Beach survey set to cost £167,000

KING Canute may not have been able to hold back the sea – but can the defences protecting Felixstowe do the job?That's the question being looked at by consultants, who are being paid £167,000 to analyse the resort's coast.

By Richard Cornwell

KING Canute may not have been able to hold back the sea – but can the defences protecting Felixstowe do the job?

That's the question being looked at by consultants, who are being paid £167,000 to analyse the resort's coast.

Halcrow's experts have been working on the study for the past few months and now their brief is to be extended to include the controversial new sea defences around Cobbold's Point.

These defences were completed in August 2000 to protect the beaches from Brackenbury to Bath Tap, but so far their success has been mixed – and there has been fierce criticism from some quarters of the scheme.

While some part of the beach have seen levels rise to the best for years, erosion in other places has caused growing concern.

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Emergency work costing £150,000 to place tonnes of enormous rocks on the East beach in Undercliff Road East had to be carried out after the beach fell by several feet, leaving the promenade at risk of collapse.

Railings may have to be put along the edge of the prom to stop small children running off onto the unsightly rock and hurting themselves.

Tonnes of sand and shingle which was sprayed onto the beach just the summer before to bolster the shore was swept away.

And some beach hut owners have not been able to put their wooden chalets back on the shore because of the loss of the beach.

But putting in place sea defences is costly and councillors are reluctant to spend huge sums of money unless they are convinced the scheme is needed, that it is the answer and it will work.

The Cobbold's Point project took many years to design. It cost £2.8 million to create the two huge wishbone-shaped reefs, smaller rock groynes, and a new steel piled wall and walkway.

Halcrow's specialists are examining what might happen in the years ahead and what work will be needed to ensure that fierce storms and rising seas caused by global warming do not undermine the seafront and wash away homes and land.

The consultants were initially asked to look at the main seafront to low-lying Landguard, but are now likely to be asked to examine the effects of the new Cobbold's Point defences and those stretching to The Dip.

"Originally it had not been intended to undertake a strategy study for the Felixstowe frontage north of Cobbold's Point within the next five years," said director of planning and leisure Jeremy Schofield.

The area had had new defences within the past 12 years, but the Government's engineers had now asked if it could be studied afresh.

"Clearly, while not essential, such an extension (to the study) would provide, sooner, rather than later, the last link in the council's Coast Protection Strategy for the whole of the Felixstowe frontage under its control, and with government support now, it is considered appropriate for the council to bring forward this party of its strategy preparation and extend the study," he added.

This would mean the study into the coast would now be ready by August this year, instead of April.

Some people believe though that the matter may need more urgent attention than a report recommending action in years to come.

Campaigner John Green, of Newbourne Gardens, Felixstowe, said: "The situation has got worse since the lagoon reefs were installed. Something is not quite right and I think a more urgent investigation is needed into why the shingle is being lost here so rapidly.

"These beaches are used by many visitors to Felixstowe and if they are lost, it is a bleak outlook for tourism.

"Taking away the old concrete groynes could be a big mistake."

Another campaigner, Norman Thompson has called on the council to use radioactive tracers to see where the shingle which is washed away ends up. He believes much of it could be swept into the shipping lane.

The shipping lane to the port is dredged continually and the port could – if it was proved the channel was soaking up material from the shore – be asked to bring the material back to replenish the beaches.

Council officers though have assured them that beach levels do fluctuate and may have to be monitored for some time to establish a pattern.