The Pause Subgroup

For overview of the Beach Management scheme see this page

For Steering/Advisory Group reports see here

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The VGS has a representative on the Pause Subgroup and this page is a record of our experience in the group. ….The pause in the BMP started in February 2021.

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As a result of changes to the Government funding calculations it was discovered, early in 2021, that the Beach Management Plan qualified for more money than it had earlier.

This resulted in discussions at the Advisory Group meetings as to whether it would be sensible to revisit technically superior designs which had been preferred by the town but then discounted on the grounds of costs. The decision was that the process of the current option be paused for 6 months from February to the end of August to allow consultants to reassess things.

The VGS submitted this discussion document, it was made clear that we knew this was the view of a layperson and so was intended as ‘brainstorming’ only.

Due to it being necessary to obtain permission from EDDC Cabinet, the agreement for this pause was not in place until the beginning of March 2021 and so the 6 months was to end in September.

A subgroup was formed from members of the Advisory Group. This subgroup is
Geoff Jung, Chair, EDDC Portfolio Holder Coast, Country and Environment
Tom Buxton-Smith, EDDC Engineering Projects Manager
Tony Burch, a retired chartered Civil Engineer and Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He has about 40 years experience in river and coastal management with the Environment Agency and its predecessors.
Chris Lockyear, of Sidmouth Town Council has a doctorate in Chemical Engineering. He has worked on a wide range of engineering projects over the years and is very familiar with the principles of engineering projects including risk management.
Phil Shepperd, is a marine science professional who runs Coastal Science Ltd, a consultancy on marine issues. He has been deeply involved with the Sidmouth Lifeboat for many years.
Richard Eley, President of the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce
Paul Griew, Cliff Road Action Group
Mary Walden-Till, Vision Group for Sidmouth
( The latter three non-engineers in this group all hold qualifications in other subjects.)

There have been more frequent meetings of this subgroup than has been possible with the Advisory group as a whole. The subgroup reports back to the Advisory Group.

The informal and fast moving nature of the subgroup means that it is very much a discussion group to help inform EDDC, therefore any notes the VGS gives on the proceedings will be short and normally only cover major points not the minutiae of discussions. As the process nears its end the reports will have greater detail. Members speak their opinions in a full and frank manner and all have differing priorities, this means that no stone is left unturned and any consensuses are reached as a result of this rigorous process.

Frequent email exchanges fill the gaps around the meetings to allow further ideas and factual information to be exchanged.

This was the email statement sent from EDDC to the Advisory Group on 27th April 2021
‘As agreed in the last advisory group meeting, we have formed a sub-group to scope out and develop alternative options that are in keeping with the aims of the project, but also the for desire to reduce/remove the need for a raised splash wall. The first draft scope has been prepared and sent to the consultants for comment. We have decided to put the onus on the consultant to deliver a successful alternative, so long as it meets our aims and objectives, rather than direct them too much to a potentially less successful option. ‘


April 30th

June 10th

June 17th

July 26th

July 30th

August 12th

August 16th

August 31st

September 2nd


30th April meeting

This was the second of two meetings where we worked to make sure that the instructions given to the consultants clearly reflected the reasons for pausing the BMP. All preliminary work had been done by email. The initial draft instruction was to have a quick look ( six months) at alternative options now available, 4 possible starting points were shown in graphical form and Aims and Objectives clearly stated. The total funding available was made clear.

The purpose of this second meeting was a very detailed discussion of the instruction document, down to arguing over the precise words used to express our requirements. It resulted in the Scope Document for the consultants. The final version was issued on 17th May although, as noted above, they had received draft versions earlier to allow them to begin work.

In early April they had been told, amongst other things

  • Any new option must sit within the total project cost of £12m as afforded by the conservative PF calculator*
  • Solution on East Beach to be acceptable long term with NE and WHS

*This is total project cost and includes project management, design and a risk budget. Likely maximum construction cost is to be in the region of £8m but will vary depending on design and risk budget.


