‘Steps would render Sidmouth’s Alma Bridge inaccessible to many’

Alma Bridge. Ref shs 8754-10-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

Alma Bridge. Ref shs 8754-10-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Plans to secure a link across the River Sid that uses steps will render it accessible only to able-bodied users, a retired businessman has warned.

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce president Derek Parry slammed the ‘shameful failure’ of local government to tackle the cliff erosion threatening Alma Bridge - and said someone needs to take action now.

Devon County Council (DCC) bosses hope to implement a ramped bridge, but are considering another, stepped, option as a medium-term solution while East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) beach management plan (BMP) is drawn up.

Mr Parry, of Southway, said: “Sadly, the medium-term solution would use steps at each end of the bridge. That renders it unusable to the many people who use the present bridge with prams, cycles, wheelchairs or electric buggies.

“The root cause of the present problems is the shameful failure of local government to act on the need for effective cliff protection, which has been obvious for well over 20 years now.

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“Instead, we have seen nothing but a stream of committee meetings, consultant reports and endless talk. Action taken? Nothing!

“At the present rate of progress, it could take another 20 years for an effective BMP to be put in place.

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“Before effectively closing Alma Bridge permanently to all but able-bodied pedestrians, I suggest that someone now co-ordinates action to reduce cliff erosion.”

The stepped option is one of two upstream solutions DCC is considering to replace Alma Bridge. The other would use ramps, include an upgraded coastal defence wall and is expected to last more than 50 years – but the £1.5million cost and engineering reasons may make it unviable.

The necessary civil engineering and flood modelling could be included in the BMP process, although a DCC spokesman said this could delay construction for two or three years. The ramped option also lacks the support of the Environment Agency as it judges that its flood wall on the seafront is adequate.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, DCC’s bridges champion, said: “The bridge we are looking to start work on in 2017 is a short-term solution, but will provide a much-needed lifeline for those living to the east of the Sid and coastpath walkers.

“We also have all the relevant permissions required to start work, although it is unfortunate that we can’t provide a ramp.

“I have always had concerns over the safety of walkers using the only other alternative route via Beatlands Road on sections of highway without footways, but there is no other alternative.”

He added that his ‘gut feeling’ is that EDDC will use its emergency powers to provide some form of protection within the next 24 months.

The BMP is set to be published this month, with the tender process to appoint a consultant expected to begin in March.

An outline business case for a project to protect the seafront is planned for completion in June 2018. EDDC has previously said the earliest realistic date construction of any scheme could begin would be 2018/19.

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