New £14m Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme takes major step forward 

Following a meeting of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, on Monday 25 October, Owl became aware of “mixed messages” in reports of what was decided.

An amended EDDC press release seems to be a reasonable record of the outcome of the meeting which Owl understands now corresponds with Vision Group for Sidmouth’s recollection.

AMENDED release: New £14m Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme takes major step forward – East Devon

The general outline for the new outline: Dark blue line – Splash wall to be raised along the majority of the Esplanade by approximately 10cm. Light blue line – this section will still have to be raised to about one metre. Yellow line – This is where the beach with be replenished with new beach material. Red circle – General locations of where the additional offshore island(s) can go. Green line – Where the rock groyne will be located.

A new and improved multi-million Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme (BMS) could eliminate the need for a controversial raised splash wall on the seafront.

And, it would help to future proof the town against increased storminess due to climate change for decades to come.

The news comes following a meeting of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, on Monday 25 October, which approved a new outline scheme costing up to £14million – providing the vital sea defences and coast protection the town needs, thereby better protecting the Esplanade and the town’s crumbling cliffs above East Beach.

An increase in DEFRA funding has allowed the group to spend the past six months to consider options previously dismissed because of a lack of funding.

The new funding has meant the group could look at new options that eliminate the need for a one-metre high splash wall to replace the current dwarf wall along the Esplanade, which some feared would be an eyesore and divide the town from the sea.

In the last six months, consultants Royal Haskoning DVH has looked at various options to see what is now feasible with the new funding.

This has included adding a further rock island or islands similar to the two already near the seafront, which were part of a short-list of options considered by residents in public consultations in 2016.

The current islands have provided good protection from westerly storms and have also created a large pebble beach at Clifton, which protects the west of the town. As a bonus a sandy beach has also appeared.

Having learnt from how well they work, the new outline scheme includes one, or possibly two extra rock islands, to the east of the current rock groynes – this would reduce the wave action during storms and help to protect the beaches. There will be further work to look at this in the detailed design stage.

On East Beach, the best option for the moment, is to build a large rock groyne and to recharge the beach – which is the process of repleshing it with pebbles to recreate a beach which has been lost.

Previous schemes:

Prior to EDDC taking on this challenging project, residents had asked for a rock revetment scheme to protect East Cliff. However, following Natural England’s concerns about the effects of a revetment on the World Heritage Site these earlier schemes were abandoned.

Next steps:

Once the outline scheme has been approved by EDDC’s Cabinet an ‘outline business case’ will be prepared and endorsed by the advisory group. It will then be submitted to the Environment Agency for the approval for the funds to be released. The detailed design stage can then begin and will include more studies and modelling – as part of this phase EDDC intend to hold public exhibitions to gain feedback on the designs. It is expected that some changes will be made to the current outline proposal at that stage. If the changes are substantial, the scheme may have to go through a ‘technical review’ before the finalised designs are put forward for planning permission. At this stage, further consultations with the public and official bodies will be carried out.

EDDC Councillor Geoff Jung, chair of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, said:

I am really pleased that the advisory group today supported the recommendation to move onto the next stage for this important and critical project. This scheme has been very challenging for many years and agreeing to move on to the next stage is brilliant news.

We are more aware now, than ever before, of the  effects of climate change on the sea and weather and how it could have serious detrimental consequences on Sidmouth, but this scheme is designed to help future-proof Sidmouth and its community by protecting properties and residents of Sidmouth, to retain its character and unique charm for the next 100 years.

I would like to personally thank the officers, consultants, and advisory group members for their diligence and hours of work to finally move on to the next stage.

COVID: increased restrictions in the UK look inevitable as winter arrives

COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths have been rising in the UK, pressurising a health service that’s already working hard to treat the backlog of non-COVID patients that have accumulated since March 2020.

Peter Sivey 

While some modellers suggest that cases have peaked and are now set to fall, the overall number of new infections isn’t the only trend to pay attention to. More cases in older age groups and rising hospitalisations are causes for concern, with both possibly driven by two other worrying trends: waning immunity and the vaccine booster programme rolling out too slowly.

