Council’s search for a contractor stalls emergency repairs to Exmouth sea wall

Emergency repairs to Exmouth sea wall have stalled until at least October while the district council finds a contractor for the next phase of work.

Repairs to Exmouth’s damaged sea wall are now likely to start in October as the town faces a race for the work to begin before any winter storms, writes local democracy reporter Bradley Gerrard.

Some of the work has been completed as part of a first phase, but East Devon District Council’s cabinet heard on Wednesday (June 5) that phase two would now be likely to begin in the autumn, a month later than an earlier prediction.

sea wall

The map shows the areas where Exmouth sea wall is at risk.
Image: EDDC.

Phase one is around the Sideshore development on Queen’s Drive, with phase two carrying on to the west to a slipway.

Tom Buxton-Smith, a council engineer, said the need to have a competitive tender to identify the best contractor for the work meant an October start is now most likely.

“This still puts us ahead of the winter,” he said.

“That is ultimately our biggest risk; leaving the wall in a state of disrepair throughout the winter.

“Everything we have been doing to date is still classed as an emergency and we’re still keen to race against the incoming likely winter storms to ensure we have a secure sea defence before the worst of winter hits.”

Exmouth

Steel pile wall installation on Exmouth seafront, near Sideshore.
Photo: EDDC.

Mr Buxton-Smith presented a range of options for how phase two will be completed.

A potential complicating factor relates to concession stands housing two local businesses.

Mr Buxton-Smith said one option is to continue the sheet piling used in phase one for the entirety of phase two, navigating it around each concession to create a continuous barrier. This would give the scheme a 100-year life.

However, if gaps in the sheet piling arise by stopping short of either side of the concessions, and other defences such as rock armour used to protect those businesses, then the design life would likely be less than a century.

Moving the concessions is not considered viable in the timeframe, as any new location is likely to require planning permission, something that is unlikely to be secured by the time the repairs start, and is also not guaranteed to be permitted in a less vulnerable location.

Exmouth

The photo shows one of the cracks in the seawall.
Photo: EDDC.

Costs have also risen over time, with an initial £1.1 million pledged by the council for both phases in total earlier this year, but then increased to £1.5 million for just phase one.

While the total estimated £3.3 million cost for both phases is well above this, Mr Buxton-Smith noted that the council had not had to find more money than its pledged £1.5 million, with the additional cash coming from external sources.

Exmouth

Exmouth sea wall at Sideshore.
Photo: LDRS/Will Goddard.

Cllr Geoff Jung (Liberal Democrat, Woodbury and Lympstone), portfolio holder for coast, countryside and environment, apologised for inconvenience the phase one works cause, but added that “the consequence of not doing the works means that was not a consideration.”

He continued: “As these are emergency works [to the sea wall], we can proceed without planning permission, but it doesn’t mean we can do what we like,” he said.

“We need to replace it like for like unless this can be justified through engineering or surveys, and we may need retrospective planning approval later.”

He added that phase three of the works would deal with any potential cladding of the wall and that a separate report by the scrutiny committee would look into the reasons relating to the failure of the sea wall and why businesses and associated infrastructure were built next to it.

Furthermore, Mr Buxton-Smith added that the Exmouth slipway, which was demolished after storms this April damaged it further, would be repaired with a scheme that had a five-year design life.

A bid for funding had been submitted to the Environment Agency, he said, and that the outcome of this should be revealed in the coming weeks.

He noted that a more permanent scheme would be needed in future.

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