THE Government’s Environment Minister has seen for himself the threat to Sidmouth posed by cliff erosion on a visit to the town this month.
During his visit, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, MP Owen Paterson met cliff top residents who have lost several meters of their garden due to erosion in recent years.
He also inspected the site of massive cliff falls near Pennington Point which have been subject to erosion, forcing the diversion of the South West Coast Path at Alma Bridge.
The Minister stopped-off in Sidmouth as part of a visit to the district organised by East Devon MP Hugo Swire.
He came the day after residents were invited to contribute to the first stage of the East Devon DIstrict Council backed beach management plan which has the aim of maintaining and improving the town’s coastal defences.
In November, the council announced the start of a 12-month data gathering phase with a view to creating a plan.
As previously reported by the Echo, the £75,000 project is split into five stages, including information gathering, baseline studies, issues, options and plan production.
It is hoped the implementation of the subsequent plan will attract funding from several sources including the Government.
The start of the project comes two years after district council cabinet members backed a move for a beach management plan, following a campaign by residents on Cliff Road.
A report by the former head of economy Kate Little confirmed that “accelerated erosion” had occurred since 1996 – after the installation of rock groynes along the seafront in 1995.
County and district councillor Stuart Hughes, who is also the county’s lead member for flooding and a former chairman of Sidmouth Town Council, has long called for an “urgent” protection scheme for the base of the cliffs at Pennington Point to prevent further erosion which could leave the eastern end of the town at risk from tidal flooding.
Mr Paterson heard from assistant project manager Tony Burch, how the project team is bringing together anecdotal evidence provided by the public with technical data to be collected by coastal management experts engaged by the district council.
Around 150 people attended the public display at the Sailing Club in four hours, both to hear more about the plan’s proposals and contribute to the process.
A council spokesperson said that people contributed “vital” information about the history of the beach and the impact of the sea and the weather.
The spokesperson explained that before the project team can consider beach management options, it needs to understand the natural coastal processes, human interventions and nature's response to them that have shaped Sidmouth’s coastline over past generations, in particular establishing historical rates of erosion.
Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of the project steering group, thanked the Minister for his interest and expressed his gratitude to everyone who came along to the open day and described the input of the public as “invaluable”.