The government is taking notice, holding a COVID press conference in response to the recent rise in cases, but is yet to change course. Its strategy for controlling COVID currently still depends mainly on vaccination.

It is resisting calls for the stricter “plan B” control measures, outlined in its COVID winter plan, to be implemented now. These measures include, in certain situations, introducing vaccine certificates and reintroducing mandatory face coverings, together with suggesting that people work from home.

But looking closely at the current data, the plan B measures – or even other, more effective steps – seem inevitable in the coming weeks and months.

Vulnerable people are getting COVID

In the second half of October, reported new cases of COVID surpassed 50,000 a day for the first time since July. However, the current situation is substantially more concerning than in July. Back then, cases were only high in the young. Now cases have risen substantially in the older half of the population.

The case rate among the over-60s is the highest it’s been since late January. We know this is especially important, because despite making up less than a quarter of the population, the over-60s make up more than half of all COVID hospital admissions. Rising cases in this age group disproportionately leads to people getting severely ill with COVID and hospitals coming under pressure.

COVID cases in England in people aged over 60, October 2020-October 2021. Author provided

The number of COVID patients in hospital in England reached 6,801 on October 25, the highest figure since mid-March. It’s worth noting that a year ago in October 2020, the government called a national lockdown when hospital occupancy reached approximately 10,000. At the current trajectory, it seems likely we’ll reach this milestone sooner or later this winter. If we’re to avoid it, we don’t just need cases to come down, but cases in the older age groups to fall in particular.

Patients in hospital with COVID in England, October 2020-October 2021. Author provided

Boosters, passports – and more?

Due to vaccination, we won’t see hospital occupancy shoot up as rapidly as it did in October 2020. So even if we do reach 10,000 COVID patients in hospital, a lockdown is unlikely. Admissions increasing more slowly means there’s far less risk of the NHS suddenly becoming overwhelmed, which is what in the past necessitated drastic lockdown measures being introduced. However, it is likely we will see strain on the NHS rise to a level that justifies more action.

Pressures on the NHS are already very serious, especially in emergency care, where A&E waiting times are the worst since records began. Around 25% of people attending A&E aren’t seen within the target time of four hours, and people are routinely waiting 45 minutes for an emergency ambulance. This pressure is not primarily due to COVID, but the return of normal levels of attendance at A&E, together with increased severity of patients, staffing issues and infection control measures making life harder in A&E departments.

The government therefore is right to be pursuing a policy of booster vaccinations for over-50s. Older groups in the population are highly vaccinated – over 90% of 60- to 69-year-olds are double vaccinated and over 95% of over-70s – but the fact that we’re seeing increased cases and hospitalisations in this older cohort suggests vaccine-based immunity is waning. Emerging research also suggests this is the case (though its findings still need to be formally reviewed by other scientists).

Prompt deployment of these extra vaccines should reduce cases and hospitalisations substantially. Data released by Pfizer – whose vaccine is the booster of choice in the UK – suggests that a third dose restores immunity to highly protective levels (though these findings are also still awaiting review).

The problem is that the booster programme appears to be behind schedule in getting third doses to people as they become eligible six months after their second. We also don’t know if the take-up of boosters will be as high as for the initial two doses. If it’s not, many people may end up vulnerable to hospitalisation and death from COVID this winter.

The health secretary, Sajid Javid, has conceded that the government’s plan B may be necessary if pressures on the NHS become unsustainable, but the components of this plan seem quite weak compared to restrictions that were used earlier this year. Would these measures bring down transmission and reduce cases – and therefore hospitalisations – in older, more vulnerable age groups? Possibly not. The Cabinet Office’s COVID-19 Taskforce estimates that the impact of these measures on transmission might only be “moderate”.

Some experts have pointed to less invasive measures that could also be introduced. Improving the targeting of testing through revising the list of symptoms that allow people to book a PCR test, or even dropping large-scale PCR testing in favour of cheaper rapid lateral flow tests, might make finding and isolating cases quicker. However, such changes remain unlikely for now. This means plan B, if implemented, may struggle to achieve its goals of relieving pressure on the NHS.

