Sidmouth 'on the edge of catastrophe'

PUBLISHED: 08:55 23 November 2011 | UPDATED: 11:35 25 November 2011

Cliff fall drama in Sidmouth. Photo by Eve Mathews.

Cliff fall drama in Sidmouth. Photo by Eve Mathews.

Eve Mathews.

ENVIRONMENTAL bodies have been warned they have one last-chance to address rapid erosion of Sidmouth's crumbling eastern coastline before a "catastrophe" befalls the town.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) chiefs, this week, vowed to urgently address problems at Pennington Point after residents dramatically withdrew plans to save their homes at the eleventh hour.

In turn, the authority admitted inaction is no longer an option and promised to form a working party of councillors, statutory bodies and community members to find a solution - and fast.

Cliff Road homeowners pulled their plans for a 240 metre rock revetment moments before development management committee members were set to decide their fate on Tuesday.

Councillors had indicated the scheme, which residents spent £10,000 putting together, would be rejected.

The meeting heard Sidmouth faces flooding misery, the loss of Alma Bridge and the nearby coastal footpath, and that homes will have to be abandoned within 20 years. EDDC chairman, Councillor Peter Halse, who was born in Cliff Road, told members: “This may well be the last opportunity we have of actually doing something before a catastrophe befalls us.

“This is an extremely serious situation. It’s not just about the people who live at the top of the cliffs - this is going to affect the whole of Sidmouth.”

EDDC deputy leader, Cllr Andrew Moulding, who will head the working group, added: “The complexity of the problem doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work speedily and diligently towards finding a solution. I promise the people of Sidmouth we shall do that.”

Applicant Paul Griew, who heads the Cliff Road Action Group, told the committee: “It has been 18 months since anything has happened whatsoever. We’ve become incredibly frustrated.”

He said he’d rather withdraw revetment plans than see them rejected.

Mr Griew had urged councillors: “Cast your vote for people, not policies.”

He said the erosion rate of the eastern cliffs had increased by around 20 times since 1995.

“Erosion would have reached our houses in 400 years, but now is likely to reach them in 20,” added Mr Griew.

Ward member Chris Wale emphasised the need to “find the best solution” for the “moveable feast” of erosion. He commended residents, welcomed the formation of a working group and said: “We’re taking this to our hearts as a serious matter.

“Things are going to happen, and very soon.”

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