cent.

“Extractors are the only practical solution.

“Digging up the beach is a no-no.

“All you can do is work to intercept the oil between the port and the beach.”

Councillor Robert Nemeth, who represents Wish ward in Hove, said the problem had been going on for decades. “Much progress has been made by the port authority in addressing the problem,” he said.

“It tends to happen at very low tides but fortunately the majority of oil sinks.

“But to resolve properly would cost upwards of tens of millions of pounds.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said it was aware of the reports and was working with Shoreham Port to clean up the pollution.

He said: “The pollution occurs intermittently, when weather and tidal conditions combine to allow the

migration of contaminants on to the beach.

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said the pollution was not a threat to public health and the affected beaches were reopened yesterday.

She said: “The pollutant had a strong smell of fuel, and had a brown colour and foaming top.

“It appeared 75 metres south of Hove Lagoon, tracking in an easterly direction.”

But due to a high tide and strong winds, it is believed the pollution has dispersed.

Meanwhile in Bognor, pollution warnings were issued for three beaches after a sewage scare.

Environment Agency officers posted online warnings for Aldwick, East Bognor, and Felpham beaches on Sunday

Pollution

But a Southern Water spokesman claimed it could “categorically state” it was not involved in pollution or spills over the weekend.

“We were contacted by a beach patrol officer who thought he had seen sewage spilling from a number of pipes on Saturday,” he said.

“The Environment Agency alerted us on Sunday morning that it was issuing a pollution warning forecast to close the beach.

“Our teams investigated the beach and also checked all of our assets in the area.

“No problems were detected with any assets.”

The spokesman said no evidence of any pollution was found and the beaches were reopened afternoon.

“We take any alert or warning seriously,” he said.

“On Monday morning we conducted further investigations including checking surface water drain lines for evidence of contamination and

lifted manhole covers to check for blockages.

“We understand that the Environment Agency can take no risks with public health and are delighted to assist in reassuring the agency and the public.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Due to the sensitivity of bathing waters in the summer period at the weekend, we issued a pollution warning on our website for Aldwick, East Bognor, and Felpham.

“Southern Water attended the site and liaised with the foreshore officers.

“They reported back discolouration of water.

“But no ammonia, solids, rag, or odour was present.”