There is no intention on abandoning any flood defences or residential areas across Arun’s coast, the Lib Dem council leader has confirmed.
Back in June the authority’s new cabinet discussed a report on climate change and the future risks of this to the coast.
In response the Tories pushed for a ‘categorical assurance’ that high-risk areas such as Pagham and Climping ‘will not be sacrificed’.
Shaun Gunner, the Tories’ spokesperson for technical services, said he was worried the council was ‘not managing the coast it’s retreating from it’.
But on Wednesday night, Lib Dem council leader James Walsh called statements from the Tories ‘artificial scaremongering for party political reasons’.
He described how the cabinet had agreed that action needed to be taken now to manage the coast in the future.
Dr Walsh (LDem, Beach) said: “I say in the strongest possible terms this cabinet has no intention and this council has no intention of giving up the flood defences in inhabited areas of Arun’s coastline.”
The term ‘managed retreat’ was a phrase coined by the Environment Agency and the Government, and not at Arun.
He added: “Please let the message go out loud and clear there is no intention of abandoning flood defences or residential areas in the Arun district.
“Please do stop frightening the public that homes are going to be flooded. They are not if it’s in the power of this council.”
Earlier Jacky Pendleton (Con, Middleton on Sea) said: “We have a responsibility to our residents to make sure that we do everything we can to protect them and their homes and this to me does not sound like it’s doing that.”
Meanwhile David Huntley (Ind, Pagham) said the council needed to continue to defend coastal communities as once the sea breaches the sea crest at any point it would carry on in land.
Before the debate ended there were heated words from the Tory benches.
Paul Dendle (Con, Arundel & Walberton) explained that a post on the Arun Conservatives’ website had incorrectly attributed the comments about possibly not defending certain parts of the coast to Martin Lury, the Lib Dem cabinet member for planning.
Although he did not write the post he is responsible for the site and received an email from council officers requesting it be removed immediately as it was deemed defamatory and if this was not done Arun’s legal team would consider initiating legal action.
It was removed immediately, but Mr Dendle criticised the threat of legal action and blamed the leader and deputy leader who he believed had directed officers to send the email.
He added: “It’s regrettable the Lib Dems have become intoxicated by power so quickly.”
Afterwards Jeanette Warr (LDem, Hotham), chairman of the council, said: “I’m very disappointed at this first meeting that this has happened. We have got to work together not against each other.”