THE latest proposals to protect Teignmouth town centre from flooding will be unveiled at a special two-day public exhibition in the Carlton Theatre today.

Serious flooding in the area was effectively prevented by the construction of sea defences in the 1980s. But 400 homes and business premises in low-lying parts of the old town remain at risk of flooding to a depth of one metre from extra-high tides beating existing defences on the Back Beach.

A small number of properties already suffer flooding, especially during the winter when waves wash up on the beach.

The Environment Agency believes that the risk of flooding from the estuary is likely to increase over the next 50 years, particularly with global warming causing a rise in sea levels and more extreme weather conditions.

Because of this risk, the agency believes there is a real need for a tidal defence scheme, stretching from the docks to Morgan's Quay, which could cope with a one-in-200-years' disaster.

After full public consultation, it anticipates that work could start in 2004/2005.

Peter Brett Associates, the consulting engineers, have proposed two options for tackling the problem.

The simpler is for localised improvements to properties, such as raising sill heights, removing air bricks and strengthening or replacing doors, windows and floor boards.

The more complicated action would involve the construction of a fixed wall a few metres from the properties, running the full length of the beach from the New Quay to Morgan's Quay.

To meet objections from residents worried about losing their views, Graeme Smith, of the Teign Estuary Partnership, has proposed a third option.

This would see a wall built two metres out from the properties, with dividing walls between each property, and a glass section in the centre of each enclosed patio.

A three-metre-wide pathway, supported by sheet piling, would run outside the wall.

However, at a public meeting last month, residents of Teign View Place, Ivy Lane, Foresters and Marine Terraces, and Queen Street, rejected both wall proposals, but accepted that something had to be done. They favoured reaching agreement with the Environment Agency on individual property protection.

David Potter, of Ivy Lane, said that considerable savings in public expenditure could be made by grants for property improvements rather than major construction works. He also stated his belief that, owing to tectonic tilt, sea levels were rising in the east of Britain but not in the west.

Graham Buxton-Smith, project manager for the Environment Agency, said: 'We are very keen to hear the views of all those landowners and householders who are likely to be affected by this scheme. At this stage our proposals are just that and no final plans have been made. The views of local people are important and we are open to any alternative suggestions they may have.'

The exhibition is open today between 10am and 8pm and on tomorrow between 10am and 4pm.