Best defence is...


- Credit: Archant

The Clifton Walkway was built as a result of a public initiative by Sidmouth residents following the completion of the Sea Defence Scheme in 1996.

It is now an amenity much used and enjoyed by both visitors and residents, who want to walk along to Jacob’s Ladder. However, as a result of the current gales and what they have done to Clifton beach, its future is now imminently threatened.

The reason for this is that the district council has disregarded the duty placed on them by a condition of the agreement which allowed funding of the £6million Sea Defence Scheme by Defra and the EEC in 1995. This required EDDC to top up the shingle on Sidmouth’s beach every six years, something they have totally failed to do. They are in breach of this condition and, therefore, negligent in their duty to maintain the scheme properly and ensure Sidmouth’s promenade remains undamaged and the town protected from flooding during storms.

Both of these have happened in the past for the same reason – negligence by the district council. From the time they took over from the old UDC they never so much as put a bucket of pointing on the sea wall for 20 years.

Finally, the promenade and sea wall got damaged in the severe storms of the early 1990s and they then went cap in hand to the Government seeking funding to repair it.

The Government paid out £250,000. The groynes were then removed and the beach level immediately dropped by five feet. The threat to Sidmouth from hugely damaging seas finally forced Ted Pinney and the district council into initiating the 1995 Sea Defence Scheme.

Now we are back to ‘square one’ again with an unmaintained scheme. EDDC will doubtless reply that it has no money to replace the shingle but only a fool would put in an expensive scheme to do a vital job and then not maintain it. When it all goes wrong they will claim it is the result of exceptional weather. The trouble is it is not. In the 40 plus years I have lived here there have been other gale-ridden winters just as bad, when one gale has followed another. This one is not unique for its wind speeds, only perhaps for the amount of rain.

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It is incumbent on EDDC because they have a duty of care to the people of Sidmouth, to maintain the sea defences properly and replenish the beach shingle. The best protection for Sidmouth is a big, shock-absorbing shingle beach, to protect its sea wall and the Clifton Walkway. The latter is particularly vulnerable because it was not engineered as a sea wall. It sits on top of the rock armour at the rear of the beach and is only relatively lightly fixed to it. Now almost half of it is exposed to the waves. One good gale without the protection of the shingle could damage it irreparably to the detriment of many walkers who enjoy the facility.

Sidmouth would be the poorer for the loss of such a valued amenity. It is time for Sidmouth to demand that its sea defences are properly maintained long term, and the natural shingle beach is replaced as required under the terms of the Sea Defence Scheme. Otherwise £6million will have been literally tipped into the sea!

(The Government has just announced it is making £100million available to deal with issues of flooding and sea defences as a result of this winter’s gales.)

Julia Creeke


An East Devon District Council spokesperson said: “EDDC refutes any suggestion of negligence. The council takes its role as coastal protection authority very seriously and Sidmouth’s sea protection infrastructure is maintained to a high standard. This may explain why Sidmouth came through the recent bout of storms and tidal surges relatively unscathed, save for some erosion to the cliffs and a good deal of shingle thrown up on the esplanade.

Work is in hand to repair damage to a wall at Connaught Gardens, the apron of Jacobs Ladder and to beach huts behind Chit Rocks.

We are looking into the specific question posed by Miss Creeke but the issue of pebble recharge should not be allowed to detract from the wider picture of a high degree of attention being paid to coastal protection in Sidmouth and indeed our other seaside resorts.”