Residents shout down councillors in fiery Portsmouth flood defence meeting

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Southsea needs improved coastal protection

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PASSION boiled over at a public meeting last night as fired-up residents demanded a seat at the table in drawing up vital flood defence plans.

Dozens of people rallied to join the meeting, which saw residents from across Southsea airing their concerns about a £100m sea defence scheme for Portsmouth.

Campaigners claim details of the plan – which they fear could see a large concrete barrier being built by the beach opposite Southsea Common – have not been publicised enough by Portsmouth City Council.

They fear the authority could steam-roll in a scheme without residents having had their say – and demanded to have their ‘voices heard’.

These concerns have been backed by 3,652 people in an online petition.

Celia Clark, one of those behind the night, said there were more attractive alternatives to building 3.8m-high stone step ramparts, which council planners might overlook without resident input.

She said: ‘There’s a lot of local expertise here and a lot of desire to make sure that we get the best possible design.

‘We don’t want to waste time waiting for something to happen which we then don’t like – we’d like to be involved in making the design so we can all support it, saving a lot of time and energy.’

But in a heated exchange at St Simon’s Church, in Waverley Road, councillors were cut off by campaigners as they tried to answer questions from the group.

Among them were Tory Luke Stubbs, the deputy leader of the city council, and former council boss, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

The councillors said that an initial design had been sent through as part of a funding application to central government.

However, they told crowds this was not a final design – merely one to show the council’s intent to build defences against rising sea levels.

A frustrated Councillor Linda Symes – Portsmouth’s leisure boss – said: ‘It’s very disingenuous to say people won’t be consulted or asked about the scheme.

‘It’s important for all of us who live here. I live almost on the seafront and it’s important to me. I don’t want to see a concrete wall going up and there’s no intention of that.

‘It’s scaremongering and very disingenuous to suggest that’s what’s going to happen.’

Among the possible alternatives campaigners want the council to consider is a ‘soft engineering option’.

Instead of a concrete wall or ramp there would be three lines of defence: the beach, a mound and a dyke.

Although not discounting the idea, Cllr Stubbs said the council had to consider the cost of any scheme and make sure it was ‘feasible’.

He added the council would share any ideas with the public using a range of media.