Cliff erosion exposes old railway tunnel

What appears to be the entrance to a cave in the cliffs. Ref shs 7259-08-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

What appears to be the entrance to a cave in the cliffs. Ref shs 7259-08-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

A gaping hole on Sidmouth’s eastern cliffs will keep expanding if nothing is done to protect the seafront, according to one of the town’s last fishing families.

The railway tunnel was dug in the 19th Century to transport rock to form a harbour but, famously, the steam engine was too big to fit the hole and the scheme was abandoned.

It was once protected by shingle, but Kay Bagwell said the 1995 sea defences led to the eastern beach being washed out – exposing Pennington Point and putting the eastern town at risk.

“The hole has been there a long time but it’s opening up,” said Kay, who runs Sidmouth Trawlers. “The sea is washing it out.”

She said it was once at ground level but the lost shingle means it is now above head height.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) is drawing up a beach management plan (BMP) and is set to meet with a steering group on Tuesday (February 24).

Kay’s mum, Mary, has been invited to attend – but after ‘proper locals were ignored’ before the current defences were installed, she is not confident she will be listened to by those at tending the meeting.

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“If they [EDDC] don’t hurry up there will be nothing left,” she said. “They should just put the wooden groynes back.”

Councillor Andrew Moulding, the steering group chairman, said: “Community engagement is vital to the development of this BMP and their views on the report findings are crucial to establishing the baselines on which the rest of the project will be founded.

“The recommendations of the BMP project are due in September 2015, but any future engineering work is dependent on funding from the Environment Agency, DEFRA, and from other sources that we will need to explore, as well as on approvals from relevant regulators.”

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