Complaints over ‘intrusive work’ planned at Seven Sisters beauty spot

Plans to build sea defences at Cuckmere Haven and Seven Sisters have caused ‘outrage’ among environmental groups.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 10:55 am

The South Down National Park has approved the decision to allow sea defences made from concrete, rock and steel to be built at Cuckmere Haven – which the South Downs Network (SDN) calls ‘intrusive work’.

The work would take place in the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, the ‘only undeveloped coastline’ on the south east of England according to the SDN.

This section of the coastline within the South Downs National Park has been designated marine conservation zone and is a nationally defined Heritage Coast.

Speaking for the SDN, campaigns officer Vic Ient said, “The decision by the park is tragic to say the least. Bearing in mind, it was the Society for Sussex Downsmen – now the South Downs Society – which formed in 1923, who with others, fought and won a campaign against plans for an inappropriate housing development on the Seven Sisters.

“Their long campaign eventually led to the formation of the National Park in 2010 to protect its natural beauty. These founding fathers would be dismayed at the weakness of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) in their recent decision.

“We are dismayed that the authority does not possess the ability to make tough, unpopular decisions in relation to the climate and ecological crisis.

“It does not bode well for the protection of our ‘hard fought for’ South Downs and National Park designation if we don’t have an effective authority protector.”

According to the SDN, the planning approval breaks SDNPA’s own policies and is against national government policy.

Several environmental groups including The Sussex Wildlife Trust, South Downs Society and Natural England, are ‘outraged’ by the decision and have opposed the development, arguing that a sea wall would increase erosion further along the coast and damage the fragile marine chalk habitat off the foreshore.

The plans were approved despite 23 pages of objections from the government’s environmental watchdog, Natural England.

Mr Ient said, “Hard engineering is not a sustainable solution for propping up the existing collapsed defences on this constantly eroding coastline. The proposed civil engineering works fail to conserve the beauty and special qualities of the landscape, and instead will be damaging and unsightly, just to save a few cottages, for the short term.”

He said many members of the public ‘knew nothing of the proposal until after a decision was made’ and ‘a balanced view of the public’s opinion’ should have been gained before plans were approved.

The SDN says it is ‘disturbed’ to find the planning report made no reference to the 2001 Secretary of State’s decision against the building of sea defence at Birling Gap on this Heritage Coast.

The network said this decision carried ‘considerable authority’ which still remains relevant today.

Mr Ient said, “We have only 10 miles of Heritage Coast in Sussex – between Beachy Head and Seaford Head – and to further add concrete and steel to this short section of unspoilt coast seems unjustified.”

In response to the sea defence plans, Tim Slaney, director of planning for the SDNPA, said, “The planning committee of the SDNPA voted to approve plans for the repair, reconstruction and extension of existing sea defences at 1-2 Cuckmere Cottages.

“This approval is subject to conditions, including submission of a detailed management plan, covering ecology, management and maintenance, to mitigate any potential impacts.

“Members were aware of the history of the site, the works that currently exist and the very different views of various groups and consultees.

“The debate centred around the place of the cottages in the culture and beauty of the landscape. The retention and strengthening of previous works was balanced against the consequences for ecology and the natural erosion that is taking place amidst the backdrop of climate change.

“The emotive nature of the application, and the balances required, were evidenced in the voting that took place at planning committee, resulting in a carefully-considered decision that enables coastal defences for a further temporary period.”

The SDNPA said it followed all the statutory consultation processes.

A spokesperson for SDNPA added, “As with all planning applications, people were able to make comments on the application for a 21-day period.

“When further information was added to the application, the authority extended the consultation period for a further 21 days to give people more time to be able to make comments on the application. Site notices were also displayed.”

The full report is here:

https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Agenda-Item-7-Coastguard-Cottages.pdf