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Network Rail is investigating a problem with a section of the new £80million Dawlish sea wall, less than three months after the structure was unveiled.
ITV West Country can reveal pieces of closed-cell neoprene, which were applied to joints in the wall panels to maintain structural integrity, have become dislodged and are being washed into the sea.
This is causing concern for local residents, campaign groups and environmental campaigners.
Richard Ward, from the Save Holcombe and Teignmouth Beach group, said: "This material is used for wetsuits and sports clothing. I can't understand why this has been used in construction, it's simply not fit for purpose and wholly unnecessary."
Local resident Val Hempstock said: "I am not surprised this is happening. Quite a few people when they are walking along here have seen birds eating this stuff. It's not very environmentally friendly to start with, but if the birds are eating it then that's not good."
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The black foam-like material that can be seen between the panels of the new sea wall at Dawlish is called expanded closed-cell neoprene and has been applied to the joints between the wall panels to initially maintain structural integrity of the new wall and in the long term, prevent beach material getting into the joints and protect the wall against movement due to changes in temperature. Network Rail is aware that some of the neoprene has become dislodged and is working with our contractor to repair it.”
Back in September transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris officially opened the first section of the new £80m Dawlish sea wall, promising that it will protect the railway "for generations to come".
The vital stretch of railway, which connects Devon and Cornwall with the rest of the country, desperately needs to be protected from rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.
In 2014, it collapsed into the sea due to severe weather conditions and was closed for eight weeks.