The way of the EDDC world – don’t choose the best long-term option – choose the cheapest short-term option – except when it comes to their own offices,
District chiefs have backed down in the face of united opposition from Sidmouth representatives on a project to shore up the seafront.
East Devon District Council (EDDC) looked set to choose the least expensive scheme, Option 1, but beach management plan (BMP) steering group members said this was putting economics ahead of finding a solution that could protect the town for 100 years.
The authority has agreed to look again to see if £11million can be secured for the ‘technically preferred’ Option 4B, to install breakwaters along the seafront. Option 1, to install one or two groynes at East Beach, would need £2.3million in partnership funding.
EDDC will also sound out key stakeholders on whether they would give their blessing to works that will dramatically change the seafront.
Speaking after Wednesday’s steering group meeting, district councillor Cathy Gardner said: “There was so much opposition in the room to EDDC’s attempts to railroad through Option 1. The BMP is about finding a solution to protect the seafront for the next 100 years, but it’s become about making it affordable. There are so many unknowns. If we find out in a couple of years [the chosen scheme] doesn’t work, we haven’t really achieved anything.”
A report to steering group members from EDDC’s consultants, CH2M, said Option 4B would be the most effective – but it had the ‘worst economic case’, so recommended Option 1.
An EDDC spokeswoman said the authority has done some initial work to look at external funding sources, but securing £11million for Option 4B is ‘unlikely’. To provide ‘further confidence’ in the level of availability, EDDC has formed a sub-group to look specifically at funding over the next six months – while the BMP progresses.
Unless partnership funding can be secured, an Environment Agency (EA) grant of between £5million and £6.75million towards the chosen BMP scheme will not be made available.
Sidmouth Town Council chairman Jeff Turner said: “We’re getting the message that the scheme everybody favours and seems would be most effective is extremely expensive. Funding Option 4B would need such a huge council tax increase across East Devon there would need to be a referendum. The chances of the rest of East Devon supporting that are pretty remote.
“We still back 4B – we haven’t given up on it yet.”
Steering group chairman Cllr Andrew Moulding said: “It is vital that we maintain momentum with this crucial project.
“We are delighted that the local community has committed to working with EDDC and the EA to look at funding, which is crucial to ensure the ongoing protection of Sidmouth.”
He said the BMP is due to be completed this autumn and EDDC is having ongoing discussions with various statutory bodies to ensure the chosen scheme ultimately gains the relevant permissions.”
Well, they could always cancel their plans for their plush offices which will coincidentally cost about £11 million!
And perhaps a joined-up plan for the whole coastline might be a good idea in case there are unintended consequences to other coastal communities?