UNEARTHING critical information from the early 1990s about the design of Sidmouth’s coastal defences and their technical history has caused further delays to East Devon District Council's Beach Management Plan (BMP) project.
The aims of the current project are to ensure that Sidmouth's sea defence scheme is performing as it was designed to do when it was built in the mid-1990s, and to consider what can be justified to reduce the rate of erosion at East Beach.
The historic information, held by Royal Haskoning, is needed to enable the council’s current consultants, Halcrow:
• to review the scheme’s performance against its design standard of service
• to produce baseline reports setting out the current understanding of the physical processes, the environmental setting, the history of the development of the coastal defences and their design rationale
• and so to complete phase one of the project, ensuring that the options to deliver the aims, which are to be developed and appraised in phase two, are as well informed as possible.
In April this year the council expected that the historic information would be available in time for Halcrow to produce the baseline reports for discussion at a steering group* meeting in September.
Unearthing the historic information has taken much longer than expected, partly because Royal Haskoning had to search for the information in archives going back 20 to 25 years and select the relevant reports that we need for phase one. This means the baseline reports will not be available for discussion by the steering group until next February.
There is some good news. The delay in uncovering all the necessary historical data has also allowed the council to include pre and post storm data from winter 2013 and spring 2014 in the analysis that Halcrow will be presenting to the steering group next year.
The council's deputy leader Andrew Moulding, who chairs the BMP steering group, said: “The success of this project depends on our current consultants developing a sound understanding of the coastal processes, the environmental constraints and opportunities, and most of all the history of the development of Sidmouth’s sea defences and their design rationale.
"That requires reliable information about the design history of the sea defences that the council does not possess, so we asked the consultants who designed and built the defences to help. They have been very helpful but it has taken a long time to locate everything and so we have decided to postpone the September steering group meeting until February.”
“Any delay is of course unfortunate, but we have to look at a project like this in the round. Developing a sound understanding of past work and decisions is a critical, early phase of what will be quite a complex and lengthy programme of work that is likely to be measured in years rather than weeks or months.
"For example, once we get to the point of applying for funding we could be looking at a wait of many months before any necessary grants and permissions are forthcoming.
“To ensure we get the best possible result for Sidmouth – and that is our aim – we need to be as thorough as possible. If being thorough means waiting patiently while all the historic technical data is located and analysed, then the delay is something we are prepared to live with. This is not a task that can be rushed.”
The missing historical data is vital in helping the current team understand the design standards of the most recent coastal defence schemes. This in turn will help them to advise us on any new beach management processes or physical structures.