Austerity is alive and well, and giving public services a kicking

There are plenty of ways to measure austerity. Before, during and after the budget this week, voters will hear Rishi Sunak herald the end of tight spending as the government builds a bridge from the pandemic to a glorious recovery.

Phillip Inman

What economists do when they want to kick the tyres on such claims is look at the Treasury’s books. They want to see whether public spending is contracting or expanding. And if there is a squeeze, we can be said to be living in a period of austerity.

In the period when George Osborne was chancellor, his supporters would claim that after the first two years of his reign, the spending taps were turned on again and austerity was no more.

Many were unhappy that the state was playing a significant role – believing more austerity was justified – while becoming incandescent with rage that those on the left were perpetuating the “austerity myth”.

Most economists continued to tag the Treasury as “austere” because inflation meant that public sector budgets were underwater in real terms. An increase in cash is still a cut when the rate of inflation is higher, and especially when the rising prices are affecting the government and its agencies.

This macro view of government spending is what lies behind Sunak’s shock and disbelief when he is accused of sticking with austerity.

The message from the Treasury is that a chancellor who is on the cusp of borrowing around £400bn to rescue the economy, and who has kickstarted the largest public works programme for 20 years, cannot be bracketed as an austerity-monger with Osborne, and certainly not with Philip Hammond, who doubled down on Osborne’s approach during his years in No 11.

A more nuanced assessment by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the trends set in the Osborne years – when spending went up in just a few areas of government, while others were left to starve – will continue next year and probably for the rest of the parliament.

Sunak, like his predecessors, will protect health, schools and the state pension. To this short list he will add the police and border control, giving large parts of the Home Office a break from decades of grinding cuts.

Local government, cultural organisations and unloved departments such as Justice have received bailouts that make up some of the shortfall in pandemic spending, but nothing like enough.

If the effect is therefore waiting months to appear at a crown court – if it is finding a library open only on Thursdays, a children’s centre sold or an appointment for a mental health issue delayed by a year – then austerity remains with us.

When the Environment Agency, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Health & Safety Executive have to go on operating with a skeleton workforce, while the Victoria & Albert museum and Tate galleries need to cut staff to pull back from the brink of insolvency, then austerity is a way of life.

And away from Whitehall, the sign on every town hall reads “welcome to austerity” ahead of the sixth year of inflation-busting council tax rises planned for April, which will hit low- and middle-income earners the hardest.

The 5% jump sanctioned by the Treasury is supposed to be a generous loosening of the purse strings when inflation is only 0.7%.

That would be true if the £1.9bn of “spending power” that counties, boroughs and districts will gain were to be drawn from borrowed funds along with the rest of the chancellor’s £400bn. But trapped by Whitehall rules that force them to balance the books each year, councils must either hit communities with a tax rise up to the 5% cap, or reduce services.

One element of the tax increase is a maximum 3% rise in the “social care precept” to cover rising care costs. This is married to a maximum 1.99% increase to cover general running costs. To increase the tax by more than 4.99%, councils must ask taxpayers in a local referendum.

In Hartlepool, the coalition of independents and Tories that runs the council will freeze the tax and largely pay for it by dipping into reserves. But officers says the fund is not big enough to prevent services being cut in subsequent years.

Tory-run Surrey county council covers one of the most affluent areas of the UK, but has still had to cut the number of children’s centres it funds from 58 to 21 over the past two years to balance the books.

Next year it must find savings of nearly £12m in its adult social care department after limiting the precept rise to 0.5% and the council tax rise to 3.49% overall.

Surely marrying cuts to social care with tax rises in the wake of a pandemic is the definition of austerity. And a form of austerity that hurts the very people the government seeks to protect.

Pop-up Glamping site run by event organisers coming to a cliff top near you?

Could be if you live in Otterton – providing competition for the Carters.

