Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Inquiry call over Cuckmere plans

Cuckmere Estuary, East Sussex
Current flood defences are reaching the end of their natural life

A MP has renewed his call for a public inquiry into plans to turn Cuckmere Valley into a tidal floodplain.

The Environment Agency announced on Wednesday that it would allow the East Sussex valley to flood, turning it into a salt marsh nature reserve.

It said climate change meant its flood risk management had to change.

Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson said he was writing to the government to demand a "proper public inquiry" and he wanted the consultation details published.

'Unique natural feature'

"Unfortunately the Environment Agency seem determined to abandon this very special area to the sea.

"They have not provided the detailed results of the consultation and I demand that they are published, but we do know that this unique natural feature is hugely popular with local people and visitors alike," Mr Waterson said.

"They claim that nothing will happen immediately but in the same breath they say they will not repair damage caused by severe storms.

"One such storm could weaken the existing defences to such an extent that the sea could pour in. And there is a real risk of the A259 being cut [off] by flooding.

"I continue to be totally convinced that the only way to ensure popular support for these plans is to hold a proper public inquiry, where both sides of the argument can be heard."

Withdraw maintenance

Following the announcement on Wednesday, the Environment Agency's area manager Andrew Pearce said climate change presented it with challenges over the way it manages flood risk in the area.

He said it would not be right continually to build bigger defences to protect the valley, which was created by the Victorians in 1846. The money saved could be directed where it was most needed.

Mr Pearce also said consultation had taken place with the public and people who owned or occupied land in the area had already been informed of the decision to withdraw maintenance after a two-year notice period which would start on 1 April 2009.

Residents who opposed the plan had called for more sea defences to keep the valley in its current state, and had said the plan would destroy wildlife, footpaths and parts of the local beach.

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