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Environment Agency plan triggers new sea wall row

ENVIRONMENT AGENCY officials were this week embroiled in a row with a West Country council over its plans for sea defences.

Teignmouth Town Council is resisting the Agency's plans for a proposed tidal defence scheme to raise sea walls along the Teign Estuary in Devon.

The row is similar to that in Scarborough where locals have lobbied against the council's proposal to build a 1m high wave return wall along the headland (NCE 25 September 2003).

Despite intense resistance from local groups, the wall is currently under construction.

At a meeting last week Teignmouth council's finance committee unanimously rejected the Agency's £2.4M project, claiming that it was 'an overwhelming design proposal based on sceptical evidence'.

But the Environment Agency said this week that there was no doubt the existing defences needed upgrading.

'Rising sea levels have come within 200mm of overtopping the existing defences and 400 properties are at risk of flooding, ' said Environment Agency project manager Graham Buxton-Smith.

At Teignmouth the Agency wants to raise existing concrete defences, built in the early 1980s, by around 1m along the estuary between the Port of Teignmouth and New Quay.

It also wants to reconstruct a public slipway and build walls to protect an area known as Back Beach.

Work would be carried out using a range of materials in an attempt to fit in with the local environment, including masonry, timber, steel and concrete.

But the council finance committee warned that the project would damage local tourism and heritage.

'It is likely to cause irretrievable and unnecessary damage to the historic character, tourism and economic wellbeing of our community, ' said councillor David Weekes.

Undeterred, the Agency does not feel this view reflects local public opinion. It said that until last summer all responses from the public had been positive.

This optimism will be tested at an exhibition of the scheme this week, where local residents are invited to air their views.

'We will then review these responses and take it on from here, ' said Buxton-Smith.

The Agency claims that raising the defences would provide protection against a 1 in 200 year event, far exceeding the current level of protection, estimated to be 1 in 5 years.

Overall, the Agency uses a figure of 5mm per year as the average sea level rise.

By relying on information from local historical measurements the Agency is using a lower figure of 2.8mm per year to design the defences at Teignmouth.

Its calculations are based on reports from the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL).

'The only way the sea level isn't going up is if Teignmouth itself is rising and I don't believe that is happening, ' said BuxtonSmith.

Consultant Peter Brett associates has been working on the scheme for the Agency.

'It is quite common for people not to believe that sea levels are rising and we have to address this professionally, ' said Peter Brett senior associate Paul Swindell.

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