Traders greet chance for improved seafront defence plan

Sidmouth Esplanade. Ref shs 27 18TI 7051. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth Esplanade. Ref shs 27 18TI 7051. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth’s business community have welcomed “encouraging news” about the town’s beach management plan.

In the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce’s latest bulletin, members were told there had been changes to the calculation of funding and it “appears that there is a good chance that Sidmouth will have an increased financial envelope within which to devise a suitable scheme”.

The bulletin explained: “In response, the advisory group, which includes a number of local stakeholders, voted to ‘pause’ the current preferred option in order to consider other schemes previously considered unaffordable.

“The preferred option has been much criticised locally, and the chamber, in particular, has objected strongly to the idea of building a very high ‘Seaton-style’ wall on our esplanade. 

“We have obtained estimates for offshore options that we believe will in the medium term be cheaper, and almost certainly more effective.”

At East Beach, the chamber has also had strong reservations about the installation of the large ‘supergroyne’ currently proposed.

The chamber bulletin reported: “We think that again it will be too expensive, and is unlikely to secure the protection of housing on Salcombe Hill, or prevent continued erosion at Pennington Point, which will mean the town centre being exposed to increased flood risk. 

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“We believe that there are several alternative schemes that could be both cheaper and more effective, so we are delighted that these other options can now be considered, rather than prematurely dismissed.”

The chamber said it was doubtful that the preferred option, in its current form, could get through the planning process, so rather than delaying a viable outcome, the chamber was “hopeful that looking at more acceptable alternatives will ultimately bring a solution closer”.

It added: “The fact that the prospect of a huge wall on our seafront has receded is surely a huge relief to every Sidmouthian: the idea of a monstrous concrete wall desecrating our much-loved esplanade is unacceptable when there are alternatives available.

“However, rising sea levels are a fact and there is no doubt that they will continue to rise for the foreseeable future, so we must take action to address the problem.”

The chamber also reflected on the success of covid-19 vaccinations and the prospect of a return to business life.

It said: “The rapid decline in the number of infections, and hospital admissions, has allowed the government to announce a timetable to lift some of the restrictions imposed upon us all, and our businesses in particular. 

“Whilst everyone in the commercial sector is anxious to open their doors and see their customers return, it is widely recognised that reasonable caution is required.

“Last summer, our shops and hospitality businesses excelled with their adherence to guidelines and standards of safety and cleanliness: there is no doubt that the way in which our local traders operated and their customers behaved, was a great credit to all concerned, and kept local cases of the virus much lower than elsewhere. The same will happen again this summer. It seems likely that with overseas travel very difficult and risky, we could be very busy indeed this season, as long as the weather is kind.”

East Devon District Council proposals to close a large part of Connaught Gardens to the public in order to allow private weddings to take place also drew comment from the traders’ organisation.

“It is certainly a glorious location in which to get married but it does seem a pity that our prime tourist attraction – No 1 on Tripadvisor’s recommended list of things to do in Sidmouth – will be unavailable to residents and visitors alike. And questions surely need to be asked about this ‘privatisation’ of public open space.”

The chamber’s bulletin added: “Details of how EDDC’s wedding business will operate have yet to be confirmed and the chamber has not been consulted. 

“There could be issues of noise, litter, safety and possible damage to the gardens. It does seem odd to close a large part of our most popular tourism asset, presumably at the height of the summer, when there are numerous wedding venues available in the area.’’  

Another well-attended Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce Zoom breakfast welcomed the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez.

Alison was able to provide a frank and informative explanation of her role, and the everyday challenges that the police have to face.

Many of those listening were interested to learn of the wide-ranging role of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, which extends well beyond the prevention and investigation of crime – and in particular, to understand the problems brought about by covid.

The commissioner took the opportunity to answer a number of wide-ranging questions, and a lengthy discussion ensued regarding the installation of CCTV in Sidmouth.

It emerged that funding support was available for communities who wished to see a system introduced.

All participants seem to agree that local CCTV has become plagued by bureaucracy and over-complication. In Sidmouth, it was felt that a much simpler, cheaper and easily administered system was required.

Alison agreed with several speakers that the voice of the West Country was not being properly heard within central government, and this was impacting upon funding. She called for stronger regional representation and speculated that elected mayors and a unitary Devon might help improve the situation.

A number of speakers reported their general satisfaction with the work of the police and the local officers in particular.

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