Many tented camping sites operate under the “28 day rule”, a form of ‘permitted development’ allowing land to be used without planning permission ‘for any purpose for not more than 28 (now 56) days in total in any calendar year. Although Owl is unclear as to whether this applies in designated landscapes, in this case the East Devon AONB, or whether any form of  licence would be required for the infrastructure and services advertised..

Anyway Owl spotted that a couple of web sites are up and running for bookings in July and August (or were at the time of going to press – see screenshots and advertising text below).

Could this be the next link in the “wall to wall” coastal holiday park development along the World Heritage Coast from “Devon Cliffs” Sandy Bay, in the west, through “Pooh Cottage” Budleigh Salterton to “Ladram Bay”?

“Our family of 5 had a great stay – everything is fantastically done! Beautiful tents, great bedding, fabulous loos – and all run by wonderful staff. I’m running out of superlatives but you get the idea. A real treat!” Clare  [Just when and where did you have this family experience Clare? – Owl]

“Dreamfields (… it sounds a bit like a festival doesn’t it? It looks a bit like one too with a few key elements missing; there’s no stage; no pumping music and definitely no crowds. “I suppose it’s a bit like the VIP chill-out area at Glastonbury,” says Lucy, one of the expert event organisers behind this pop-up glamping site. That sums it up nicely. This is a bell tent camping site with stunning sea views, a stylish tented bar for the adults and an outdoor cinema for the kids.

This is what happens when you let a bunch of experienced event organisers loose in a field. There’s festoon lighting, communal campfires, on-site catering and staff who keep everything running smoothly. These are not your average campsite wardens who’ve chosen an outdoor lifestyle but work-hungry execs from a high-end events company. When all their events were cancelled in 2020, they decided to put their skills and their kit to good use by running a pop-up glamping site. The CEO and the managing director helped pitch tents, the senior operations team welcomed guests and everyone had a good time. So good, in fact, that Dreamfields is returning for 2021 in a new and idyllic location.

This year, they are setting up their 31 bell tents on an organic farm high on a Devonshire clifftop. The location and the layout affords each tent a safe sea view. You’re a couple of fields, a footpath and a number of fences away from the cliff edge but that can’t detract from the scene that awaits every morning when you unzip the tent to receive your campsite breakfast. This is glamping for glampers; beds are made, electricity provided and breakfast is served. Over at the bar; campfires are lit, films are screened and drinks are poured.”

Owl also notes that Lympstone manor has opened five indulgent Shepherd huts – complete with outdoor hot tubs, rolltop baths and walk-in showers, but so far has been unable to find a related planning permission for these structures in the curtilage of a listed building.

NHS GP practice operator with 500,000 patients passes into hands of US health insurer

One of the UK’s biggest GP practice operators has quietly passed into the hands of the US health insurance group Centene Corporation, prompting calls for an official investigation into what campaigners claim is “privatisation of the NHS by stealth”.

Julia Kollewe 

The merger is expected to create the largest private supplier of GP services in the UK, with 58 practices covering half a million patients.

A coalition of doctors, campaigners and academics has voiced concerns in a letter sent this week to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, asking him to order an investigation by the Care Quality Commission.

Operose Health, a UK subsidiary of Centene, has recently taken over the privately owned AT Medics, which was set up in 2004 by six NHS GPs and runs 37 GP practices across 49 sites in London. Operose already operates 21 GP surgeries in England.

Objectors are concerned because they claim the change of control was approved for eight practices in the London boroughs of Camden, Islington and Haringey in a virtual meeting on 17 December that lasted less than nine minutes, during which no mention was made of Centene and not a single question was asked.

The approval was granted by the North Central London clinical commissioning group (NCL CCG), a local NHS body that purchases health services from GPs, hospitals and others using taxpayer funds.

The campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, Doctors in Unite, Allyson Pollock, a clinical professor of public health at Newcastle University, and others have written to Josephine Sauvage, the chair of NCL CCG, urging her to block the change of control at AT Medics, which has made £35m in profits over the last five years.

During the meeting on 17 December, AT Medics indicated there would be “no change to the board of directors,” according to the draft minutes of the event, which were approved last week.

