COUNCIL contractors caused concern when they began shifting sand on Shoebury Common beach, prompting fears the work may weaken the natural sea defence.

Diggers spent most of yesterday flattening the beach by removing sand near to where huge waves crashed over beach huts during Saturday’s high tide, which was so severe it caused a newvalve in a pipe to snap, flooding inland at Shoebury Common Road.

Despite council assurances the sand is not being removed from the beach, the Friends of Shoebury Common have raised their concerns about the particularly vulnerable part of the beach.

Ray Bailey said: ”If this work weakens the defences at all this is wrong. The beach is needed to help protect the existing seawall and if sand is taken away from Shoebury Common, like the council tried to do last year to build up other beaches to the west, they are intentionally leaving it unprotected.”

The work is being carried out at the site where Southend Council wants to build a £4.6million, two-metre high sea wall using mud from Southend’s Cliff Gardens.

Peter Grubb, fellow member and owner of Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the common, added: “The only reason the sea wall at Shoebury Common hasn’t overtopped when we’ve had bad weather recently is because of the amount of sand on the beach.

It takes the energy of the waves.

“Any removal would be a deliberate attempt by the council to undermine the current defences and justify the need for the seawall it wants.”

A spokesman for Southend Council said: “No sand is being removed from Shoebury Common. It is simply being recycled from where it builds up back to where it was eroded from.”

Council leader Nigel Holdcroft said: “We are fortunate the storms and tides have not combined to cause a major breach to our defences but next time we might not be so fortunate.”