Scale of funding is a problem for Sidmouth BMP’s Option 4, leaving Option 1 as the most realistic choice, but will still require high level of partnership funding and local contributions

The Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan (BMP) project Steering Group met yesterday at Knowle, Sidmouth  (Wednesday 7 August) to discuss the next stage in the BMP process, including one of the most important issues of the project - partnership funding requirements for the BMP. At the meeting, the results of the public consultation for the shortlisted options, recently conducted by East Devon District Council, were given to the Steering Group, together with a presentation of the shortlist options appraisal by CH2M, the council’s coastal flood and erosion risk management consultants.

Shortlist options appraisal

Ch2M have concluded that Option 4 (or a variation of it) would be the technically and environmentally preferred option. However, this option has the worst economic case and economically it would be preferable to upgrade the western wall of the River Sid sooner, rather than use breakwaters to reduce erosion on East Beach.

There are also doubts as to whether an arrangement of more publically acceptable breakwaters, for example more angled or smaller breakwaters, would provide the standard of protection required, particularly in South Easterly storms when the beaches at East Beach and Port Royal could be reduced, leaving the town vulnerable to flooding and erosion.

Some members of the Steering Group suggested that the cost of Option 4 could be reduced through further modelling and refinement with smaller submerged or semi submerged offshore reefs. The project team explained that it would be unlikely that the magnitude of the costs of Option 4 (with a potential £11.1 m partnership funding shortfall) could be reduced so much as to alter the recommendations made within the BMP.

Therefore it has been concluded that Option 1 - to repair and shorten the length of both the current freestanding section of the training wall and East Pier, and to construct one short/low level rock groyne to the east of the River Sid, to aid retention of a healthy beach as it transitions, should progress to outline design unless significantly more partnership funding can be found.

This option will still require a high level of partnership funding (£2.3M) in order to proceed and will necessitate significant contributions from local residents and businesses who stand to benefit either directly or indirectly from beach management in Sidmouth.

The Steering Group raised concerns whether Option 1 would be acceptable to the various environmental bodies such as Natural England and the AONB and the project team explained that further meetings are planned in September to ensure that the works programme going forwards includes the evidence the various regulators will require to grant permission.

Funding requirements

Partnership funding is a key factor in the successful delivery of a beach management scheme for Sidmouth, where a project is eligible for at least some funding from Government based on the benefits being delivered in each case. This avoids the previous situation where nationally large numbers of applications for this funding led to an increase in the threshold for funding, and where schemes such as Sidmouth would have received no Government funding at all.

Due to Sidmouth’s lack of deprivation and relatively small number of properties requiring flood protection, the town is only likely to be entitled to between £5m and £6.75m (which leaves a significant shortfall), so a higher level of partnership funding is required. Unless partnership funding can be secured, then government funding will not be made available for a beach management scheme in Sidmouth.

Given the scale of partnership funding required (£11.1M) for Option 4, neither the Environment Agency (EA) nor East Devon District Council consider this option affordable, and therefore the EA would not approve further work to progress Option 4. For example, if the funding required for this option were to be provided by East Devon through the public works loan board, this would add around 7% to council tax across the whole of the East Devon district.

The council has done some initial work looking at other external funding sources (such as grants) and considers it unlikely that the cost of Option 4 can be met through other sources. To provide further confidence in the level of funding available for any of the options, it was suggested by East Devon and agreed by the BMP Steering Group that a sub-group is formed specifically to explore funding over the next six months. The Environment Agency has offered to support this through their community funding team, and representatives will be invited from Sidmouth Town Council, Devon County Council, Cliff Road Action Group, Sid Vale Association and Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce to sit on the sub-group.

The EA and East Devon explained that it would be inappropriate to pause work on the beach management scheme while funding is explored further. The Steering Group were supportive of this, and reluctant for the BMP or a beach management scheme to incur further delay, and agreed that this should progress in parallel with the completion of the BMP.

 Moving forwards

CH2M aims to complete the reporting for Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan in the Autumn, which will recommend that Option 1 for a beach management scheme is taken forwards, unless the additional funding can be secured that would make Option 4 affordable.

Commenting on the work outlined in the meeting, Councillor Andrew Moulding, Chairman of the Steering Group, said:

It is vital that we maintain momentum with this crucial project. The BMP is due to be completed this Autumn and we are having ongoing discussions with the East Devon AONB, Jurassic Coast Team, Environment Agency and Natural England, to ensure that the forward works programme, which  will be detailed within the BMP, provides sufficient evidence to enable the scheme to ultimately gain the relevant permissions.

We are delighted that the local community have committed to working with East Devon and the Environment Agency to look at funding, which is crucial to ensure the ongoing protection of Sidmouth.