East Devon District Council (EDDC) has agreed to take on the responsibility of closing seafront flood gates in Exmouth.
The vital highway defences safeguard 1,500 homes and numerous commercial properties from the sea.
They have been operated by the Environment Agency (EA), writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.
EDDC cabinet members ruled on Wednesday it was no longer feasible for the EA to be the primary responder in charge of closing the gates when storm events are predicted.
Councillors unanimously agreed that it would be sensible for the district authority to take on this responsibility.
And a community group operating under Exmouth Town Council will be the primary operators of non-highway gates.
Now, in the event of storm conditions being forecast, EDDC will receive a warning from the EA at least six hours before gate closures would be required.
With help from Devon County Council, on-street parking on Exmouth seafront would be suspended.
EDDC would then close the ‘Central Route’ via Alexander Terrace, using gates opposite Morton Road, and the ‘Eastern Route’ via the Esplanade with gates next to the Premier Inn.
The ‘Western Route’ via the Esplanade, with gates adjacent to The Grove, would be the last to be closed.
It is envisaged two separate community volunteer groups will be formed for non-highways gates – one based in the Camperdown area and another on the seafront.
These will be made up of local people, ideally with at least ten members at each location.
Should the gates not be closed, it will be escalated to the council.
StreetScene service lead Andrew Hancock told the meeting: “East Devon District Council are geographically well-placed to respond to close the gates, as the team best-suited to close the gates are based at the Camperdown Depot within Exmouth.
“With a team being based very local to the gates, this will minimise lead time, so gates could be shut later before an event, and opened quicker following an event.
“This would minimise inconvenience for residents of Exmouth limiting closure periods.
“If the Environment Agency were to lead on gate closures, they would have a minimum half hour travel time to Exmouth. They also have close many other flood gates around the county.”
Mr Hancock added: “The net cost to the council will be minimal, however, this will be at a detriment to other work carried out by the council, which may need to be replaced with overtime working or agency staff. Therefore these are real costs.
“But if East Devon District Council do not take on the operation of the highways gates, worst-case scenario is that no-one would close the gates, leaving Exmouth at significant flood risk.”
Supporting the move, Councillor Geoff Jung, cabinet member for coast, country and environment, said: “The scheme to get volunteers to work on the gates has worked elsewhere in Devon and this will be very welcome for the residents of Exmouth to be protected from storms and rising sea levels.”
Cllr Paul Hayward, cabinet member for economy, added: “This is a realistic and pragmatic solution to an ever-increasing problem.”
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