Sidmouth and East Beach

For the first time since March, East Devon District Council hosted a Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP) steering group of local organisations, interested parties and councillors to discuss the progress being made to protect the town and East Beach from flooding.

The meeting was a held ‘virtually’ due to Covid-19 restrictions and progress updates came from district council officers working on a proposed scheme.
Cllr Geoff Jung, the council’s portfolio holder for Coast, Country & the Environment, chaired the steering group meeting and explained that following policy changes of the council’s new administration that in future all meetings will be held in public and the minutes be published.

He also proposed that all the main project documents relating to the BMP will be published and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) will be reviewed on the council’s website to demonstrate the new administration’s policy of openness and transparency.

The BMP’s terms of reference will be reviewed to reflect these changes and brought before the next meeting of the group for discussion in December. Councillor Jung also proposed that because of Covid -19 restrictions, the next few meetings will be held virtually via Zoom and future public meetings will be broadcast through the council’s YouTube channel when they are held every other month.

East Devon District Council’s Engineer Tom Buxton-Smith provided the steering group with an update and progress of the proposed scheme which includes a splash defence and recharged beach along the main town frontage along with a super groyne on East Beach. The steering group discussed options for carrying out a public exhibition on the scheme and splash defence options so that residents and businesses can give their views. With Covid-19 restrictions, the group will discuss this further at its next meeting.
The scheme is now fully funded and is estimated to cost £8.7m. The funding is dependent on the Environment Agency approving the submission of the council’s Outline Business Case. Following approval, consultants and contractors will be appointed to develop the final design during 2021. A planning application will be submitted with a proposed start to the long-awaited scheme in the Autumn 2022.

Following a number of cliff-falls at Pennington Point in early Spring a review had been undertaken to consider emergency measures to protect properties in the town from the perceived sea overtopping of the Sid river wall. However, the Environment Agency advised that the works did not meet the definition of emergency works. It was concluded that the emergency works could not proceed at this time and it would be kept under review. Engineers will provide a definition of ‘trigger’ points when it may be considered that emergency works were appropriate.

Following a proposal by Devon County Councillor Stuart Hughes to consider a “recurve” to be fitted to the esplanade sea wall, it was agreed that further evidence was required to understand if this would be providing extra protection for the town. It was concluded that an additional recurve would increase the impact load on the seawall and would probably not remove the need for a splash barrier, but further assessments will be undertaken.

Mr Buxton-Smith then discussed the need for the most controversial element to the whole scheme which was referred to in earlier reports as a ‘Splash Wall’. It had always been recognised that a 1-metre high wall would not be appropriate along such an important and historic esplanade of Sidmouth, so alternative solutions are under investigation. Glass panels, removable sections, benches with raising seats to act as barriers, together with flood gates are all being considered which will be part of the public exhibition and consultations prior to the planning application being submitted.

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce has recently proposed that Offshore Rock Islands should again be considered. Mr Buxton-Smith reported that he was in discussions with their representative and awaiting on the pricing and engineering specifications to their proposal.

In the meantime, Mr Buxton-Smith has had costings produced for the large offshore breakwater based on engineering drawings costing £13.1m - more than the total funding available for the project making this proposal unviable. Mr Buxton-Smith said he would discuss the variance of the costings with the Chamber.

• Over the last few days, a fresh report made public by Plymouth University, is estimating future rates of coastal erosion over the next 100 years in the eastern half of the district.
- The report indicates that some parts of the coastline in East Devon will erode more quickly than had previously been estimated, while some will erode less than previously thought.
- However, the university research does not take into account the mitigating protection to be provided by schemes such as Sidmouth’s BMP, discussed by the BMP steering group.
- The university’s research also shows the reasonable worse-case scenario erosion rates, whereas the erosion rates in the council’s beach management plans are the most likely scenario.
- The council’s strategic planning committee will consider a planning policy briefing paper on the university’s findings related to coastal changes at its meeting later this month. The issue will also be discussed at the next BMP steering group meeting in December.