However, despite this pledge, the change of control was effected when all six AT Medics directors resigned on 10 February, and three new directors were appointed, all of them also directors of Operose. The latter include Prof Nick Harding, who is Operose’s chief medical officer and a practising GP, and Samantha Jones, Operose’s chief executive and a former head of West Hertfordshire hospitals NHS trust.

The letter to Hancock said: “Whilst we imagine you will not be sympathetic to those of us who consider that US health insurers have no place in the provision of NHS services, we ask you to consider carefully the reasons for our request.

“Most of the CCGs have published nothing about this significant change, and held no meetings in public … This matter is an example of the privatisation of the NHS by stealth to which we have consistently drawn attention, and which you have, equally consistently, dismissed.”

Pollock told the Guardian: “What we’re really worried about is changes in the model of care and quality of service, especially in areas of high deprivation. Practices may employ fewer GPs – and they may bring in substitutes for GPs like pharmacists and nurses – there may be cuts in services and reduced access, for example, closures of branch surgeries.”

Operose confirmed the change of control, saying: “The care that we deliver to our patients and the services accessed through our surgeries will not change. We have followed all the required regulatory procedures, including obtaining consent from our CCGs. As a provider of NHS services, care remains free at the point of delivery. In addition, and as with all other GP services throughout the country, we will continue to be regulated and inspected by the Care Quality Commission.”

Operose said only those involved in delivering care had access to patients’ data, and that data would not be shared with with third parties unless obliged by UK law.

Liz Wise, the director of primary care and public health commissioning for the NHS in London, said: “The ownership of the holding company of AT Medics Ltd has been transferred after consent was given by the relevant commissioners. Patient Care remains unaffected by this change and patient data is protected.”

Frances O’Callaghan, North Central London CCG’s accountable officer, said there had been no legal or contractual basis for the CCG to reject the transfer of ownership, and doing so would have posed a risk to continuity of care.

“We followed a robust process to confirm that the transfer would not affect our patients, which included being assured regarding patient data protection. Twelve other London CCGs who commission AT Medics also considered and individually approved the transfer.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said the NHS had always involved a mixture of public and private provision, and it was not for sale to the private sector.

COVID-19 hotspots projected with new website

Owl has just come across this Covid-19 hotspot predictive web site produced by Imperial College. 

Exeter and to a lesser extent Mid-Devon are shown as lingering concentrations of local infection as we move into March

by Hayley Dunning, Dr Sabine L. van Elsland 03 September 2020

Screen shot

A new website uses reported cases and deaths to estimate the probability regions in England, Scotland and Wales will become COVID-19 ‘hotspots’.

The team behind the website, from Imperial College London, define a hotspot as a local authority where there are more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 of the population per week.

COVID-19 is, unfortunately, very much still with us, but we hope this will be a useful tool for local and national governments trying to bring hotspots under control. Professor Axel Gandy

Using data on daily reported cases and weekly reported deaths and mathematical modelling, the team report the probability (%) that a local authority will become a hotspot in the following week.

The site also provides estimates for each local authority in England, Scotland and Wales on whether cases are likely to be increasing or decreasing in the following week and the probability of R(t) being greater than 1 in the following week.

The reproduction number R(t) indicates the number of people each infected person will pass the virus onto. An R(t) larger than 1 indicates the outbreak is not under control and cases will continue to increase.

Current hotspots

The site will be updated daily. 

The website was produced by the Department of Mathematics in collaboration with the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling within the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis (GIDA), and Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA) at Imperial.

Lead researcher Professor Axel Gandy, from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial, said: “The model allows us to project where local hotspots of COVID-19 are likely to develop in England and Wales based on the trends that we’re seeing in those areas. COVID-19 is, unfortunately, very much still with us, but we hope this will be a useful tool for local and national governments trying to bring hotspots under control.”

Enabling swift action

The predictions assume no change in current interventions (lockdowns, school closures, and others) in a local authority beyond those already taken about a week before the end of observations. Each local authority is also treated independently of its neighbours in the modelling, i.e. the epidemic in one local authority does not affect or is not affected by the situation in any adjacent a local authority.

