Pennington Point cliff survey to investigate cliff erosion

Sidmouth's East Beach

Sidmouth's East Beach - Credit: Daniel Clark

A cliff survey is set to take place to see how much erosion at Pennington Point has occurred over the last year. 

Cllr Stuart Hughes, Devon County councillor for Sidmouth, will use some of his locality budget to carry out a cliff survey around the town’s East Beach area to establish how much erosion has taken place since the previous survey carried out last March. 

That survey followed a flurry of cliff falls that occurred in the area for which multi-million-pound plans to protect the town have been developed. 

The recent survey suggested that the cliff is receding by around two metres a year, but Cllr Hughes feels that with a rock revetment scheme in place, this could reduce to 200mm. 

He said: “Having spoken to Devon county bridge engineers, I’ve agreed to fund another limited cliff survey in the area around Pennington Point from my locality budget, which will establish how much erosion has taken place since the previous survey which I also funded and was carried out over a longer distance.” 

The area around Pennington Point is set to be protected by a beach management scheme, although ‘bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defences are back on the table – with offshore rock islands once again being considered to protect the town. 

Additional offshore breakwaters had been previously discussed as an option for protecting Sidmouth from major storms and its East Beach cliffs from further erosion, but while the breakwaters may have presented a more robust solution technically, they would come at almost double the cost £9m funding available and so had been ruled out. 

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But changes to the eligibility for funding from various bodies have been made, and as such, additional funding eligibility by the Environment Agency and other bodies, could be available for the long-awaited scheme. 

East Devon District Council’s cabinet will meet soon to discuss their preferred way forward, and if the green light is given for the current preferred option, construction could start within two years, and there would also be a potential for this new extra funding to be used for future maintenance, ensuring the beach can be recycled/recharged. 

However, if a different or more expensive option is chosen, then construction could take around four years to start, but a recommendation will also be made to East Devon’s cabinet that a temporary structure should be investigated to be placed at the base of the cliff.  

This structure is to help protect the River Sid wall and low-lying properties in the town and the properties above Sidmouth’s eroding cliffs. 

Cllr Hughes added: “The decision taken by the East Devon Beach Management Group to delay taking a scheme that had been drawn up forward to look at other possible alternatives and which could delay anything happening by four years, although it was said that there may well be a change of heart with Natural England and World Heritage Site now allowing a temporary rock revetment to be placed at base of cliff until a scheme was agreed and commenced work on. 

“This means that the Hangar Path leading to the new Alma Bridge could well be compromised in a shortened timescale with the cliff receding so fast.  

“The bridge was opened last October and it had been calculated that with the high usage of coastal footpath walkers that it would pay for itself in four years. 

“We believe that the bridge and coast path users bring approximately £15m a year to the local economy and have been included in the projection of further funding being available for the project.   

“Clearly if the bridge is compromised then the funding available would reduce, and a recent survey suggested that the cliff is receding by approximately 2m a year, but with the scheme in place this could reduce to 200mm.” 

Cllr Hughes added that, if East Devon do agree to explore the more expensive but potentially better option for sea defences and if the erosion is as it appears, then he believed emergency powers should be enacted for placement of rock revetment around Pennington Point.