New funding opportunity puts better sea defences back on the agenda

Sidmouth seafront

New funding opportunities mean Sidmouth could get improved sea defences - Credit: Alex Walton

‘Bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defences are back on the agenda – with offshore rock islands once again being considered to protect the town.

Additional offshore breakwaters had been discussed before 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 £9million funding available and so had been ruled out.

However, the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group heard last month that changes to the eligibility for funding had been made and as such, additional money could be available for the long-awaited scheme.

As a result, the advisory group voted overwhelmingly in favour of pausing the current working draft option to look again at alternatives previously considered unaffordable.

An urgent report is now set to go before East Devon District Council’s Cabinet asking councillors to decide whether they want to investigate options previously dismissed because of insufficient funding, including offshore rock islands.

Cllr Geoff Jung, East Devon’s portfolio holder for the coast, country and environment, said: “The scheme that was originally underfunded and unpopular has now been provided with extra funding. This will enable an improved design that may overcome the more controversial elements of the scheme.

“Although the beach and the cliffs are protected as a World Heritage site of the Jurassic Coast, it is hoped temporary time limited permission will be able to satisfy the regulations and conditions of the designated site, so we are able to progress work not otherwise possible with a permanent scheme.

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“Once the final scheme is finally approved the stone used in the temporary revetment could then be used elsewhere within the scheme.”

The current preferred option at Sidmouth is to invest around £9million in a coastal defence scheme which would involve beach replenishment, periodic beach recycling, a new rock groyne on East Beach and modifications to the River Sid training wall.

It would also include raising the height of the splash wall along the seafront slightly, and then topping it up with temporary storm barriers or strong glass panels when needed.

But now that extra funding is available, alternative schemes that had been ruled out due to the cost could be back on the table.

If East Devon’s cabinet agrees to investigate and test the feasibility of other options, it will take up to six months for engineers and specialist consultants to review and assess various alternatives.

Following the studies and investigations, a report would then be presented to the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group. Its members would be asked to recommend what the town would prefer to do – whether that would be to go ahead with the original preferred option or use the additional funding on a different option which may be more beneficial to Sidmouth’s coastal defences, before the cabinet will make the final decision on what option goes ahead.

If the green light is given for the current preferred option, construction could start within two years. 

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