Nevertheless, further measures to limit the spread of the virus, such as those in plan B, seem inevitable unless progress can be made on reducing cases in older age groups. If cases among these groups remain high, more drastic restrictions – such as imposing social distancing in hospitality venues at some point this winter – remain a strong possibility.

Exmouth’s lifeboat ramp to be fixed

Owl thought that the move of the Lifeboat station in 2009 from the old site next to the “Ocean” was to solve the problem of launching into the sea! It required realignment of the road etc. etc.

Is this an example of poor decision making or the just “wrong sort of erosion”?

Coastal erosion means it doesn’t reach beach

Sections of Exmouth beach will be closed next month as the RNLI proceeds with long-awaited improvements to its launching ramp.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Exmouth lifeboat station (courtesy: Google Maps)

In November the charity will build a 10-metre extension to the ramp from the lifeboat station to improve access to the sea. Although it’s only around 12 years old, the current ramp no longer reachers the sand because of erosion, meaning there’s a drop at the end. 

It’s not clear whether Exmouth’s all-weather lifeboat has been able recently to use the boathouse, which was built in 2009 at a cost of £1.75 million. Shortly after opening, the ramp had to close again because of problems with its construction. Once that issue was fixed, the RNLI housed both an inshore lifeboat and the larger ‘D’ class vessel.

Half of the ramp’s new extension will be buried in the beach to ensure against further erosion and sand loss. It should make it easier and safer to get the lifeboats in and out of the water, whatever the conditions.

Planning for the RNLI ramp extension at Exmouth Beach. The public won\’t be able to access the areas marked by red lines

The construction work will effectively close sections of the beach around the lifeboat station for the majority of the tide. 

The RNLI has been waiting a long time to fix the issue. Planning permission for the ramp extension was granted by East Devon District Council in late 2018 after erosion forced the ramp to be temporarily made the ramp unusable for lifeboats.

In addition to the extension, the lifesaving charity will also repair a piece of the sea wall that recently snapped off.  They are worried the damaged concrete could be a danger if thrown around in the sea in a storm or heavy seas. 

They will remove the broken concrete and repair the damaged structure, adding extra depth to the concrete defence so that water doesn’t scour the wall beneath the promenade.

Speaking at East Devon District Council’s Exmouth beach management plan steering group, Max Underhill, an estate engineer for the RNLI, said: “This wasn’t originally part of our beach work, but it’s something we don’t really want to leave.”

An officer report written around the time planning permission was granted states the ramp extension works could take three to six months.

Concrete broken away from the sea wall near Exmouth’s lifeboat station (courtesy: East Devon District Council)

No more development along River Camel without pollution mitigation

Seems an appropriate post following a night of heavy rainfall and flood alerts on all East Devon rivers.

Does Owl need to spell out where sewers discharge when this happens? 

High phosphate levels in Cornwall’s River Camel being monitored

Phosphate levels in a river in Cornwall are being monitored after recent high readings, Cornwall Council says.

The authority said it was using a chemical calculator to measure and monitor levels in the River Camel after an alert by Natural England.

The move has resulted in all planning and development proposals in the area being put on hold, the council said. 

The main source of phosphates was agriculture, with some coming via sewage from homes and other developments that generated waste water, it added. 

The River Camel is part of a Special Area of Conservation.

High levels of phosphates in land can encourage weeds and choke rivers.

Phosphate neutrality

The council said it was notified by Natural England “that the area was at risk from adverse effects due to excessive phosphates and that further development could exacerbate this unless mitigation measures were put in place”.

It said the pause in planning work in the area had primarily impacted housing applications.

But some commercial and agricultural development had also been impacted, and it “could also affect other schemes”, the authority added .

It said it had introduced a phosphate calculator, external to allow planning applicants to calculate whether their development would be phosphate-neutral as a “first step” in keeping levels under control.

But it said: “Until longer-term solutions are found, the council will only be able to approve applications that can show that they meet this [phosphate-neutral] requirement, or can propose mitigation measures to the same effect.”

The council said it was working with Natural England, the Environment Agency and South West Water “to find a solution as quickly as possible”.