HOMES near the beach at Climping would be abandoned to the mercy of the sea if a new draft strategy for coastal defences is approved, villagers fear.
The Environment Agency says maintaining the defences cannot be justified on cost grounds, and so it is recommending a "do nothing" approach in the future.
The agency, which drew up its strategy in partnership with Arun District Council, accepts that homes and farmland in the low-lying coastal area would be under greater threat from flooding.
News of the proposal, in the draft strategy to manage flood and erosion risk between the River Arun at Littlehampton and eastwards to Pagham, prompted anger and dismay in the seaside community.
Henry Burrell, of Atherington Farm, Climping Street, the property closest to the sea, told the Gazette: "I feel we have been betrayed."
In a previous consultation, agency officials had told villagers that the defences would continue to be maintained, not abandoned, said Mr Burrell, a Climping parish councillor.
"It's morally wrong for the bombshell of abandonment to be dropped on us so suddenly."
He added: "We have lived here for 17 years and it is paradise. It's so beautiful. We just can't imaginie living anywhere else.
"We hardly ever go on holiday, because it's difficult to find such a wonderful combination of the seas, beautiful fields and trees, and the bird life."
James Baird, whose family farms 1,100 acres at Climping, right up to the beach, said almost half this land would be at risk if a storm surge breached the sea defences.
"We have already had some flooding where the sea has come over and where the salt water has gone on the farmland, the crops don't grow or they are stunted."
Mr Baird said he had been in talks with the agency for almost 10 years about a shoreline strategy and until now the approach had always been "managed realignment", with the defences maintained.
"Only at this stage have they changed that. I had a phone call last Thursday telling me of the change. It was a bombshell. You could have knocked me over with a feather."
The new strategy, he added, was about more than abandonment, and included removing defences such as timber groynes, and modified concrete Second World War structures when they became a safety risk.
Wartime machine gun "pill boxes" would also be under threat, said Mr Baird, who had notified English Heritage about their possible loss as historic features.
Wider threat of flooding
And he was concerned that the area's value for leisure pursuits such as cycling, walking and bird watching would be lost as the land was lost to the sea.
It had been hoped a public footpath along the top of the beach could be converted to a cycle path from Littlehampton to Middleton.
Mr Baird warned that homes as far away as Rope Walk and even the Climping Park caravan site could be at risk, together with the prestigious Bailiffscourt Hotel, and that the A259, Ferry Road and Littlehampton Marina could be cut off by flooding in future.
There was also a threat to Littlehampton harbour being blocked, if dredging of shingle from the mouth of the River Arun, currently used to top up the Climping beach defences, ceased.
John O'Flynn, Sussex area flood and coastal risk manager for the Environment Agency, said spending had to be concentrated on the most vulnerable and needy areas at risk from flooding, and the Climping coastline did not meet the criteria.
An exhibition on the strategy will be held at Climping Village Hall on Wednesday, June 17, from 1-8pm and the strategy can be downloaded at www.environment-agency.gov.uk/consultations
Copies are also available at Arun Civic Centre, Littlehampton.
Click here to return to Gazette news.
Where are you? Add your pin to the Gazette's international readers' map by clicking here.
E-mail the Gazette: email@example.com