10th June meeting

The reason for this meeting was to discuss both the feedback received from the consultants about our requests, and their communication of costs and proposed timescale.  Although their feedback was very welcome there were some aspects of their charges for work and proposed timeline which were not.

It was generally felt that the charges did not reflect the familiarity which consultants who have been working on this for several years should have. It seemed far more as if they were starting from scratch. This also lead to a more extended timeline than we could allow if we maintained or promise to only pause for 6 months.

Tom explained that this could be partially explained by the fact that the lead workers on the Sidmouth BMP had left the company ( Royal HaskoningDVH) and so in a way they were starting from scratch. He said that he had asked another company to tender for part of the process too.

Amongst questions raised about the proposed timeline was why all work seemed to stop for a fortnight to 3 weeks when one person was on holiday. We asked that another person was nominated by Haskoning to carry on work over this period.

After much discussion it was decided that in order to cut the ‘time needed’ down to the ‘time available’ it would be necessary to reduce the options we were asking the consultants to consider: this was disappointing as we had hoped to be able to throw the net widely.

However, it was felt that the most important factor was getting modelling of some option which would enable the protection for the town to reach the required standard without having to have a raised splash wall along the Esplanade.

It was also decided that in view of the previous work done previously on various BMP options in the past that some of the aspects of the new options, such as modelling environmental impact, did not need to be considered within the 6 month pause but could be deferred. This would allow the now reduced number of options to be considered and modelled within the time available.

If no better option than the current paused one emerged then modelling such aspects would have been a waste of time and money. If a better option emerged it would be unlikely to be a huge departure from what has already been considered and so it would be relatively easy to judge if it would cause problems in these areas.

Tom also proposed that the modelling be brought forward to overlap with some of the other work the consultants were doing, rather than have it tacked on the end of the timeline. Even though the modelling will be computer modelling and not tank testing the specialist equipment needed still has to be booked.

It was agreed that it was important that the consultants be asked to get it booked now and to work to that deadline. Tom’s thoughts on the subject were agreed by the sub-group.

The main thrust of the work which the consultants will be asked to do is now built around placing additional small islands to protect the Town and East beaches, and discovering whether by doing that it will be possible to avoid having a raised splash wall and the supergroyne on East beach. More comment on earlier proposals here.


17th June meeting

At this meeting we were were joined by Alice Johnson who works Binnies but is currently seconded to the Environment Agency. She was previously Project Manager on the Sidmouth BMP for the consultants Royal HaskoningDHV and so is very familiar with the issues.

The meeting started with an explanation that current Government rules will not allow decisions to be taken at Zoom meetings. Therefore all meetings held on Zoom will be only briefings although our opinions will be listened to. It is not relevant to the subgroup, who can not make recommendations, but will affect the Advisory Group meetings. It seems to make very little practical difference, the only real difference is that we can not vote but have to trust Tom to record the consensus.

The report is here


26th July meeting

This was a meeting to gather together questions we wanted the consultants to be able to answer during our meeting with them on the 26th July. We received an update on their progress. Many of the questions had been submitted for consideration before this meeting.

We are very aware that the meeting with the consultants, which has been long promised, is taking place only a month before the Pause ends.

Report here


30th July meeting with the consultants

At the beginning, in March, we had been told the consultants were keen to meet with us for a brainstorming session to get the process going. This meeting didn’t happen.

We were then told on several occasions that a meeting with the consultants would be happening soon, but each time the meeting was postponed. As a result there was a lot riding on this first meeting so close to the time when we will have to make some big decisions. The report of the meeting attempts to be impersonal but in doing so obviously loses the ability to represent the immediate reactions of those present. It also doesn’t capture the flavour of subsequent email exchanges within the subgroup, although the clarification shared by Tom Buxton-Smith is given below. The separate document with the comments of our representative on the subgroup is an attempt to address these lacks.