The team also note that an increase in cases in a local authority can be due to an increase in testing, which the model does not currently account for. The model also assumes all individuals within each local authority are equally likely to be infected, so demographic factors such as the age structure of the population are not considered.

Dr Swapnil Mishra, from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, said: “We provide weekly predictions of the evolution of COVID-19 at the local authority level in England and Wales. Our model helps to identify hotspots – probable local areas of concern. We hope that our estimates will enable swift action at the local level to control the spread of the epidemic.”

Doorstep campaigning for local elections to resume in England

Game on! – Owl

Door-to-door political campaigning will be allowed to resume in England from 8 March in the run-up to local elections in May, the government has announced.

Aubrey Allegretti

Activists will be permitted to stand on people’s doorsteps and canvass as long as they abide by the 2-metre social distancing rule.

They will not be able to enter people’s homes and should only access shared hallways in blocks of flats where “absolutely necessary”. The new advice also urges organisers to keep the number of campaigners to a minimum.

Campaign literature should be collected or dropped off without people meeting inside, and planning meetings should take place virtually.

From 29 March, when people will be allowed to gather in groups of six or two households outdoors, the same rules will apply to political campaigning.

When it comes to polling day on 6 May, the government said people must not share a car with anyone from outside their household or support bubble to be driven to vote.

Chloe Smith, the minister for the constitution, said: “Democracy should not be cancelled because of Covid. Voters appreciate being well-informed and campaigning is an important part of effective elections.”

She said the easing of restrictions would ensure free and fair elections that were also “Covid-secure”.

“I urge political campaigners to continue to show social responsibility, and for parties, agents and candidates to ensure that their campaigners understand the clear rules,” she said.

Public Health England advises campaigners to wash their hands or use hand sanitiser for at least 20 seconds on a regular basis and wear a face covering when meeting anyone they do not live with.

Given that the government expects many people to vote by post, it also encourages those who want a postal ballot to apply as early as possible to avoid a rush closer to polling day.

Elections will take place at the county, district and parish level, and mayors and police and crime commissioner will also be elected, including any polls pushed back from last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliamentary elections will also take place in Wales and Scotland on 6 May, but the devolved administrations will make their own decisions about whether restrictions should be eased to allow for political campaigning.

Devon is building 30% more houses than required, including EDDC! – CPRE

Latest government figures show Devon is building a third more houses than ‘required’.

Devon’s Local Planning Authorities – with the exception of Torbay – have over-delivered on housing for the last five years, according to the government’s own figures.

Devon CPRE’s analysis of the Housing Delivery Test: 2020 measurement shows the county as a whole has delivered 30% more new homes than it was required to over a five-year period, in effect building 6,332 more houses than it had to. The government data substantiates what we’ve been saying for years – that Devon is building far more homes than required and the countryside is being ravaged as a result.

The Housing Delivery Test is a measurement published annually by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. It compares the net homes ‘delivered’ to the homes ‘required’ to be built over the same period.

The 2020 Housing Delivery Test ‘required’ an average of 4,667 homes each year across Devon from 2017/18 to 2019/20. The number of homes ‘required’ is increasingly higher than the true number of homes needed because of the government’s aspiration to deliver 300,000 each year across England. There is no evidence that this number of homes is needed.

Analysis of the 2020 measurement reveals:

Exeter over-delivered by 45%, 25% and 90% over the past three years (average 53%); by 50% overall over the past five years (1,501 excess houses).

Plymouth, West Devon and the South Hams over-delivered by 108%, 5% and 28% over the past three years (average 44%); by 44% overall over the past five years (2,401 excess houses).

North Devon & Torridge over-delivered by 57%, 22% and 48% over the past three years (average 41%); and by 32% overall over the past five years (1,076 excess houses).

Mid Devon has over-delivered by 76%, 19% and 28% over the past three years (average 39%); by 30% overall over the past five years (473 excess houses).

