ALMOST 500 homes as well as businesses, a primary school, lighthouse and historic gun battery could be swept into the sea if nothing is done to bolster coastal defences.
The stark warning comes from consultants called in to examine the first lines of defence on Hartlepool’s historic Headland.
Experts add that millions of pounds will have to be spent to safeguard the area for future generations, or the area could be swamped within a century.
One safeguarding scheme could cost up to £15m, with three others on a list of possible options ranging between £11.9m down to £6.8m.
If work is not carried out, Hartlepool Borough Council could face multi-million maintenance bills over coming years.
Consultants from Croydon-based experts Mott MacDonald have carried out a comprehensive survey on the Headland over the last few months, and proposals on how to deal with the impending problems were shown at a public consultation event at the Borough Hall earlier this week.
The buildings at risk are 466 homes, St Bega’s Primary School, the Heugh Gun Battery, commercial properties, a playground, the lighthouse and the memorial.
Local residents are now being consulted on the four options on the way forward.
As well as the examination carried out by Mott MacDonald, Hartlepool Borough Council is also carrying out a study into the future of the sea walls at the Headland.
Some residents are up in arms about the possibility of losing part of the promenade, particularly adjacent to the Town Moor, as detailed in one of the options in the proposals.
During the consultation session at the Borough Hall, it emerged that the local authority has spent more than £500,000 on maintaining the defences from Marine Drive to the Town Wall over the past 10 years.
But this could rocket to £500,000 per year by 2016 if the defences are left the way they are.
Headland Parish councillor John Cambridge said he would prefer to see concrete encasement of the defences.
He said: “It will be a controversial decision whatever they do.
“They have got to protect the walls somehow, but they have got to find the money as well.
“Over the years, the Headland has been neglected financially.”
l Option one could see an addition of a concrete encasement and replacement of the altar part of the sea wall, costing £7.5m.
Consultants say this is only a short-term protection and would be difficult to maintain.
It could be challenged by Natural England over a possible loss of habitat for birds in what is a designated Special Protected Area (SPA).
l Option two, costing £11.9m, involves a concrete encasement, replacement of the altar and added rock armour protection.
l Option three – encasement, altar replacement and a sloping feature which breaks up waves, is thought to be the most durable option. But at £14.5m it is the most expensive.
l Option four, costing £6.8m, could see the demolition of the promenade which runs level with the Town Moor and the loss of the bandstand area, which would reduce maintenance costs.
The town could be eligible for £6m towards costs of any work from the Environment Agency, but any shortfalls could have to be met with other sources of funding.
The council’s principal engineer Dennis Hancock said: “If nothing’s done, we would need to maintain those walls in the future with our revenue budget.
“But the cost is going up and up and the maintenance of the sea walls is going to get more unsustainable with rising sea levels.”
People can visit www.hartlepoolcoastal.com to give their views or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org by July 31.