Flooding: Is it a disaster waiting to happen?
Madam – Environment Agency money for emergency work at Pennington Point is apparently only available when Sidmouth is at real risk of flooding .
Madam - Environment Agency money for emergency work at Pennington Point is apparently only available when Sidmouth is at 'real risk of flooding'. A disaster waiting to happen may yet unfold. The cliffs were eroding when a young Victoria visited Sidmouth two centuries ago. The Iron Age inhabitants of Peak Hill would have seen the cliff erosion which ultimately destroyed their hill fort. Erosion to this shoreline started as sea levels rose after the last ice age. It will not stop. It is expected to accelerate as sea levels rise further with climate change.
Recent rates of erosion suggest to many of us that real problems for Sidmouth town and seafront might be imminent - judging from recent falls, it could be in years rather than decades. To delay action is at best to delay the inevitable. At worst it may prove foolhardy.
The cost of action will not be reduced by delay. Costs can only rise if we wait till there is little natural foundation left on which to base an engineered solution. Even if the foot of the cliffs is stabilised along the current shoreline, the cliff top will continue to recede until a stable gradient is achieved - unless, of course, even more money is ultimately spent on stabilising the cliff face. If we need a line of defence, then better the present one than something further inland.
I have no personal interest at stake. With a background in environmental science, including coastal ecology, I would not normally favour intervention against coastal erosion.
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But here I believe the current decision is wrong. It puts parts of Sidmouth at unnecessary risk and for no sustainable gain.
An emergency solution - which I believe is inevitable - will ultimately cost much more than a timely and measured response. But time is running out.
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Let us hope, while the arguments continue, that Sidmouth does not see a major storm, else key infrastructure could be damaged and emergency repairs might be very much more costly than remedial works.