Quest for partnership funding to enable beach management scheme for Sidmouth to move forwards remains number one priority for district council

Members of the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan Steering Group received an update from East Devon District Council’s project consultants Royal HaskoningDHV on the progress to date of the town’s beach management scheme at a meeting on Wednesday 10 January 2018. The scheme aims to maintain a healthy beach across Sidmouth Beach and East Beach, in order to reduce the rate of erosion to the East of the town and lower the risk of flooding to Sidmouth’s residents and businesses in the Town.

Consisting of representatives from various community organisations, and statutory bodies, the steering group was briefed about the extensive calculations that Royal HaskoningDHV has undertaken to measure extreme coastal conditions.

This includes computer modelling waves reaching the town’s beaches and the resulting flood risk of those waves hitting and overtopping the seawall at the rear of the beach and along the River Sid. Royal HaskoningDHV demonstrated that when the beach is lower and waves hit the seawall with more force, a greater volume of water flows inland towards lower lying properties.

Similarly, low beach levels on East Beach offer limited protection to the toe of the cliffs. By maintaining a healthier beach, the rate of erosion is slowed and the rate at which the defences along the River Sid become exposed to waves from the South East is reduced, thereby ensuring that the town is better protected in the future.

The computer modelling will be used to update the number of residential properties that will be protected by the new scheme and to estimate the damage to property/the town’s economy, which will allow East Devon to justify DEFRA providing an estimated grant of £5.7 million for the scheme. The government grant is calculated on a risks and benefits formula and the council is trying to ensure that all the assets that are at risk of flooding and erosion (if nothing is done to protect them), are included. However, under current funding rules, the scheme will also require partnership funding of £3.3 million (including future maintenance costs), which will have to be secured before the scheme can progress beyond the outline design stage.

East Devon has allocated a further £300,000 towards the future scheme costs, however it would put an unacceptable burden on Council tax payers across the district to provide the remainder of the £3.3 million funding alone. Sidmouth BMP’s £300,000 is included in the Capital programme draft budget, which will be discussed at the next joint Overview and Scrutiny budget meeting on 17 January 2018. It will then go before Cabinet again on 7 February, before a final decision is made at full Council on 28 February.

The design and modelling work will make it clearer what the costs are prior to the tender process, although the early indications from Royal HaskoningDHV’s work confirm that CH2M’s estimates are accurate.

So in order to help the scheme move beyond summer 2018, when the Outline Business Case (OBC) is expected to be completed, East Devon will shortly be writing to all the residents, businesses and infrastructure owners who will benefit from the scheme. For example, this could be Sidmouth businesses who profit from tourism in the town, or residents who would be better protected from flood or erosion.

Over the next six months, Royal HaskoningDHV will be progressing the outline design for the scheme, alongside the Environmental Impact Assessment. Computer modelling of the movement of shingle on the beach has also been developed, which will help test and refine changes to existing shoreline structures, such as groynes.

In view of East Beach’s internationally/nationally protected status and its background of unsuccessful applications for coastal protection works, the Environmental Impact Assessment will play a key role in ensuring that any proposed works can be carried out.

Councillor Phil Twiss, Chairman of the Steering Group, said:

“It’s good to see that such positive progress has been made towards the completion of this stage of the scheme and it is reassuring to note that Royal HaskoningDHV’s work has confirmed that the early estimates calculated by CH2M are accurate. Sidmouth is a beautiful coastal town, which benefits enormously from the beach both in terms of amenity and protection, so I hope that the local community can step up to the challenge of helping fund the works required to maintain that protection for current and future generations. It is critical that we can provide reasonable assurance to DEFRA of securing the necessary partnership funding to finance the scheme, in order that the Government grant of around £5.7 million can be realised.”

Commenting on the meeting, Alexander Lee, Engineering Project Manager, Royal HaskoningDHV, said:

“Our work at Sidmouth has been progressing well and we are aiming to complete the business case this summer. In 2017 we focussed on building on the existing BMP work via collecting additional data, and developing numerical flood and sediment transport models. The outcomes to date are still largely in line with the outcomes identified in the BMP, which is really positive. We have also been working with the Local Planning Authority and Marine Management Organisation and their primary advisors to establish the scope of the environmental assessments and will soon be seeking further input from the broader stakeholder community to make sure that the studies are robust.”

Councillor Tom Wright, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for the Environment, said: “Sidmouth has been asking for a scheme to reduce erosion and keep its beaches for a long time now. With so many businesses benefiting from visitors to the beach and a reduced risk of flooding I’m really hopeful that the local community will help contribute towards this project. The Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group, which I am involved with on behalf of East Devon, has been instrumental in ensuring that any contributions made by businesses towards projects such as this, will benefit from enhanced tax relief, and I’d love to see local businesses taking advantage of that opportunity.”