Discussions by group on ‘splash barrier’

Significant steps to deliver a scheme to protect both the East Cliffs and Sidmouth from flooding and cliff erosion were discussed at a virtual meeting of the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Steering Group held earlier this month (December).

East Devon’s Engineer Tom Buxton Smith provided the steering group with an update and progress of the proposed scheme. A project of this scale has to follow stringent tests and scrutiny by Environment Agency engineers and specialists before the funding can be guaranteed. This project review work is envisaged to be completed by March 2021.

Once the funding is guaranteed, the district council will appoint a Beach Management Plan (BMP) Project Manager to oversee the project, with a tender process for design consultants and contractors. The council would look to go through the planning process in late 2021/early 2022 for construction later in 2022.

A key element of the proposals is what is referred to as a ‘splash barrier’ on Sidmouth Esplanade. The group recognised that a plain concrete wall a metre high as a splash barrier would not be supported by the residents nor the consultees at the planning application stage and various solutions are under further investigation.

During the design stage, further work will be carried out to investigate the need for a splash wall, its height in relation to the location on the Esplanade and its distance from the existing sea wall.

Variations are being investigated to reduce the height of a splash barrier, for example:

• A “managed adaptive approach” where a wall foundations are built but only to a minimal height in the first instance with further additions added in future years when required
• A full height barrier built that is stone-clad and topped by a glass screen with flood barrier gates at intervals
• A rising barrier that will come up from a small wall, similar to the existing splash wall, which will be raised by water pressure
• A bench seat which turns into a splash barrier by lifting the bench top into the vertical position
• A top up panel barrier that can be placed on a new splash wall and similar in height to the existing wall
Aside from developing alternatives to a solid concrete splash defence, the engineers are investigating other cost effective and innovative options for maintaining a healthy design beach to leave Sidmouth better protected into the future.

Proposals were received by the group requesting that they re-evaluate further offshore islands and other alternative solutions, these were discussed at the meeting. However, it was agreed to proceed with the current scheme so as not to delay any progress. At the same time the group agreed to continually evaluate any further affordable solutions and adjust the scheme at the final design stage as appropriate.

The group discussed the recently published coastal analysis study (CCMA) from the University of Plymouth about the future erosion rates along the coast between Sidmouth and Lyme Regis. The study, although useful for making future planning choices, ultimately has no effect on the BMP, as it does not unlock any further funding.
Currently, the Environment Agency do not recognise the tool to justify further funding which has been produced from the study and forecasts erosion rates in the future. A bespoke local study has previously been completed. The CCMA’s publication does, however, focus minds to deliver the BMP scheme sooner rather than later.

At the steering group’s previous meeting in October, it was agreed to review the project aims and objectives and its terms of reference.

Chair Cllr Geoff Jung, who is the district council’s portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, suggested that a subgroup review both items, in the light of the new administration’s ‘open and transparent’ policy for all meetings. This was considered appropriate.

The proposals from the subgroup were all agreed along with the changes to representatives who are invited to attend along with a recommendation to rename the group as an “advisory group.” Subject to the adoption by the council, the future meetings will be open to the public.

The next virtual meeting will be held in early February.