Action call after new cliff fall

PUBLISHED: 12:44 02 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:38 17 June 2010

Calls for action to tackle the erosion of Salcombe Cliffs at Sidmouth were renewed this week after another sizable rock fall collapsed the edge of two clifftop gardens onto the beach.

Calls for action to tackle the erosion of Salcombe Cliffs at Sidmouth were renewed this week after another sizable rock fall collapsed the edge of two clifftop gardens onto the beach.

It underlined once again the instability of the cliffs and the danger to anyone foolish enough to ignore the council warning signs, writes Kingsley Squire.

The fall, on Tuesday, was just to the side of Pennington Point.

A resident of Cliff Road reported he had lost a two-foot corner of his garden while a larger chunk had gone from the garden next door.

"What concerns us is that the erosion is escalating and that nothing is being done to arrest it," he told the Herald. "Altogether, about 10 foot has been lost off the edge of gardens in the last couple of months. We are being hit by a double whammy - water draining down onto the cliffs from the top and the sea hitting the cliffs at the bottom with considerable frequency now the shingle has been washed away."

This week's fall, say residents, will expose Pennington Point to increased erosion and renew the serious concerns about the protection of Alma Bridge and, indeed, the Ham area beyond.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, who has long campaigned for a protection scheme, may raise the implications with Devon County Council, one of several key agencies involved.

"Every cliff fall chips away at any protection Sidmouth may still have from a severe south westerly," he said. "It will come, believe me, and then it will be too late. A scheme now would help prevent such an incident from happening."

Studies, costing nearly £200,000 in the last l3 years, culminated in a scheme in 2004 for a 210-metre rock barrier along the cliff frontage. But it was withdrawn after objections by Natural England.

The way forward now, according to a district council statement to the Herald, rests on the outcome of a national coastal erosion mapping study and a government shoreline management plan.

"These will assist us and the other interested agencies to decide the way forward on how to manage the East Devon coastline," it said.

"One of the factors both these reports will take into account is the effect that protection at one point might have on a nearby stretch of coast. In other words, would solving Sidmouth's problem cause headaches for, say, Seaton?

The result of these studies will be a long-term strategic plan which will be subject to public consultation."

The council said it had every sympathy with the residents over the erosion, a complex issue due to a combination of factors, including the agencies involved, environmental concerns and funding.

"Whilst the council is not the owner of the majority of the beach, nor the cliffs, we have an overall desire to promote public safety," said the statement. "That is why the council has arranged studies in the past. However, the final decision on what action, if any, should be taken is not exclusively ours. The government and the Environment Agency have the final say after taking into account the views of other parties, including ourselves, the county council, the Countryside Agency, the land owner and Natural England.

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