Under threat cliffs ‘saved’ as huge new plan agreed

Plans to protect Sidmouth’s cliffs and coast from collapse have been agreed. Protection is needed for the East Devon seaside town to stop the crumbling cliffs from falling into the sea.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

An East Devon District Council advisory group has agreed to a plan which will lead to 113 residential and 70 commercial properties being better protected from increased flood and erosion risk. The scheme includes constructing a breakwater, improving the slipway and a beach ramp to be built.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the Advisory Group for the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan agreed to a changed scheme. The plans aim to reduce the impact and frequency of the cliff falls which have been a regular occurrence, with homes on Cliff Road slowly losing their gardens to the elements.

The scheme includes:

· On the Main Beach the construction of an offshore breakwaters/island similar to the 2 existing breakwaters, plus a “beach recharge”. Existing beach levels will be increased using similar material dredged from offshore.

· On the Esplanade and the Ham area, at the eastern end there will be a replacement splash-wall on the landward side of the existing road near the lifeboat station. West of that the existing splash way will be replaced with better foundations, and the wall rebuilt to approximately the existing height (but this will be reviewed in the detailed design).

· The far eastern end of the Ham and river training wall will have remedial works carried out and an improved larger slipway, specifically to provide speedier lifeboat launching.

· On East Beach there will be the construction of a 120m long “super groyne” and substantial beach recharge, again using beach material dredged from offshore.

· It was also agreed that a proposal for a beach ramp at Chit Rocks will be incorporated into the Beach Management Scheme. This ramp will provide easy access for families with young children and wheelchair access to the beach.

The key improvements on the previous design will be:

· A further rock island parallel to the existing beach which will provide in time additional extra sandy beach area at low tide similar to the changes now experienced between the existing islands and the pebble beach.

· The extra island will eliminate the need to heighten the splash wall along the seafront behind the island for the short to medium term and therefore maintain the existing sea views from existing viewpoints.

· Reduce the requirement to recharge and recycle the beach with extra material in the future, which will reduce future maintenance costs and reduce our carbon footprint.

In the 2017 public consultation it was found that an extra set of islands similar to the 2 islands already built in 1994 were the most popular of the options. That was because the existing islands provided good protection from westerly storms and also created a large pebble amenity beach at Clifton, which also protects the west of the town.

Unfortunately, the previous funding then available excluded the island scheme progressing and therefore the option of increasing the height of the splash wall was agreed, although most unpopular.

Now four years on, with extra funding obtained and further engineering studies, it has shown that a new “Option 6” scheme is achievable. This proposes a single rock island with a new super rock groyne on East Beach placed a short distance from the cliff face and projecting out to sea. Extra beach material is proposed to be brought in and only minimal changes to the splash wall are proposed.

The engineered island and super groyne and increased beach material will provide the required protection to the town and reduce the effect of sea erosion to East Cliffs.

EDDC Councillor Geoff Jung, chair of the Sidmouth Beach Management Advisory Group, said: “I am really pleased that the group has supported the recommendation to move onto the next stage for this important and critical project. For the last 4 years I have been the Councillor overseeing this project and was told at the very beginning it was a challenge!

“It certainly has been a challenge with the funding complexities, Covid lockdowns, escalating material costs and now the dramatic fuel costs rise, we are now finally providing Sidmouth and East Beach the protection they vitally need.

“Climate change”, and “Global Warming” was hardly a consideration when the earlier schemes were being considered in the 1990s. However, we now understand that the effects of the sea and weather will have serious detrimental consequences on the town of Sidmouth, but this plan is designed to protect properties and residents, to retain its character and unique charm for the next 100 years.

“I would like to personally thank the officers, consultants, and group members for their diligence and hours of hard work to finally move on to the detailed design stage, at which time the number and orientation of the new breakwaters will be optimised for effectiveness and visual impact.”

These changes to the scheme have been made possible by changes in the UK Government funding calculator, plus extra contributions from the town, District, County Councils, and other Government Agencies. However, there remains an estimated funding gap of £1.75m which is being underwritten by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to enable the project to progress these important works without delay.

Future Timeline

· 2023 March – Submit OBC to Environment Agency for Assurance

· 2023 June – Tender Consultant for Detailed design phase

· 2023 September – Appoint Consultant

· 2023 October/2024 August – Commence Detailed Design Stage

· 2024 August – Tender Contractor

· 2024 August/2024 November – Planning Process

· 2024 October – Award Contractor

· 2025 May – Construction Commence

· 2026 October – Construction Complete

· 2026 October – Ready for service

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