Observer column: 01 June 2018
Over the next few weeks, rock deliveries will arrive to complete the reconstruction of the Hastings Harbour Arm. This summer, the rest of the work will take place, finally completing repairs to the entire Harbour Arm.
The arm was built in the 1890s, as the first part of a harbour that never happened, as the company building it ran out of money. But the Harbour Arm became important to protect the fishing beach and make it safer to launch boats during rough weather. It has also changed the shape of the beach, because of the effects of 'longshore drift', with the accumulation of shingle on the western side, making the beach much deeper, and protecting the seafront and town centre too. Before the Harbour Arm was built, the sea came up to what is now the A259 and Rock-a-Nore. So as well as improving sea defences, it's allowed the creation of seafront attractions and Pelham Place car park. But over the years, the Harbour Arm has been damaged by storms (and enemy action in the war) and has gaps in it. Now, thanks to a £3m Environment Agency grant, Hastings Council has been able to rebuild it.
The first part of the reconstruction work took place last year, with the landward part rebuilt mostly from existing concrete 'stabits', many of which had fallen away and were lying on the seabed. It was then refaced with 340 cubic metres of concrete.
Over the next month, granite blocks will arrive by barge, in 2,000 tonne or 5,000 tonne loads. Originally, the plan was for the granite to arrive from Norway on a ship, to be transferred to barges in the Channel. But the granite is now being supplied from a quarry in Cornwall, so the barges will make the entire journey along the coast. A total of around 25,000 tonnes of granite will be delivered and unloaded from the barges close to the beach, from where it can be moved into place. Unloading takes place at high tide, with the barge coming in as close as possible. Then, at low tide, a mobile crane moves in to lift the blocks into place. This is a more sophisticated process than it might appear, as placement is controlled by the driver directed by an on-board computer, like a giant, 3-D jigsaw puzzle.
In this way, the current gaps in the Harbour Arm will be filled, as well as constructing 'shoulders' to the rest of the arms, to help protect it. Unlike the first part of the arm, the structure will not be faced with concrete. Apart from the obvious difficulties of doing that underwater, the uneven shape of the stacked granite blocks breaks up the force of the waves better, as well as giving a more natural appearance. When the work is complete later in the summer, it will provide the protection from storms needed by our beach-launched fishing fleet for at least another hundred years, we hope.
The reconstruction of the Harbour Arm follows on from earlier projects to create new rock groynes at Carlisle Parade, and completes this phase of coastal protection work. In coastal towns such as Hastings, the council and Environment Agency need to keep a constant eye on the suitability of our coastal defences. Climate Change and sea level rises are likely to make that an increasingly difficult challenge, but we'll do our best to continue to keep our town, its attractions, and its citizens safe.
Council Leader's column