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The BMP and ‘crumbling cliffs’

  • by MWT

On the 2nd Jan 2023 Devon Live published the following story ‘Sidmouth no closer to getting protection for crumbling cliffs‘. But are its conclusions fair? The answer to this question is both yes and no.

The Devon Live piece is simply an article based on very old information from East Devon District Council which was contained in a Press release on 15th July 2022.

This Press release gave a timeline they thought would be achievable.

The anticipated timeline is as follows:

· Late summer 2022 – Submit the funding case for approval to EA, which if successful, secures the funding in principle. Approval should be granted by autumn 2022.

· Late autumn 2022– Work on the scope of the detailed design stage with a sub group made from members of the Sidmouth and East Beach BMP Project Advisory Group. They will help represent Sidmouth residents, providing guidance on what the town needs from the scheme, what it looks like, how it will work and how it will be designed and built. This will include discussions on the number and position of additional rock breakwaters.

· Early 2023 – Finalise the scope for the detailed design.

· Followed by – Appointing an engineering consultant to manage the detailed design process and prepare for construction.

· Summer 2023 – Autumn 2024 – Public consultation on the detailed design and propose a planning application.

· Autumn 2024 – Early 2025 – Appoint a contractor to build the scheme.

· Spring 2025 – Start construction.’

It is not clear whether Devon Live approached the EDDC for comment before the article was published, their statement that ‘No details as to how long, or the reasons for the delay, are known at this stage.’ would suggest not: but we did.

As the VGS is one of the local organisations who have a representative on the Advisory Group for the BMP (alternatively known as the BMS, Beach Management Scheme ) we can help clarify the points made by Devon Live.

Far from the reasons for delay being unknown they are far too well known to many of us trying to deal with local or national government or their Agencies! It is the age old story of rules and regulations being changed only to find that they have overlooked some vitally important aspect; and then having to scramble to get it covered.

The Outline Business Case had not been prepared during the summer, as Devon Live claim, instead the OBC was begun during the summer only to run into the first of several obstacles.

The new Government funding rules which allowed the BMP to qualify for more money, thus allowing us to have a more acceptable solution to Sidmouth sea defences, also came with a raft of new calculators and reporting requirements. This meant that much of the previous OBC had to be re-written to fit the new format.

There is a ‘template’ which has to be adhered to. This template has extended the information required as part of the carbon analysis for the BMP project but unhelpfully it didn’t contain any calculations which could be used for offshore islands. This is strange as, although most sea defences are built on beaches or on the edge of the land where it meets the beach, off shore reefs are becoming more popular because their construction can also increase biodiversity.

The lack of these approved calculation formulae has resulted in EDDC engineers and their consultants having to ask many questions and also wait for them to be answered!

Almost inevitably this question and answer dance between local and national government went on all through the autumn and into the Christmas break.

So it is true that we are, once again, running behind schedule; and no-one is pleased about that.

Conclusion :- The Devon Live headline of Sidmouth no closer to getting protection for crumbling cliffs wasn’t accurate. We are moving closer but progress is slow and not apparent to the general public.

The only good news in all this is that while rewriting everything it was noticed that an error had crept in to the original BMP calculations when assessing the ‘Do nothing’ – ’Do minimum’ – ‘Create defences’ comparisons. Correcting this error has slightly improved the finances available for the scheme.

We are now looking forward to the meeting of the Advisory Group on 20th February 2023 when we will hear in detail what has been going on and how things are likely to progress. Watch this space!

You can find our thoughts on the previous meetings in the BMP section of the VGS website.