Sidmouth no closer to getting protection for crumbling cliffs

Sidmouth remains in limbo as to when it the town will eventually get new and improved vital coastal defences – but not for another two years at least. Protection is needed for the East Devon seaside town to stop the crumbling cliffs from falling into the sea.

Will the cliffs fall victim to austerity 2.0? – Owl

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Over the last several years, cliff falls have been a regular occurrence. Time and time again, landslides have taken place, seeing large red dust clouds engulf part of the cliffs and the beach – including in August, when four cliff falls happened in the space of a day.

It was hoped that by the end of 2022, the funding case for approval for the latest iteration of the scheme would have been granted by the Environment Agency. This however is yet to have happened – putting the latest anticipated timeline in doubt. No details as to how long, or the reasons for the delay, are known at this stage.

Already the costs of the vital sea defences to save Sidmouth’s crumbling coastline and protect the Esplanade have gone up by £5million in the past year, taking the estimated costs to a total of £19million. The Sidmouth and East Beach Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group have previously approved ‘bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defences.

In 2018, plans for 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 were agreed. They would also include raising the height of the splash wall along the seafront slightly, and then topping it up with temporary storm barriers or strong glass panels when needed.

But in 2021, extra funding for the scheme is available, alternative schemes that had been ruled out due to the cost could be made on the table. This meant that options, such as additional offshore breakwater, which had previously been discussed and would have presented a more robust solution technically, were ruled out on financial grounds.

It meant that the council was able to start work on plans for a new ‘hybrid option’ to replace the former 2018 ‘preferred option’. This option includes at least one additional rock island, which may reduce the need to raise the splash wall along The Esplanade and could lower the long-term costs of recharging the beach with new material, which will be needed in the future. The hybrid option still includes a 120m rock-groyne at East Beach and requires a beach recharge on both East Beach and the town beach.

An outline business case was prepared for the Sidmouth Beach Management Scheme (BMS) in the summer for readying it for submission to the Environment Agency (EA) for funding. That however has yet to happen – putting the timeline of the scheme in doubt.

To allow the scheme to progress, then authority will submit a report to EDDC’s cabinet and full council, seeking approval for the additional funds from the capital budget as a temporary loan until further money can be secured from elsewhere.

The previously anticipated timeline:

  • Late summer 2022 – Submit the funding case for approval to EA, which if successful, secures the funding in principle. Approval should be granted by autumn 2022.
  • Late autumn 2022 – Work on the scope of the detailed design stage with a sub group made from members of the Sidmouth and East Beach BMP Project Advisory Group. They will help represent Sidmouth residents, providing guidance on what the town needs from the scheme, what it looks like, how it will work and how it will be designed and built. This will include discussions on the number and position of additional rock breakwaters.
  • Early 2023 – Finalise the scope for the detailed design.
  • Followed by – Appointing an engineering consultant to manage the detailed design process and prepare for construction.
  • Summer 2023 – autumn 2024 – Public consultation on the detailed design and propose a planning application.
  • Autumn 2024 – Early 2025 – Appoint a contractor to build the scheme.
  • Spring 2025 – Start construction.

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