‘Public being misled over Sidmouth’s beach management plan’ - claim
PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 August 2016
Sidmouth representatives claim they have had to fight for information on a project to shore up the seafront.
Councillors Matt Booth and Cathy Gardner say they have tried to co-operate with East Devon District Council (EDDC) on the town’s beach management plan (BMP) – but are speaking out because they feel the public is being ‘misled’.
Their allegations have been slammed as ‘unfair and unfounded’ by Cllr Andrew Moulding, the BMP steering group chairman, who accused his colleagues of ‘scaremongering’.
In a joint statement, Cllrs Booth and Gardner said: “While we try at all times to work with EDDC, we have a duty to the electorate to raise issues where we believe we see them. It is very difficult to do so if we are not consulted on issues in our ward. We were voted in with a large mandate last May, to a large extent because of the lack of transparency of EDDC and the key issues that were due. The representation of the situation around the process of the BMP to date needs to be questioned and we consider it to be misleading.”
The steering group is a ‘critical friend’ in the BMP process. It is made up of statutory bodies, such as the Environment Agency, and community groups like the Sid Vale Association. Cllrs Booth and Gardner are not members.
The two councillors said EDDC approved the shortlist of options for seafront protection options independently, but presented them as if they had the support of the steering group. Cllrs Booth and Gardner said EDDC only added one particular option - 4B - once the consultation was under way, following pressure from the steering group’s Sidmouth members. The ward members said this option – to install submerged reefs they argue would improve seafront amenities – was not given ‘equal opportunity’ and that the images released to the public were misleading.
Cllrs Booth and Gardner added: “It is of great concern that this is being set up as a cost-saving exercise and only one option will be tank tested. There is a real danger that it will not produce a result that will be approved by the Environment Agency or Defra and will not attract the partner funding that will be essential to deliver it.”
The BMP could cost £20million to implement and up to £15million will be needed in partnership funding. The cheapest option is £11million.
EDDC is yet to decide which option will be tank tested.
Ed Harrison, who chairs a Sidmouth sub-group of the BMP steering group, told the Herald: “What we’re worried about is that EDDC has already made up its mind. They’ve already said they cannot afford anything but the cheapest option.”
He said the majority of sub-group members hope options 4 and 4B can both be tank tested to assess their effectiveness.
Cllr Moulding said: “Healthy challenge is welcome, but we do need to respect the advice being provided by experts who have repeatedly addressed the issues raised. However, we cannot and will not request that expert advice is altered because some stakeholders are not getting the answers they wish to hear. Our officers’ and consultants’ time is being taken up, further delaying delivery of a scheme for Sidmouth, while adding to costs with no added benefit. I would question how this best serves the public interest.”
He said it would be ‘prohibitively expensive’ to tank test several options and it ‘could add millions of pounds’ to the overall scheme costs. Cllr Moulding argued that the BMP process had been conducted in a ‘completely open and clear-cut manner’ and that ward members had received email correspondence throughout.
Cllrs Booth and Gardner have invited residents to discuss the issue via firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.