East Devon has over-delivered by 37%, 5% and 28% over the past three years (average 22%); by 33% overall over the past five years (1,155 excess houses).

Teignbridge has over-delivered by 32%, 5% and -35% (under-delivery) over the past three years (average -2%), and over-delivered by 11% overall over the past five years (342 excess houses).

Devon CPRE Director Penny Mills says, “The government’s own figures vindicate what we have been saying for years. In 2018, Devon CPRE commissioned an independent report from specialists at Opinion Research Services to establish the true number of homes needed across the county. It showed that delivering 4,300 homes each year would meet all local needs, allowing for a continuation of past migration trends and a fall in average household sizes. In July 2020, a second report produced for us by ORS concluded that a total of 2.3 million homes are needed nationally over the decade 2020-30 to meet household growth and provide for past under-supply, an average of 230,000 each year, NOT the 300,000 which the government claim.”

Lets hope our local planning authorities, their officers and elected councillors will now start to put our countryside and green spaces first, before permitting any more unnecessary new housing developments.

Managing flood risk – Public Accounts Committee

“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Department) and the Agency have not done enough to determine whether all areas of England are getting a fair share of flood defence investment and that households are resilient to floods.”


Flooding puts people’s well-being and livelihoods at risk and can impact on food production and destroy natural habitats. More extreme weather, as a result of climate change, and increased housing development will increase flood risks. The impacts of climate change can already be seen through the increasing strain on existing flood defences. Only half of the defences damaged in the 2019–20 winter floods have had their standard of protection restored. Despite the obvious risks, the Environment Agency (the Agency) thinks there could still be a large increase in the number of houses built on flood plains over the next 50 years.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Department) and the Agency have not done enough to determine whether all areas of England are getting a fair share of flood defence investment and that households are resilient to floods. There has been a significant decline in the proportion of flood investment going to deprived areas since 2014 and there is wide variation in the level of flood defence investment per property at risk across regions. Neither the Department nor the Agency understand enough about the reasons for these investment patterns. We are not convinced that the Department has yet done enough to address the difficulties those recently flooded have in getting affordable insurance, or to remove the obstacles for households to take up individual flood resilience measures. Reforms to the planning system need to ensure that the risks of building in areas liable to flooding are fully mitigated.

The Agency is set to achieve its target to better protect 300,000 homes through its capital investment programme on time and budget, which is a significant achievement. However, the department should recognise that with new build on the flood plain and increased vulnerability to existing properties from climate change the net figure of homes that are better protected is actually less than 300,000. With the level of investment due to increase significantly over the next six years, the Department needs to do more to scrutinise and challenge the Agency’s performance. It also needs to have a better understanding of whether funding to each local authority matches the level of flood risk it faces. We are also concerned to learn that the current indicators used to monitor national flood risk do not cover important elements such as risks to agricultural land and infrastructure.

Budleigh Salterton confirmed as living “Dinosaur” capital of Jurassic Coast

Four of the top five towns in England with the largest population of the elderley are in Devon, new ONS data reveals with Budleigh ahead of Seaton and Sidmouth.

Dominic Kureen [and Western Morning News]

2-2 minutes

New Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures have revealed the towns in England with the highest proportion of over-65 populations, with Freshwater featuring in the top ten.

The 65+ demographic numbers in England’s towns have risen by nearly a third in the last two decades, while in smaller, non-coastal towns the older population has increased by over 40%.

Experts at the Centre for Ageing Better say more needs to be done across society to respond to the population age shift and ensure local places are able to support their residents to age healthily and enjoy later life.

Natalie Turner, head of localities at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “There’s been a huge change in the population makeup of our towns in the last two decades when it comes to age.

“With many of us set to live years longer than our parents or grandparents, it’s crucial that the places we live are able to help us to stay healthy and independent as we age – from the homes we live in, to the streets and communities around us.”

