South Downs National Park prioritise concrete and steel over preserving the only stretch of natural coast in Sussex!

National Park ignore their own policies and legal obligation “to conserve and enhance” in giving the go-ahead to intrusive works at Seven Sisters cliffs!

Based on a strong officer recommendation in favour of, what is admitted as being a ‘temporary measure,’ shoring up the cliffs below the cottages with concrete and steel to save a few cottages at Cuckmere Haven, the South Downs National Park have voted to give preference to preserving the unlisted cottages rather than continue the policy of non-intervention along the Heritage Coast.

The South Downs National Park Planning Committee at their meeting on the 11th Feb 2021 voted by five votes (including the vote of the chairman) to two (with two abstentions) to approve the concrete and steel cliff works. You can see the full committee report here, and what the speakers said in a video of the committee meeting here. In the meeting, Henri Brocklebank Director (Conservation Policy and Evidence) and Angela Marlow, Senior Advisor for the Southern and South West Coast at Natural England spoke to oppose the construction works. Read the transcript of what they said by clicking below:

Above: opening slide at the SDNPA planning Committee meeting

By contrast to these appeals, the planning officer spent most of his presentation describing the detail of the sea wall construction with little attention to environmental policies. See his presentation here.

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The South Downs Network have written, in support of their member organisation, to the members of the National Park to protest the decision. Click below to read our letter:

Cuckmere Haven is not only in the South Downs National Park but also a Marine Conservation Zone, Site of Special Scientific Interest and Heritage Coast. By giving permission, the intrusive works will go ahead in this unique area of chalk cliff and marine ecology, which is at the only undeveloped estuary in south east of England and nationally defined Heritage Coast, a status granted in order to safeguard its undeveloped natural beauty. This is the only unspoilt section of coast in Sussex – the Heritage Coast between Beachy Head and Seaford Head.

Objections we made by:

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The decision by the Park is even more tragic bearing in mind the Society for Sussex Downsmen (now the South Downs Society), formed in 1923, fought and won a campaign against plans for an inappropriate housing development on the Seven Sisters. They began the long campaign which eventually led to the formation of the National Park in 2010. 

It does not bode well for the protection of our hard-fought-for South Downs and National Park designation if the SDNPA is not effective as their protector.

The sea, especially during winter storms, will continue to erode this coast at an ever-increasing rate. In future years, extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels as a consequence of climate change will put even more pressure on the new defences. The National Park’s decision will now allow further despoiling of the beach, cliffs and landscape. To carry out what is admitted as being a ‘temporary measure’ seems absurd.  Expanding the concrete, rock and steel buttress will only perpetuate the eyesore.

What seems to have been confused at the Planning Committee of the Park is the meaning of ‘iconic.’ The view is iconic, not the cottages. It so happens the cottages are in the view – they are not the view!  If the cottages were not there the iconic view would still be there.

The development flies in the face of SDNP policy and is against national government policy of “no active intervention” on this protected National Park coastline. The officer’s recommendation set aside the objection by the Government’s environment watchdog, Natural England, whose statutory purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved and enhanced, the same as the National Park’s primary purposes.

We were very surprised by the lack of reference to the Key Messages and Policies contained in the South Downs National Park’s own Local Plan in the officer’s written and verbal report. The opening line of the Local Plan says “this is a landscape led Local Plan.” Very little emphasis was placed upon the importance of adhering to the Park’s own policies such as Strategic Policy SD4 – Landscape Character and Strategic Policy SD18 – The Open Coast and The Shoreline Management Plan which states that there should be “no active intervention” in the life of the Heritage Coast.

It’s clear that many members of the public knew nothing of this proposal until it was publicised in the local paper and The Times after the decision was made. Those members of the public had no opportunity to voice their concerns to counter the targeted campaign to build the concrete buttresses. A planning application for this site should have received wide-ranging publicity to ensure a balanced view of the public’s opinion.

Warning sign about cliff falls
The cliffs below the cottages
Existing low level sea wall
The larger existing sea concrete sea wall
Close up of the larger existing sea concrete sea wall
Existing steel wall
Example of erosion near the cottages
looking down on the existing sea wall
Example of erosion near the cottages
The cottages
The cottages
The cottages