A view of the eroded cliffs from one of the gardens in Cliff Road Sidmouth. ref shs 7660-06-13TI Photo by Terry Ife
A panel tasked with helping produce Sidmouth’s long-awaited beach management plan (BMP) will meet tomorrow (Friday) to discuss coastal defence options for the town.
The BMP steering group will consider a long list of possible solutions to protect the eroding shoreline – including removing rock groynes from the main beach or raising the height of the wall along The Esplanade.
Experts working to produce the plan have weighed up the costs and benefits of each option.
They have also taken into account environmental and regeneration issues.
The steering group, which is made up of residents, councillors and representatives from other groups involved in the project, will give its feedback and help whittle down the possible options into a shortlist.
Other coastal defence options on the long list include more offshore breakwaters, a replacement promenade at Jacob’s Ladder and new ‘low-level groynes’ off the eastern beach. Also being considered is the beefing-up of existing defences, a continuation of the ‘shingle recycling’ that took place last January – and doing nothing.
And this is the full report from the Vision Group’s representative on the BMP Steering Group:
Sidmouth Beach Management Plan Steering Group meeting 15 January 2016
The Steering Group (SG) and some associated members met today to discuss the latest draft report from Halcrow, the consultants working on the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP).
This report contains details of the long list of options that Halcrow have proposed for coastal defences at Sidmouth and their appraisal of the options. It also proposes which options should be taken forward for a more detailed appraisal at a subsequent meeting.
Because members of the Steering Group felt that the formal consultants’ comments process would not give sufficient opportunity for a full discussion, it was agreed that the SG would meet without the consultants present and have a good round-table-discussion. This was today’s meeting.
We began with a discussion about the overall report.
Most members of the Steering Group, including EDDC and DCC officers, Environment Agency and Natural England, as well as public representatives felt that the report dived straight into the detail of the options without setting the overall objectives of each coastal defence option.
They also felt that, since the BMP scheme is to be submitted to the Environment Agency (to ask for funding) as one scheme, not as a list of options for various sections of the coastline, then the economic benefits of the scheme should be judged as a whole. These benefits include, but are not limited to, approximately £87 million in preventing flooding throughout the town either from the frontage or from outflanking via the western side of the River Sid, £46 million for preventing damage to the infrastructure in the lower parts of town such as the sewage pumping station and the electricity substation and a smaller sum for preventing damage to the houses on Cliff Road. It was noticed that the consultants had not identified any benefits from maintaining and preventing erosion around the West beach, Chit rocks and the Clifton walkway.
Members then discussed the options under the following headings:
West Beach (Jacob’s Ladder beach) and Chit Rocks
Town frontage from Chit Rocks to the River Sid
East Cliffs and Pennington Point
The West wall of the river Sid
SG members recommended a number of changes to the consultants’ draft solutions for the long list and then changes to the draft short list of options, which will then be taken forward for further consideration.
The main objectives are:
to sustain the existing sea wall defence for as long as possible by maintaining a healthy beach level in front of it
to protect the western wall of the river Sid from wave attack (and also the eastern side from reflected wave attack) for as long as possible by reducing the erosion of the eastern cliffs for about 200 metres.
to create and sustain a healthy beach in front of the eastern cliffs which will reduce their rate of erosion
to identify what will need doing to the western wall of the river Sid in the long term as it faces wave attack.
The main issues that needed to be considered are:
the existing coastal defences, especially the off-shore islands, are creating wide sandy beaches (tombolos) in the lee of the mainly westerly storms. These are valued for their amenity purposes but also have the effect of denuding beaches further to the east, especially under the east cliffs
the western beach gathers very large amounts of shingle because of the off shore islands interrupting the flow from west to east and this makes access to the sea for amenity value rather difficult.
the eastern cliffs are currently eroding at a great rate compared with historical rates. There is no agreement as to whether this is a natural cyclical variation or whether it is due to the existing rock defences installed in the 1990s. Whatever the cause, the effect will be that shortly the foundations of the old Alma bridge will face the full force of wave attack and then the western wall of the river Sid will become exposed.
the closeness of the river training wall and the groyne opposite the lifeboat station creates a small bit of coastline where there is a wave oscillating effect. This has meant that whether the waves are from the east or the west or points in between, the beach has been scoured of its protective shingle. This then make the Ham vulnerable to flooding from wave over-topping as we saw in the 2014 storms.
The two main different approaches for keeping a good standard of coastal defence are either:
to install and improve the rock groynes which act as barriers and retain shingle on the beach, whether the wave attack comes from the west or the east or points in-between.
to install offshore reefs, which will act to calm the sea and thus reduce the scouring effect of waves that removes the shingle beaches. Within this solution there is an approach to build more islands similar to the two already installed, or to install reefs that are only really visible at low tide and possibly to reduce the height of the existing islands as well.
As far as the East Cliffs are concerned, Natural England are very concerned about the proposals for rock revetments. Instead they prefer either installation of rock groynes or off-shore reefs as having the least impact on a World Heritage site and a site of Special Scientific Interest.
Proposed solutions following both the different approaches were agreed for consideration as short-list options, after a bit of revision to the current draft report and exploration of some additional options.
After this discussion, there was a discussion about the need for some proposal(s) from the consultants for temporary interim coastal defence, which may be required sooner rather than later because of the recent rapid erosion of the east cliffs. The funding for such a temporary defence was also discussed at length.
It was noted that the scoping exercise for Port Royal will need to take account of the various short-listed options for long-term and temporary coastal defence because this will inevitably have an impact on the value of land owned by EDDC and Sidmouth Town Council and may possibly constrain what can be considered for this area.
The final discussion point was about whether there should be a safety net of planning policies put in place in case none of the coastal defence proposals gets approved and funded. The proposal was that the area around Cliff Road should be declared a Coastal Change Management Area. This is a formal Planning Policy status within which the Council can explore options such as purchase of threatened properties with leaseback either to owners or as holiday homes. This approach has already been explored in some detail with Government Pathfinder projects in Yorkshire and Norfolk.
As a final bit of Any Other Business I asked the Sidmouth Town Council and STC Councillors present at the meeting to consider promoting the formation of a Coastal Community Team (CCT) for Sidmouth. This is because the opportunity for CCTs to apply for funding from the Coastal Communities Fund, which is a joint Fund from the Big Lottery and the Government, will now be available until 2021. This funding could be used to supplement much of the local funding needed for coastal defences and to enhance the facilities in Sidmouth’s coastline.