Top-10 English towns with greatest % of people aged over 65

1. Budleigh Salterton, Devon — 45%

2. Hunstanton, Norfolk — 44%

3. Seaton, East Devon — 43%

4. Sidmouth, Devon — 43%

5. St Leonards, Devon — 42%

6. Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire — 42%

7. Sheringham, Norfolk — 40%

8. Freshwater, Isle of Wight — 40%

9. Ferndown, Dorset — 39%

10. Preesall, Lancashire — 38%

‘Eat Devon fish’ – councillor urges public to support fishermen after impact of Brexit and Covid

‘Eat Devon fish’ – councillor urges public to support fishermen after impact of Brexit and Covid

Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporter 

The impact of Brexit on Devon’s fishing industry won’t be fully seen until the restrictions associated with the response to the coronavirus pandemic are relaxed, according to a report to the county council.

But one councillor has said Brexit has been ‘a disaster’ for the industry, and said he wants the council to join local fishermen in calling on the Government to address the problems caused by new export rules, a lack of clarity over fishing quotas, and increased red tape.

The full council heard a report by Cllr Rufus Gilbert last Thursday, in which he said there were potential economic impacts and also opportunities for Devon as a result of the Brexit trade deal and changes to the fishing quota and catch regimes.

But Cllr Gilbert, the Conservative cabinet member for economy and skills, said it was too soon to ascertain the scale of the impact upon the sector and whether impacts are temporary, or likely to be longer lasting.

And he added that it was apparent that the fishing and fish processing sectors in the UK and EU have been seriously impacted by the effects of the Covid pandemic, and it was difficult to unpack the impacts upon the sector from post-Brexit trade friction and the very far-reaching drop-off in demand due to the pandemic.

Cllr Gilbert said that the easiest thing people could do now was to ‘eat Devon’s fish’, adding: “I urge everyone to help the fisherman by eating their fish.”

How has Brexit affected Devon’s fishermen?

In his report, he added: “In the immediate period after December 31, port operations seem to be working more smoothly at Channel ports after the Covid-19 disruption from December 23. There is however some initial disruption to some goods heading to Northern Ireland and the continent as a result of new paperwork and local reports of difficulties exporting some fish and shellfish due to delays in animal health regulations being implemented.

“UK fisheries products now face customs and SPS health checks upon EU entry. Post Brexit customs checks have since January 2021 been holding up seafood exports, as entire trailers need to be checked, rather than samples according to the Scottish Seafood Association. In addition, multiple technical issues such as bar codes not being recognised by border control as well as IT issues have prevented loads leaving French ports in teething troubles of the new system.

“It has emerged since the UK fully left the EU and the Brexit transition period that third countries, such as the UK, have to purify their shellfish catch domestically before it is sanctioned for export, despite no change to UK standards, or water quality subsequent to 31st December 2020. The process adds significant costs and delays, with some British businesses impacted warning that this will cause issues of viability.”

Cllr Gilbert added: “During 2020 and in 2021 to date, demand for fish has fluctuated significantly and is generally down due to the pandemic impacts on closed fish and chip shops and restaurants, both in the UK and in other countries. As and when full re-openings take place demand is likely to change and potentially increase, and the fishing industry is operating at approximately 15 per cent of normal because of weather, time of year, Covid and the obvious hurdles of additional excess paperwork not being fully understood.

“There are potential economic impacts and also opportunities for Devon from the current trade friction and changes to the fishing quota and catch regimes. We are as yet unable to ascertain the scale of impact upon the sector and whether impacts are temporary, or likely to be longer lasting, including any potential future uptick in UK demand and changes in trends towards the consumption of different species.

“Most importantly it is, however, apparent that the fishing and fish processing sectors in the UK and EU have been seriously impacted by the effects of the Covid pandemic and associated lockdowns upon the restaurant, hotel and catering trade and knock-on demand for fish. It is as yet difficult to unpack the impacts upon the sector from post-Brexit trade friction and the very far-reaching drop-off in demand due to the pandemic.”

