More on the frustrations over the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan

Owl was gently taken to task by a reader, Stephen Pemberton, for the way the flippant reference to “King Canute” in the recent post on storm damage to Sidmouth could be misconstrued. 

It was intended to reflect Owl’s experiences of the enormous power nature can release in storms and Owl’s experiences of how a number of Devon seaside towns have struggled over the years to save their beaches. Readers will probably most easily relate to the way the storm of early February 2014 cut the rail line at Dawlish. 

It wasn’t intended to downplay the need to protect Sidmouth where the storm and rising sea level threat isn’t confined to the beach but is a very real and present threat to the Town itself.

Stephen had a letter published in the Sidmouth Herald 24 April. This set out the EDDC position in relation to the Beach Management Plan (BMP) and reflects his evident frustration with decades of ineffective action. He has agreed to let Owl post it below. 

Before doing that, Owl has received other comments, which agree on some main points Stepehn made in correspondence. These help set the scene, especially for those who are not Sidmouth residents:

  • The rock revetment (rock armour) in front of the Esplanade, installed c.1992, has worked well.   The vibration of Sidmouth houses stopped overnight when it was installed and the Town has not suffered any vibration since.  The cost was £750,000 and it will probably be good for another hundred years. 
  • The two offshore breakwaters constructed c 1994 have also been very successful in creating a high “design level” beach, and, as a bonus, a sandy foreshore. The problem is that a third island, recommended by the consultants, was rejected at the time. EDDC have always refused subsequently to consider this option, despite the fact that it is cheaper than the current preferred option, and might, by reference to the experience gained from the existing breakwaters, avoid or reduce the need for subsequent replenishment of beach material (also known as beach recharging) by maintaining a high beach level. 
  • There is deep controversy over action/inaction at Pennington Point to the east. Here cliff erosion appears to have accelerated over predictions made only four years ago. EDDC currently refuse to carry out emergency works to protect the town from flooding via the “backdoor” river frontage.  EDDC’s solution of using a very large groyne is also considered controversial because it is more expensive than a revetment option that consultants have publicly stated would be more effective (and would be cheaper). The aim is to reduce undercutting of the cliffs by wave action. 
  • The BMP also involves the construction of a “splash wall “ varying in height from 1m to 1.3m. Vandalism of an armoured glass trial panel has set back this element of the plan. 
  • One of the central difficulties on costs concerns assumptions made on the frequency of the need for recycling beach material and for its replenishment. A sticking point with EDDC is always going to be the cost of replenishing a beach that is ultimately going to be washed away by the natural process of the eastward longshore drift. In fact EDDC haven’t maintained the design level for the beach since 1992. 
  • There is still a £1M shortfall in funding for the preferred option. If the funding cannot be raised by December 2020, the council will have to review the project aims and possible management scheme options. There is also the question of ongoing costs.

(Owl’s view is that strategic costs of this sort should really be funded by central government).

Letter published in the Sidmouth Herald   24 April 2020 

Urgent and Emergency Works Pennington Point and East Beach:

Following recent communications over the need for action, and urgent and emergency Works at Pennington Point and along East Beach thank you to all those who replied.

The cliffs though, continue to collapse almost daily. It is the case, it would seem, that some appear to follow the EDDC position unquestionably; giving reasons to legitimate preventing action; some unthinkingly saying that all cliffs will naturally erode, without ‘seeing’ the consequences. 

EDDC is responsible for action and for urgent and emergency works. The EDDC CEO, Strategic Lead for Housing, Health and Environment, Leader of the Council, Service Lead, StreetScene, (copied to Simon Jupp, MP and George Eustace, MP), accept no responsibility for any undue outcome. 

They say: EDDC are not responsible. EDDC have permissive powers to carry out works at its discretion. EDDC are the Risk Management Authority acting as the Coastal Protection Authority. Coastal protection authorities and the Environment Agency have permissive powers to protect against coastal flooding and to carry out erosion defence works. However this is not a legal obligation. This means East Devon District Council has the “power to” carry out coastal protection works but is not duty bound to do so and will not be liable for the failure to exercise these powers. Contractors are on-site willing and able to carry out the Works. 

The EDDC position raises concerns about the effective progress made of the BMP and other measures this past number of decades. EDDC and Sidmouth Town Council Councillors and Officers and MP’s need to be aware of the EDDC position, and of the responsibility and accountability they have in the prevention of Flooding to Sidmouth. 

Stephen Pemberton, SIDMOUTH,