This meeting was not what many of us had been anticipating. There was very little positive new information. Most of it seemed to be about why it was considered that things wouldn’t work, but with very little factual basis. An unaffordable idea was shown and the meeting ended with the consultants suggesting that we should consider reverting to the Paused Option. The subgroup felt that they could not make this decision without some firm information from the consultants so asked that they come back to us having got information on possible changes to the option shown. The hope is that that they will work to find an affordable scheme which avoids having a large groyne on East Beach and a high splash wall on the Esplanade. This was the same instruction they were given in February but which has not yet been achieved.

1)  Report     2) Personal comments on the report of the 30th July meeting.

3) Tom Buxton-Smith issued this clarification after the meeting.

‘Although not explained in the meeting, TBS wishes to make some post meeting clarity. The East Beach swimming safety concern is strictly not to make east beach safe for swimming, its to not increase the risk to existing swimmers post scheme. Under CDM 2015 (Construction Design Management) designer cannot introduce a risk, without following a hierarchy of managing the risk. The first action is always avoid. Therefore the designer is avoiding the risk to swimmers by not introducing any rip currents. They will then work their way through various mitigation methods until one is acceptable. In the first instance, CDM dictates the risk should be avoided which they have. Clearly future iterations can introduce exclusion, signage measures, but would rely on the project taking on risk of future litigation should a swimmer be hurt in the future.’


12th August meeting

We are now getting very near to the end of the pause and pressure is building.

There have been letters of complaint from Sam Scriven of the Jurassic Coast Trust, and also from Natural England about what they perceive as bias against environmental concerns from both EDDC and the Advisory Group. Although it is not the place of the subgroup to respond to these advice was sought. The group felt that matters had been misinterpreted and that both complaining parties should be pressed to attend the Advisory Group meetings, to which they had always been invited.

The other agenda items were

  • to agree the notes of the meeting with the consultants;
  • to receive updates on; a) further work done by the consultants; b) upcoming meeting with Simon Jupp MP; c) how the last part of this pause process will proceed;
  • to allow us to share our feelings about all of the work Royal HaskoningDHV had done to date.

The report is here.


16th August email update from Tom Buxton-Smith

This note is just a brief outline taken from Tom’s email to the subgroup:

The consultants have roughly worked out a nearshore option which would work technically, and be affordable, but it made swimming unsafe on Town Beach so they have stopped work on it for the moment.

They are now working on an option where the islands are slightly further out, than in the design above, at Town Beach but still close in at East Beach. They feel this may still be unaffordable.

We may need to consider accepting a slight variation on the Preferred/Paused Option; one where East Beach has the ‘supergroyne’ but we introduce an additional island off Town Beach to attempt to reduce the need for a splash wall of the size and length previously thought necessary.

They are carrying out calculations related to the beach size, results will come later. This will give us more information, amongst other things, about whether an option similar to 4b would give protection from south-easterlies. It is currently thought that it would not.

They have looked at all documents which informed previous Beach Management Plans at Sidmouth. The early (1992) work was based on different environmental requirements than those necessary now, so although there is some useful information it is limited for today’s purposes.


31st August meeting

This was a meeting ahead of the meeting with the consultants on 2nd Sept.

It was agreed at the meeting that we really need clear information from the consultants in hard copy of some description. Trusting in the spoken word to convey ideas clearly is not going to give us the information we need to make sensible choices.

There is a quick report here but a more detailed one will be written about the meeting with the consultants.


 

2nd September meeting with the consultants

EDDC and the consultants have decided to extend the 6 month ‘pause’ because they feel we are nearing an acceptable alternative plan. In practical terms they feel that this extension should not delay the process because things can not move forward until approved by Cabinet, and the next Cabinet meeting is not until the 6th October.

However, as they have now pushed back the next Advisory Group into October ( and they want the Advisory Group input before the report for Cabinet is written) I feel that it is a real delay. If the report is not submitted to Cabinet until the 3rd November meeting we will have lost a month.

Having worked in the private sector I find this relaxed attitude to getting things done most disconcerting.

   
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