Residents hoping to raise £5,000 to seek legal advice over the ownership of major flood defences are close to reaching their target.
Responsibility for the £25million Adur Tidal Walls scheme will transfer to riverside residents once the Environment Agency completes the project.
But landowners fear they could be liable for millions of pounds of damage if the defences were breached and want to raise funds to instruct a barrister.
The agency stated it was ‘likely’ to fix major problems – but could not guarantee funding.
Houseboat owner Reverend Jess Jermain, part of the group which launched the campaign, said: “They have told us this is an unlimited liability. We hope the Environment Agency will undertake to maintain it and that we won’t own it.”
Shoreham Beach Residents’ Association contributed £250 to the campaign, which has raised nearly more than £4,000 to date.
Chairman Joss Loader, who said she had sympathy for the residents, said: “What the agency needs to do is sit down and actually communicate clearly with the residents and boat owners as there’s a huge amount of worry and concern locally and it needs to be addressed. At the moment, there’s a lot of mixed messages and uncertainty.”
An agency spokesman said riparian ownership had been long established in common law, adding the scheme was designed to be ‘relatively maintenance free’ and last 100 years, with a 12-year warranty.
He added: “The Shoreham Adur Tidal Walls project has a very strong business case in terms of the cost of the defences and the number of properties protected. It is therefore likely that should a serious problem occur to the defences we would be able to justify spending public money to repair them.
“When the embankment at Shoreham Airport failed, we intervened to protect residents and vital infrastructure. However, the Environment Agency is subject to government policies and funding, which means we cannot guarantee we will be able to maintain flood defences in perpetuity.”
In the event of vandalism, the spokesman said the agency would not intervene if damage was purely cosmetic.
Click here for more on the campaign or to donate.
The group has six more days to raise the funds.