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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Homes fears as sea eats into coastline

FOR years the Irish Sea has slowly eaten away at the land in front of West Shore Park on Walney. Now, with only a road and tiny verge separating them from the water, residents told GILES BROWN they feared they were facing a desperate crisis, which was an imminent threat to their homes.

WHEN Jeanette Jones and John Fletcher bought their chalet on the seafront at West Shore Park, they thought it would be the last time they had to move house.

Back then, about seven years ago, being by the sea was one of the park’s great attractions.

But, as it has eaten its way through 20m of land in front of their home, the water has become a hazard which threatens to ruin the couple’s autumn years.

When a high tide and onshore breeze combine, the waves blow over the road and spray hits their windows.

In the last two weeks, the sea has washed away large chunks of land, coming ever closer to their front door.

“It’s got to the stage where it is desperate that something is done. These last few days the weather has been unlucky for us and it has washed about two to two-and-a-half metres off the front. It is up to the road and we are struggling to get something done,” said Mr Fletcher, as he surveyed the frothing brown sea from his living room.

“Hopefully, this was our last move, but now this is happening. The main thing is that they are all elderly people here and a lot of them are frightened.

“If we have another couple of days like we’ve have had, it’s across the road, another couple of days it’s to the wall. You could say six days of bad weather and we are out of our homes. It is desperate and someone needs to help us.”

A small wall stands at the front of the park and runs alongside a road that skirts the seafront. The sea is gradually eating under the road and the water is within metres of the wall at high tide.

Mrs Jones said: “It is very worrying. If the sea comes over, we will lose our homes and then what will happen to us?”

Jean Jackson, 62, chairwoman of the West Shore Park Residents’ Association, has lived on Walney all her life and remembers when the seashore extended far further out to sea.

“When I was a child, we used to camp on here with tents. But now it’s completely gone. It has gone drastically in the last few years,” she said.

She said it was not just residents on the seaward side who would be affected if the sea washed into the site.

The sewerage and electrical facilities were also close to the seafront and flooding could threaten amenities that all of the 330 chalets use.

Damage to road would be bad enough, as it was regularly used by kite-surfers, dog walkers and people visiting the nature reserve to its north, said Mrs Jackson.

But damage to homes in the park would be devastating for residents.

“It’s our life savings really that has gone into these homes,” she said.

In 2007 Barrow Borough Council paid £25,000 to place boulders along part of the seafront by the park.

However, more than 30m still remains exposed and the giant rocks that make up the defences are moved and tossed by the sea.

Residents hope a call from Barrow MP John Woodcock for government funding could finally help them get more protection.

A petition to Barrow Borough Council signed by 3,400 people was passed to the MP last month.

He has asked for a meeting with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss getting an Environment Agency grant to pay for increased sea defences.

West Shore Park is owned by Embra UK, which owns four other similar sites in the north of England.

No-one from Embra was available for comment, but Walney North councillor Tony Callister said the company was working with the council to provide a solution.

He said Embra had accepted it had a responsibility to deal with the problem along with the council.

“We are moving this forward as quickly as possible and hopefully we can get some movement to create the funding and get some movement between Embra and the local council,” he said.

“We need to sit down as soon as possible, because we are now getting to crisis point with more inclement weather on the way.”

For the nervous residents of West Shore Park, the sit down could not come soon enough.

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