“A promise to listen to the community and an understanding that no plans are written in concrete.”
In December 2013, “East Devon District Council … announced the start of a 12-month project to create a new Beach Management Plan for Sidmouth – designed to maintain and improve the town’s coastal defences whilst enhancing the area as an attraction for beach-users.”
And very nicely, there was the promise that the “Public can help with information gathering and choice of future design options”:
Earlier in the year, in January 2013, however, the group that represents residents living on the cliffs under threat felt the information and design choices they were offering were being ignored.
For example, that the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP2) at the time is not ‘recommending managed realignment through beach management from the present day through to the long term’
And: “The evidence for significant coastal change in SMP2 is out of date. In Sidmouth, SMP2 relied on erosion records up to 2008/9. Since then the erosion rate has increased very significantly, to the extent that District Councillors called for emergency works in December 2012 to protect Sidmouth.”
Then in September 2014, the VGS representative on the SMP2 and the Beach Management Plan, the late and very-much-missed Jo Frith stated in an email to the chair of the BMP steering group: “I also managed to establish that the SMP2 policies are not rigid rules.”.
So, we have the promise to listen to the community and an understanding that no plans are written in concrete, metaphorical or otherwise.
However, Jo also pointed to a radio programme broadcast at the same time, in September 2014:
Branscombe Chalet Owners
In February 2014, the worst storms in a generation hit the south Devon coast. Among those affected were the owners of five beach chalets at Branscombe. The sea took away much of the beach and eroded the earth banks on which the chalets stood, exposing the foundations and making some of them uninhabitable.
Before the storm, the chalets were worth up to £250,000 each but now they are virtually unsaleable. The owners would like to rebuild them, and move shingle back up the beach to protect them from future storms. But there’s a problem: Branscombe beach is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and falls under the control of Natural England. Natural England won’t let the owners move shingle, partly because the upper shoreline is home to the very rare scaly cricket. They also adhere to a “Shoreline Management Plan”, which says that there should be “no active intervention” to protect the beach from erosion.
There is a stand-off between the owners and Natural England, but the clock’s ticking: without urgent action, the chalets could fall into the sea in the next big storm. Some of the chalet owners are not wealthy – they have mortgages on their chalets and depend on the income from letting them out in the summer. Now, with an entire season’s income gone, some of them are staring at financial ruin. One man in particular, Philip Trenchard, was brought to the chalets by his father when he was a child, and now brings his own family every year. This continuity is a key part of his identity, and he’d expected to be able to continue using the chalets for many more years. But the coastal erosion, which is more severe than anyone predicted, has thrown all his assumptions about time scales into doubt.
And interestingly, this active stand-off between locals and the guardians of the SMP2 paid off, as reported by the Herald in March 2017:
Branscombe beach rock armour bid approved by EDDC
A businessman’s renewed bid to extend the existing beach defences in Branscombe has been approved – despite continued concerns about the impact on the area’s World Heritage Site status. His previous application to install defences was refused in April 2016 by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) development management committee by seven votes to six. More than 2,250 people had signed a petition in support of the scheme.
After feedback from Natural England, Mr Sellick cut the proposed period for the temporary defences to be in place from 25 years down to 10 – acknowledging the work may not deliver a ‘forever solution’. This also tallies with the timing of EDDC’s shoreline management plan for the area.
A correspondent in August 2019 noted that Branscombe has been given what many would see as a preferred option for Sidmouth’s East Beach:
photo: taken in 2006, before storms destroyed much of the access road to the beach huts on Branscombe beach: