Open letters regarding Network Rail's plans

Words from residents and visitors from Teignmouth and Holcombe

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To whom it may concern,


It has taken me a great deal of time to try and put into words my absolute horror and despair at your proposals for the Teignmouth Seawall.


I have grown up in this town and I have witnessed many storms notably 2014 which was a storm I have never seen the likes of before or since. Due to the weather conditions on that day, with an easterly wind and one of the highest tides of the year, the town as a whole was absolutely battered by the force of the waves with water pouring over, not only the railway line but the sea wall at the pier right down to the Ness. The resulting waves and spray was pouring over on to the Den and the back beach, they were that fierce.


The impact of that storm was devastating on the pier, promenade, roads, the collapse of the railway line at Dawlish and a land slip on the cliff near Holcombe. It was, some would say, the storm of a lifetime due to many scenarios combining together the likes that hadn’t been seen before in many, many decades and also hasn’t been seen since and as so often happens there was an outcry of shock and horror, which I have no doubt wouldn’t of been anywhere near as bad had train companies used trains that didn’t stop when they got wet!


Therefore there were promises by the government to shore up the railway line.


However, imagine my disappointment when I see an absolute monstrosity, of gargantuan proportions, proposed for the Teignmouth/Holcombe side of the Parson’s tunnels when actually there is a very strong argument that no such ‘resilience’ works of that level need doing at all since there has been no further landslides of that level since 2014. Completely ignoring the fact that this was a very rare set of storms... yes the track was shut for a prolonged period of time that brought frustration to commuters however the ‘orange army’ worked tirelessly and it was reopened within 2 months. The cliffs at Teignmouth were cleared within a matter of weeks surely that reaction and resulting fixing is far better use of money (£35 million) for a once in a lifetime storm than what you are proposing hundreds of millions for just 100 years?


Having grown up in Teignmouth I have regularly seen the work that you do putting netting up on the cliffs and it has worked so successfully in the past I therefore am at a loss to understand why you suddenly feel that this is no longer satisfactory?


I visited your ‘public consultation evenings’ and found the model to be inherently inaccurate. It also did not truly represent the scale of the wall you are proposing to build since it had no clear model of where the current wall stood.


It wasn’t until the Teignmouth evening at The Pavilions where some rudimentary chalk lines had been drawn to indicate where Sprey Point currently is did the enormity become somewhat apparent but to the consultation evenings prior to this.... the public were none the wiser.


I discussed with a few of your representatives about the proposals. Some I found agreeable and pleasant some however, Colin your planning manager for instance, was rude, condescending and had absolutely no regard for us as a community at all. His language towards me was completely unprofessional, sexist and misogynist. ‘speak to this lady in the simplest terms possible’ was not appreciated or considered appropriate and you can view this as an official complaint. I would like to have written apology from Colin along with assurances from you that this type of language towards a woman or to anyone else for that matter is not acceptable within your organisation.


Moving to your proposals - Your rationale - Your rationale for the proposal is to ensure the railway line is to last for 100 years. Taking into account the 8 years it will take to build, by the time I am 80 it will have already passed half it’s expected life time.


I fail to see how you can justify spending this outlandish sum of money for something that is supposedly ‘impregnable for just 100 years’. When the money could be so much better spent at alternatives that are much more financially viable.


That and the fact that Brunel’s wall has stood for over 180 years makes your proposal pale into insignificance.


You say are doing this to secure the cliffs, that hasn’t had a major fall since 2014, and as I mentioned above in the years prior or since. The netting and wooden barriers, the latter I believe are no longer there, worked perfectly well. What has changed so dramatically in the last 5 years to make you suddenly think that what you’ve been doing is no longer good enough? ‘To secure the railway line you need to move the wall away from the cliffs to guarantee rail travel for the next 100 years’ but, whilst at the moment the sea is not the concern for you, how do you figure that by moving the wall further out to sea will keep it as such?


To my mind by moving the wall out to sea, so significantly, means that you are putting the wall at even greater risk of failure than it currently is.


Appearance - To say that the appearance of the wall could be described as a concrete leviathan is not doing it justice. The wall that currently stands, is made up of red sandstone in keeping with the local area. It is picturesque and has been the go to panorama for many GWR adverts. Whereas your proposal does not blend in with the local area and would instead be a monstrous blot on the coastal landscape.


Footprint - I do not understand why on earth the footprint of the wall needs to be so enormous. Your argument for the cliffs being unstable do not stack up since there are cliffs closer to Teignmouth just as much at risk, according to your diagrams, as there is at the Holcombe end. However you can work around that with netting but you don’t seem to think this applies further up despite the fact the cliffs are labelled in the same yellow colour coding. The revetment extends the new ‘proposed’ wall out even further and again I do not see how this is required since currently there is no such revetment anywhere along the sea wall and the current wall is absolutely fine. Therefore if it was removed it would reduce the footprint significantly. Follow that by the fact that your ‘new’ proposed Sprey point goes along so much towards Holcombe obliterating over 1/4 of the beach at that end I don’t see how this can be justified. One member of your team explained to me that the revetment was needed in order to keep people safe that walk along the wall?? Over the last 180 years, has there been a significantly high level of incidents along this stretch that we’re not aware of? The reason I ask is because from what I have experienced thousands of people walk and run up and down the length of the wall with little to no trouble and there’s been no serious incidents besides someone driving a car along it but a bollard soon prevented that from happening again.


