Sidmothians have been concerned with keeping sea and river out of the town for many centuries but it is a never ending task. If climate change leads to higher sea levels and increased storms then our current defences will not hold. These current defences have already proved to have unintended consequences as the increased erosion of the east beach and the cliffs is arguably the result of the rock islands built at the end of the 20th century.
This century’s consideration of improved protection has been going on since at least 2003 and has been very slow, complicated, and punctuated by unpredictable changes of direction.
In 2011, following on from work to put together a Shoreline Management Plan for the Jurassic Coast (Shoreline Management Plan – East Devon), plans were set in motion to create a Beach Management Plan specifically for Sidmouth: Sidmouth beach plan could protect bridge – Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News – Sidmouth Herald
The District Council took charge – and their website on the project can be found here: Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan – East Devon And things started moving in 2013: Futures Forum- Beach Management Plan for Sidmouth
By 2016 the plans were far enough advanced to be made public and Sidmouth was allowed to have its say. The choices were presented on a set of boards which you can see by clicking here, and were supported by an appraisal document and forward planning timetable. The final report was submitted to East Devon District Council by the contractors CH2M in January 2017.
Unfortunately, in having their say the residents unknowingly chose the option which engineers also said would be the preferred technical option. So why was this unfortunate? The answer is that …. it was the one East Devon District Council did not want as it was the most expensive solution.
This lead to many heated exchanges, strange reactions such as installing an expensive ‘charity box’ on the Esplanade to solicit donations from town and visitors toward the cost of any plan, and ultimately the decision to pursue the cheapest option.
In April 2018 there was an exhibition at Kennaway House to inform us of the current thinking. While the details had not been finalised it was a very strong indication of what was intended to be put in place. The boards from this display can be seen here.
The most contentious issue was the sudden inclusion of a heightened splash wall dividing the Esplanade walk from the road. This option appeared out of the blue and had not been discussed with local representatives on the Beach Management Plan Steering Group, which includes VGS representative Robert Crick.
It is proposed that this wall be increased to a height of 1 metre (39 inches) measured from the walk, and the flood gates will obviously be enlarged as well. The road edge is at a lower level than the walk and so the wall would be higher than 1 metre when seen from the town side. It would be of a height just slightly less than the height of the railings on the seaward side of the walk.
It is the opinion of the VGS that this would be very intrusive, harm tourism, and be detrimental to the setting of many listed buildings on the Esplanade. A document containing images of the proposed wall height overlaid on photographs is available here.