Latest on plans to protect Sidmouth's cliffs from collapsing into the sea

  Posted: 15.10.20 at 11:05 by Daniel Clark - Local Democracy Reporter

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The long-awaiting scheme to protect Sidmouth’s cliffs from collapsing into the sea could begin in the Autumn of 2022.

The beach management scheme for the town, consists of adding a new rock groyne on East Beach, importing new shingle onto Sidmouth Beach, and East Beach, and raising the existing splash wall along the rear of the promenade.

It aims to maintain the 1990’s Sidmouth Coastal Defence Scheme Standard of Service and reduce the rate of beach and cliff erosion to the east of the River Sid, the scheme is now fully funded and is estimated to cost £8.7m – subject to the Environment Agency approving the submission of the council’s Outline Business Case.

At a recent Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP) steering group meeting, East Devon District Council’s Engineer Tom Buxton-Smith provided the steering group with an update and progress of the proposed scheme, and they heard that current timescales would see consultants and contractors appointed to develop the final design during 2021, then a planning application submitted with a proposed start to the long-awaited scheme in the Autumn 2022.

But prior to any scheme being submitted, a public exhibition on the scheme and splash defence options so that residents and businesses can give their views.

The most controversial element to the whole scheme has been the requirement for a one metre high ‘splash wall’, but that one would not be appropriate along such an important and historic esplanade of Sidmouth, so alternative solutions are under investigation.

Removable sections, benches with raising seats to act as barriers, together with flood gates are all being considered which will be part of the public exhibition and consultations prior to the planning application being submitted, as is the ‘glass sea wall’ option.

A trial earlier in 2020 showed that the glass sea wall was left virtually unscathed as a result of the impact from the sea, with the only damage being from the vandalism where it was smashed with what was believed to have been a hammer.

East Devon District Council has said that the test demonstrated the glass could be a viable option, with only some very minor scuffing from the impact of shingle being thrown against it.

But they added that either CCTV or a deterrent from vandalism, would be required, if it was to be chosen as part of the Sidmouth beach management plan solution.

The Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce has recently proposed that Offshore Rock Islands should again be considered, but Mr Buxton-Smith said that costings produced for the large offshore breakwater based on engineering drawings costing £13.1m – more than the total funding available for the project making this proposal unviable.

And he said that a proposal by Devon County Councillor Stuart Hughes to consider a “recurve” to be fitted to the esplanade sea wall, would probably not remove the need for a splash barrier, but that further evidence was required to understand if this would be providing extra protection for the town.

There have been a number of cliff-falls at Pennington Point this year, but many have been outside of the land that the council owns and manages and are not included in the area set to be protected by the BMP, and the meeting heard that the Environment Agency advised that proposed works did not meet the definition of emergency works.

Cllr Geoff Jung, the council’s portfolio holder for Coast, Country & the Environment, had chaired the steering group meeting and explained that following policy changes of the council’s new administration that in future all meetings will be held in public – via Zoom and broadcast on YouTube for the time being – and the minutes be published.

He also proposed that all the main project documents relating to the BMP will be published and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) will be reviewed on the council’s website to demonstrate the new administration’s policy of openness and transparency.

It comes as a fresh report made public by Plymouth University, is estimating future rates of coastal erosion over the next 100 years in the eastern half of the district.

The report indicates that some parts of the coastline in East Devon will erode more quickly than had previously been estimated, while some will erode less than previously thought, but the research does not take into account the mitigating protection to be provided by schemes such as Sidmouth’s BMP, discussed by the BMP steering group.

The study suggests that parts of the coastline at Seaton, areas either side of Branscombe and East of the River Sid at Sidmouth may see more erosion than previously predicted.

In contrast, the coastline between Seaton and Lyme Regis, west of Seaton to the edge of Branscombe and much of the coast west of Branscombe up to the cliffs east of Sidmouth may see less erosion.

The study identifies short, medium and long term risks and is published alongside the report. The research gives a clear picture of how the coastline of East Devon may evolve over the next 100 years but nature is unpredictable and the plans have been designed for planning purposes only.

Cllr Dan Ledger, portfolio holder for Strategic Planning and a councillor for Seaton said: “The study has far reaching implications for many property owners and users of the coastline that will need further consideration in the future.

“In the meantime it is good to know that we have up-to-date information on this important issue for many communities in East Devon to inform the new Local Plan for the district.

"This is an opportunity for us to debate and plan how we need to prepare. We will be talking to our partners, including the Environment Agency, seeking their help in adapting for future coastal change.”

Cllr Jung added: “This is clearly an important piece of work to inform future planning policy and it is very much distinct from work that we are doing on coastal protection measures.

“We’re making great progress in developing beach management plans and coastal protection works. These will be designed to slow the rate of erosion in Seaton and Sidmouth and hopefully prevent the worst case scenarios identified in this study from occurring.”

East Devon District Council Strategic Planning Committee when they meet on Tuesday will discussed the Plymouth University report.

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