Harbour residents ask Minister to look into sea defence debacle

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Residents from Sovereign Harbour asked Minister Liz Truss to look into why it is the only stretch of coastline in the UK where property owners pay for the sea defences.

There is only 800m of coastline in the UK which is not covered by the Environment Agency (EA) when it comes to sea defences - and that is Sovereign Harbour.

An agreement made by Southern Water and the Environment Agency in 1988, and amended in 2001, meant the residents have had to foot the bill for sea defences at the harbour.

But the 3,300 property owners which pay the charge, are essentially paying twice, once through general taxation which goes to the EA, and again through the charge which is added on to the rent charges for property on the harbour.

Ian Weeks and Jan Weeks of the Sovereign Harbour Residents’ Association (SHRA), put this problem to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Liz Truss, when she visited the harbour on Tuesday.

SHRA chairman, Mrs Weeks, said, “This was a long awaited, and unique, opportunity to raise our concerns at the highest level.

“We are encouraged that Ms Truss listened so carefully to what we had to say, and committed to take our case forward to the Environment Agency.”

The pair met Mrs Truss at Simply Italian on the harbour.

Mr Weeks explained how plans to upkeep the marina were put in place with the 1988 Southern Water Agreement.

“Southern Water entered an agreement with contractors... but neither of them did what they said they were going to do.

“In 2001 the EA declared the agreement null and void.They each absolved each other of their responsibility, and put the responsibilty for the sea defences onto the residents.”

He explained how SHRA struggled to get a copy of the agreements, with two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests refused under ‘commercial sensitivity’.

“We think the whole thing is pretty unjust,” he said.

He said if the sea defences were to breach, floods would reach as far as Hailsham, and it is unfair to ask 3,300 property owners to pay for the protection of more than 100,000 homes.

Mrs Truss said, “It is quite an unusual situation. I will need to go away and talk to the EA about this. It is obviously a very complex issue.

“I can very much understand where you are coming from and I would be very interested in taking it up.”

Conservative parliamentary candidate for Eastbourne, Caroline Ansell said, “It is completely unfair that local owners are the only people in the country who have to pay directly for sea defences.

“ I will be campaigning for Sovereign Harbour property owners to see that they will no longer be left out of pocket by this burden.

“It is time the agreement was looked at again and the funding for Sovereign’s sea defences are brought into line with the rest of the country.”

Mrs Weeks added, “We very much appreciate Caroline Ansell’s support in our struggle against the injustice of the marina rent charge, which all harbour property owners are obliged to pay, and for arranging the meeting with the Secretary of State.”

The residents also told the Secretary of State that a better solution should be found for protecting the coastline around Sovereign Harbour, with a more ‘long-term solution’ than the current method of using shingle banks as a sea defence.

Mrs Truss said she would take both issues away with her and put them to the EA.

On Tuesday’s visit to Sovereign Harbour, Mrs Truss saw the work going on at the Innovation Mall which is under construction, spoke to fishermen, and took a trip on a boat.

After the Secretary of State’s visit, Mrs Ansell said, “This was an excellent opportunity to advance the campaign to see a fairer and better long term solution to costly and disruptive sea defences at the Harbour and I was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State, Liz Truss MP, to Eastbourne.

“The occasion also afforded the opportunity to showcase ambitious and exciting plans for the fisherman’s quay which would see a run of characterful Hastings-styled black fishing huts to include a fresh fish market and an aquarium and create a real home to the fishing community at the heart of the Harbour.

“Liz will be keeping in touch with me on the question of sea defences and potential funding streams for this fantastic local venture.”