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Calls for action after Sidmouth cliff fall

Monday, 2 March 2020 13:20

By Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporting Service

It happened on a section of beach at Pennington Point

Calls have been made for emergency action to be taken following a huge cliff fall at Sidmouth on Monday morning.

Large chunks of the cliff at Pennington Point on the town’s East Beach gave way in two separate collapses.

It is yet another cliff fall than has taken place in the area for which multi-million pound plans to protest have been developed but are short on funding for.

Cllr Stuart Hughes, has called for emergency action to be taken due to the ‘risk to life’ that the latest cliff fall, which has happened close to the steps leading onto the beach, poses.

He has been backed by Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, who said: “I fully support the call for emergency powers to be used to install maintain the safe exit for walkers using Pennington Point in Sidmouth. I saw the damage caused by coastal erosion on Friday and hope the council act quickly.”

The latest cliff fall has happened near to where a small cave and steps that led to the original Alma Bridge that haven’t been seen for years were revealed in the aftermath of Storm Dennis.

Plans are being developed to try and protect the cliffs and the town, with the preferred beach management scheme consisting of adding a new rock groyne on East Beach and importing new shingle onto Sidmouth Beach, as well as increasing the height of the splash wall on the seafront.

But around £1m still needs to be found to fund the scheme and with construction at least two years away, Cllr Hughes said that something needs to be done now and called for emergency action to be taken.

He said: “Some emergency action needs to be taken at Pennington Point due to the risk to life that this is starting to pose. If you lose the steps then people cannot get safe access on and off the beach so there is the potential for lives to be at risk.

“East Devon need to take some emergency action and to do something to protect the cliffs. This is a moving feast. We have had a run of storms with waves hitting the toe of the cliffs the rain at the top and because it is a vertical cliff face, it doesn’t get the chance to recover.

“We need to take some emergency measures to protect the cliffs and we have got to start taking action and if we don’t do anything then lives could be put at risk.”

The preferred Beach Management Scheme aims to maintain the 1990’s Sidmouth Coastal Defence Scheme Standard of Service and reduce the rate of beach and cliff erosion to the east of the River Sid. The plans would not stop cliff falls but would reduce the erosion from the toe of the cliffs, which would reduce the erosion rates.

Costs for construction of the scheme are estimated at £8.9million, with around £1 million still needed to be found.

The South West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (SWRFCC) have agreed to grant the BMP £500,000 to help bridge the effective funding gap, which had stood at £1.5million.

Previous plans included a rock revetment on East Beach, but where recommended for refusal by the Local Planning Authority and subsequently withdrawn by the applicants on two previous occasions, most recently in 2011, due to the objections from multiple agencies including Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Jurassic Coast Team and the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

But Cllr Hughes said that some emergency action may need to be taken, for which planning permission is not required, which could include filling the cave that appeared and putting some sort of revetment in place to protect the cliffs.

He added: “Again this highlights the need for the Beach Management Plan but that is around at least two years away from happening, so we need some emergency action to be taken now and time is of the essence with plenty of storms coming over the next few weeks.”

East Devon District Council have previously issued warnings to members of the public that the cliffs pose a very real danger and caution must be exercised when visiting them and the beach, and not to ignore warning signs, and not to sit directly beneath them.

A sign saying: “Danger. Unstable Cliffs Rock Falls” is displayed by the cliffs.

East Devon District Council has been contacted for comment in relation to the latest cliff fall and what action, if any, they are set to take.

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