STUDY: Sidmouth's crumbling seafront could claim clifftop homes 'within 20 years'

By Beth Sharp

22nd Oct 2020 | Local News

Sidmouth seafront and cliffs. Picture: Sidmouth Nub News
Sidmouth seafront and cliffs. Picture: Sidmouth Nub News

Heavy erosion could claim clifftop homes in Sidmouth within the next 20 years, a research paper has warned.

The news could be devastating to the smattering of home owners in Cliff Road, which lines the top of Sidmouth's crumbling cliffs over East Beach.

Several huge cliff falls have been reported in Sidmouth in recent years, and now a research paper published by Plymouth University has indicated the homes could be at risk of falling into the sea within two decades.

However, residents have been told the report is based on a 'worst case scenario', which includes an additional 10 metre buffer zone.

This also means erosion is likely to be lower than the rate predicted by the university, especially if a multi-million sea defence scheme - Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP) - is put into force.

East Devon District Council's (EDDC) Strategic Planning Committee met on Tuesday (October 20) and considered a report on a pilot study undertaken by the university in partnership with the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation.

The university's report estimates erosion occurring at roughly ten times the rate previously envisioned by EDDC, with an erosion rate of at least two metres per year.

It indicates the path to the new Alma Bridge could disappear in about five years, that houses in Beatlands Road, Laskeys Lane and Southway may be lost in 30 or 40 years, and that Hillside Road residences will come under threat in less than 100 years.

The report said that within less than 50 years the sea will have reached beyond the weir at the northern end of The Ham, and beyond the old boatpark and Sensory Garden.

However, the study has used a new method - an algorithm using recent data - for predicting coastal change.

East Devon has been used as a case study.

The new algorithmic method gives a more detailed assessment than that included in the Shoreline Management Plan adopted by EDDC in 2011, which predicted the Cliff Road homes would not be at risk for 100 years, notwithstanding the loss of nearly all of their gardens.

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce (CoC) attended Tuesday's Meeting and said a report using previously untried mathematical techniques was not something to be relied upon, urging people to not put too much faith in the document.

A CoC spokesperson said: "We are suspicious of this document and its methodology; we think it is misrepresenting the situation and needs to be treated with great caution.

"So we urge everyone not to become alarmed or over-react…

"Nevertheless, we understand its significance and its implications for the Beach Management Plan.

"The chamber called for the current BMP 'Preferred Option' to be abandoned and other options considered.

"We described the proposed groyne at the end of East Beach as 'feeble' and not designed to cope with the scale of erosion envisaged by the Plymouth paper."

The Strategic Planning Committee noted the new report and recommended that householders in the relevant areas be advised of the university's work, and its possible implications.

This report will form part of the evidence for East Devon's new Local Plan and will only be used as a planning 'tool' to assist planners in assessing development in coastal areas in the future.

Recommendations have been made for the council's cabinet to consider the wider implications of the research as soon as possible.

Cllr Dan Ledger, who is responsible for strategic planning at EDDC, 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."

What is the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan preferred option?

The preferred option for the Sidmouth BMP would see a new groyne installed on East Beach, 200 metres east of the River Sid, and the splash wall raised to up to a metre along the promenade.

The £9million project would also incorporate importing shingle on both East and Sidmouth beach.


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