Row over river community’s flood defences

Shoreham Houseboat Group unhappy about proposals. Pic Steve Robards  SR1602471 SUS-160119-140246001
Shoreham Houseboat Group unhappy about proposals. Pic Steve Robards SR1602471 SUS-160119-140246001

Houseboat owners are to take a stand after they claim the Environment Agency placed an ‘unreasonable demand’ on them.

Two dozen houseboat owners based at Shoreham’s Riverbank attended a Adur Houseboat Association meeting on Wednesday last week to discuss a new flood defence wall that the Environment Agency announced it will raise on the south side of the footpath.

But one of the houseboat owners, Mike Wooldridge, said the wall would not only cause obstruction for those living close to it, but the Environment Agency hadsuggested houseboat owners, and possibly riparian ones, would have to pay for its future maintenance.

He said: “Not only will the flooded path present a challenge to any pedestrians wishing to use it, but the water will also trap many houseboat residents.

“The Environment Agency expect us to maintain and repair their wall, into perpetuity. To be forced to take on responsibility for a wall over which we have no control, would seem to be a bit unreasonable.”

Mr Wooldridge said it would be unfair if they were forced to pay for damage and vandalism caused by the public who are free to use the footpath.

He also raised concern that the 850mm high wall could be built with hidden defects.

“If the installation is not fit for purpose, then it would also seem unreasonable to place the duty of care for its repair and maintenance on the shoulders of riparian owners who have no control over its design and construction.”

Finally, concern was also raised by residents over liability for consequential damage to properties by floodwater as a result of wall failure.

Adur Houseboat Ass-
ociation chairman Jon Potter said: “It doesn’t seem a very fair relationship, when, after ten years of consultation with the Environment Agency we suddenly discover a hidden secret. It doesn’t seem fair or safe. Our relationship was never very happy – though we made the best of it – but now it’s really on the rocks.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “As part of our consultation, landowners were made fully aware of their responsibilities and received advice regarding infrastructure that they are required to maintain.

“To address any specific concerns raised about the scheme itself, where possible, we have modified our own flood defence designs with input and agreement from the local community.”