Work on £9million Sidmouth sea defence plans paused so ‘bigger and better’ options can be explored

Work on plans to protect Sidmouth from the sea has been paused so the potential for ‘bigger and better’ defences can be explored.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet voted to put an existing £9million scheme on hold – as previously dismissed options may now be affordable.

Permission for temporary rock armouring at crumbling Pennington Point will be sought in the meantime.

The move – made possible by a funding boost – could mean that the realisation of a scheme for the town is delayed by up to two years.

EDDC’s current preferred option for Sidmouth is to spend £9million on a new rock groyne on East Beach and raising the height of the seafront splash wall.

Modifications to the River Sid training wall and shingle replenishment and recycling would also be carried out.

Now, other options are back on the table as extra money has been made available due to changes in eligibility for funding from various bodies.

In 2017, Sidmouth town councillors backed a scheme with four additional semi-obscured offshore ‘reefs’ that decrease in size towards East Beach.

As this cost up to £20million – the most expensive of all the options – it wasn’t taken forward.

Other rejected ideas included modifying the rock groynes at Bedford Steps, York Steps and East Pier Rock into ‘T’ shapes and placing a slope of large boulders next to the sea wall.

The preferred option for the beach management plan for Sidmouth.

The preferred option for the beach management plan for Sidmouth.

Back on the table? Previous options for Sidmouth seafront which had previously been ruled out.

Back on the table? Previous options for Sidmouth seafront which had previously been ruled out.

Back on the table? Previous options for Sidmouth seafront which had previously been ruled out.

EDDC engineer Tom Buxton-Smith told a cabinet meeting on March 31: “There is a desire to see if a better scheme can be delivered than the one proposed, but, to do so, it will need us to pause the project to see if they are technically viable.”

He said of mooted temporary rock armouring at Pennington Point: “In the short-term, it will slow down erosion rates, meaning the cliff edge will be kept away from residents’ houses for longer, the mouth of the River Sid remains better protected from south-easterly storms, meaning a reduction in flood risk to Sidmouth town, and removes pressure to deliver the BMP [Beach Management plan] quickly, which will allow time to further assess other options and allow further post pandemic public consultation.”

But he added: “It is possible that temporary planning permission will not be granted, the rock armour will be unsightly, and will be the first thing residents/visitors see of the World Heritage site when looking east from The Esplanade, and placing rock armour in front of the cliffs could be argued to be desecrating a pristine site with many important designations, albeit temporarily.”

Councillor Denise Bickley, who represents the Sidmouth Town ward, said: “If we were desperate to plough ahead, it’s like being on the M5 when you want to be on the M4.

“It’s pointless to keep ploughing ahead with the wrong plan, so we can go back to the drawing board and find good ways to change it so everyone in the town can be as happy as can be.

“Pausing it, a temporary solution and to really get it right is so important.”

Rubble on East beach following the latest Sidmouth cliff fall. Picture: Stuart Hughes

Rubble on East beach following a Sidmouth cliff fall. Picture: Stuart Hughes

Cllr Geoff Jung, EDDC’s portfolio holder for coast, country and environment, added: “If we do this, then it is imperative that we a approve the investigation of temporary planning permission and installation of rock armour at East Beach to protect the gardens and the cliffs as, if we delay the scheme, we need to see if we can get some temporary rock revetment on the beach as early as possible.”

Cllr John Loudoun, who represents the Sidmouth Rural ward, said: “The residents of Cliff Road, whose parts of their gardens are falling daily into the sea, have a great deal at stake in this.

“We need to think of the residents above East Beach as, if we do this, it brings added angst and anxiety to them as they thought they knew what was going to happen and when, now they are less certain.

“So to give the support and encouragement, we need to go with the temporary permission, and I hope we can deliver all of this is good time for those residents and the rest of the town.”

Cabinet members voted in favour of pausing the project for six months to look at the viability of other, previously dismissed, options.

It will take up to half a year for engineers and specialist consultants to review and assess the various alternatives.

Members also approved investigating securing temporary planning permission for the installation of rock armouring at East Beach.

‘Bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defences back on table – with rock islands among options