‘A lot of fishing boats aren’t going out’

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, had asked for the report on the effects of the new EU trade deal on Devon’s fishing industry.

He said: “It was a question that we needed to ask, but I am taken aback by the deal and how affected the fishing industry has been by the export rules and quotas and red tape.

“I hope it can be resolved quickly as lots of fishing boats aren’t going out at the moment, and unless we get the exports done correctly, once we are out of the pandemic, we won’t be able to take advantage of them.”

He added: “The poor deal Brexit has been a disaster for our fishing industry, and all the people, businesses, and communities that rely upon it. I want Devon County Council to join with local fishing industry leaders in calling on the government to address the growing crisis in the fishing sector due to complicated new export rules, a lack of clarity about fishing quotas, and an increase in red tape.

“Post-Brexit export arrangements have meant a dramatic increase in the amount of paperwork needed before Devon seafood can be exported into the EU. Fishing industry leaders say that these new regulations are costing more money and causing shipments to be delayed or even cancelled, putting significant pressure on an already struggling sector.

“These changes are affecting all aspects of Devon’s fishing industry but are being felt most acutely by our award winning shellfish producers. That’s why we are calling on the government to step in now and provide more additional support. The fishing industry plays a vital role in our economy in Devon and immediate action is needed to secure its long-term future.”


Potential boost for Sidmouth sea defences after change to funding eligibility

A ‘bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defence scheme is back on the table after changes to the eligibility for funding from various bodies including the Environment Agency.

Philippa Davies

East Devon District Council revealed the news in a public meeting with the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group on Thursday, February 25.

It means Sidmouth could get the vital coastal defences it needs, better protecting the town from major storms and the East Beach cliffs from further erosion.

The advisory group voted overwhelmingly in favour of pausing the current working draft option to look again at alternatives that were previously felt to be unaffordable.

An urgent report is now set to go before the district council’s Cabinet asking for councillors to decide whether they want to investigate options previously dismissed because of insufficient funding, including but not limited to offshore rock islands.

What happens now?

The current preferred option at Sidmouth is to invest around £9million in a coastal defence scheme which would involve beach replenishment, periodic beach recycling, a new rock groyne on East Beach and modifications to the River Sid training wall.

It would also include raising the height of the splash wall along the seafront slightly and topping it up with temporary storm barriers or strong glass panels when needed.

If the council’s Cabinet agrees to investigate and test the feasibility of other options, it will take up to six months for engineers and specialist consultants to review and assess the alternatives.

Following the studies and investigations, a report would then be presented to the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group. Its members would be asked to recommend what the town would prefer to do – whether that would be to go ahead with the original preferred option or use the additional funding on a different option which may be more beneficial to Sidmouth’s coastal defences.

The council’s Cabinet will make the final decision on which option goes ahead.

What would the timescale be?

Time is an important factor. If the current preferred option gets the green light, construction could start within two years. There would also be a potential for the new extra funding to be used for future maintenance, ensuring the beach can be recycled/recharged.

However if a different and more expensive option is chosen, construction could take around four years to start.

The Cabinet will be recommended to agree that, if the chosen option incurs further delays to the project, a temporary structure could be placed at the base of the cliffs, to help protect the River Sid wall, low-lying properties in the town and the properties above Sidmouth’s eroding cliffs.

Councillor Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for the coast, country and environment, said: “As the East Devon councillor responsible for coastal protection, I would like to thank the advisory group for their contributions and assistance in providing the guidance and help on how we are to proceed with the scheme to protect Sidmouth seafront and East Beach.

“The scheme that was originally underfunded and unpopular has now been provided with extra funding. This will enable an improved design that may overcome the more controversial elements of scheme.

“Although the beach and the cliffs are protected as a World Heritage site of the Jurassic Coast, it is hoped temporary time-limited permission will be able to satisfy the regulations and conditions of the designated site, so we are able to progress work not otherwise possible with a permanent scheme.

“Once the final scheme is finally approved the stone used in the temporary revetment could then be used elsewhere within the scheme.”