A PORT’S environment chief says there “isn’t a problem” at a gasworks site blamed for leaking oil into the sea.

Last month, swimmers in Hove reported smelling fuel in the water.

The Environment Agency said it was likely caused by hydrocarbon contamination from an old gasworks site at Shoreham Port – but the Port Authority said it had not found a connection.

Now the Environment Agency has reiterated its statement, saying it is “99.9 per cent certain” the smell came from the site.

“We know the sights and the signs,” a spokesman said.

The formers gasworks fell out of use in the 1970s but frequently causes environmental problems.

When the tide is very low, tar and oil from the 30-acre site seep on to the beach.

Speaking to The Argus Tony Parker, the port’s director for infrastructure and sustainability, said he had not found evidence of a link this time.

He said he had investigated thoroughly and found “no smell or any signs” of oil on Portslade beach, and was not aware the Environment Agency had investigated. He claims their statement was “personal” rather than evidence-based.

He said though the smell was “unpleasant,” it was “deemed not to be a significant risk to human health”.

Mr Parker said the site – in use from the mid-1800s – was “a hell of an area riddled with tanks and tunnels which can hold gasworks tar and oil”.

He insisted the port had “nothing to hide”, saying the authority has investigated extensively and always removes any oil it finds.

He said the authority had fitted an extractor machine to remove oil “on a regular basis” on its way down to the beach.

He said “in theory” it would be possible to restore the whole site, but it was unlikely more than 40 per cent of the oil in the ground could be recovered – and he said the process would cost more than £100 million.

Mr Parker said the port was voluntarily taking action but not, he insisted, to address a “problem”.

“I don’t think think cost is relevant,” he said. “If there was a problem, I’m sure between us and the statutory authorities it would be dealt with.”

He added: “There isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed as far as the statutory authorities are concerned.”

The old gasworks have a troublesome history.

Last year, beaches had to be closed when thick black tar from the site washed up onshore in Brighton and Hove.

Meanwhile in 1999, mussels near the old gasworks were found to be contaminated. Scientists said they posed a health risk and issued a warning against consuming them.

Asked about the port’s record, Mr Parker said he had only been at the port since 2006 and said the authority had taken measures to protect swimmers. “On the two or three occasions where this has happened we’ve put up signs and advised people not to bathe,” he said.

Suspected pollution should be reported to 0800 807060.

Oil deposits should be reported to Brighton and Hove City Council on 01273 292716.