Heritage - I find it incredibly peculiar and convenient that, not long before you put in your proposals, you managed to get the iconic Brunel Seawall immune from protected status. Some of your representatives tried to argue that it’s not Brunel’s wall because it’s been repaired so many times. I would suggest that this is not a viable argument for numerous reasons not least that the Clifton Suspension bridge has been repainted so many times in it’s lifetime and fixed for repairs that according to your logic it’s not the same bridge yet it has protected status!? Furthermore, The House of Commons, that is having billions spent on it, is being updated with all sorts of bits replaced... does that mean it is no longer the Houses of Parliament and therefore has less importance and status than it did before!?!?


Environment - Something that I don’t feel that you have considered well enough is the significant impact on the environment as a whole and this in particular is where I have a serious issue. Our planet, as we know it, is in a state of flux where we can either travel in the way we’re going and destroy it or we can savour it and work with it’s natural resources in a sustainable way to try and protect it for millions of years to come. Yet you feel that pouring millions of tons of concrete onto a natural resource is justified. In this current climate crisis, where the world is heating up, significantly, you think that this is the way to fix it!?


Building a wall using fossil fuel burning vehicles that release pollutants into the air, producing tons upon tons of concrete releasing further toxins into the air along with contaminating the sea and beach around it.


This not just offends me, it appalls me that you can consider this morally justified. Is there no one within your ranks that has any semblance of responsibility and consideration for the planet that we are all fortunate enough to live on!?


In addition, by removing so much of the beach and with the dramatic change to the cliffs you are proposing, the wildlife that inhabits these areas are placed at significant risk. Again, I seriously question your morality here that you feel at this time, where animals and wildlife are already under great pressure to survive with less habitats you can justify taking yet more of their natural world.


The U.K. has signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement, amongst other things means that we must work to actively reduce our carbon emissions and protect the environment. What you are proposing does neither of these things and therefore puts you in contravention of that agreement. The contamination of the sea water from concrete, spillages etc is also a massive cause for concern not just for polluting the ocean as a whole but local sustainable fish stocks and mussel beds could be irreparably damaged as a result of your proposals resulting in the loss of habitats, sea life including fish and birds.


Cost and Feasibility - None of your representatives were able to give me an approximation of how much this would all cost but I seriously question really whether the money is financially justified considering the many models and projections on the rise of sea levels in not 100 years but 50 years...


Moving a wall further out to sea that currently, withstands the ferocity of the sea seems nonsensical.


Furthermore the cost of doing this when there has surely got to be so many better options needs to be properly investigated. In just a matter of months you went from one design to another as a result of you deciding ‘it’s not as bad as we first thought’ or ‘we’ve made improvements’ what’s to say you haven’t/can’t think up something better in another couple of months.


I for one do not feel at all convinced that you as an organisation have fully looked into all of the options open to you including compulsory purchasing of land above the cliffs or rerouting an inland route for bad weather days surely these options would have far less of an impact on the environment and local area as a whole.


Implications to the local area - I do not feel that you have fully considered or recognised the impact on the rest of the local area will be.


Teignmouth Beach, as you know, like many beaches, has long shore drift and sand from Spray Point travels down to replenish the beach as it moves towards the point.


By changing the coastline in such a dramatic way you will have a significant impact on the remainder of the beach, the extended wall is likely to result in scouring where it is currently meaning the beach will no longer be replenished and then what will happen!?!? Currently you are unable to answer this since you have still not got an EIA, which I seriously feel just represents the contempt you hold for the environment and local area as a whole.


The sand itself acts as protection for the wall and by the wall moving out and the beach disappearing the wall will be much more vulnerable than it is currently.


The impact of 8 years worth of earth moving, tractors, lorries, workmen, vans etc etc on the local area as whole will be devastating. It would put tourists off coming for almost a decade resulting in a loss of livelihoods. Teignmouth as we know it would cease to exist and if and when the work is finally finished there is no guarantee they would return since the beach would not have the same attractive distinctiveness that it is known for.


Overall, your proposals are lacking in consideration for a whole multitude of reasons that put together combine to, in my mind, a meteoric error and I implore you to rethink your proposal. There is a better, more considerate, way to overcome the problems you feel there are, in a much more sympathetic way that wouldn’t obliterate the coastline of the country along with contravening the responsibility you have as an organisation to protect the environment.


I look forward to your dramatic improvements in the coming months,


Regards Sarah Luxton  

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Comments on Network Rails proposals at Teignmouth Sea wall Parsons tunnel to East Cliff. My views.

As a long time resident I find the loss of beach unacceptable.

As a Civil Engineer I find the proposal to be crude engineering.

There are ways of keeping the railway at its present position and these have not been properly explored.

There are several comments about deep seated cliff instability and I have sent a Freedom of Information requests to Network Rail asking for justification of these statements. The replies so far have been unsatisfactory. Your proposals are predicated on the statements about deep seated instability. Without this there are other possible solutions. It is my view that the materials forming the cliffs are not ones that would be vulnerable to rotational land slide and the rock is not likely to slide on planes within it due to the advantageous dip direction. What we have here is normal weathering of a steep slope.

There is a growing body of opinion that your main assumption is not demonstrable. In your replies to my Freedom of Information requests you have hidden behind the excuse of Draft documents when your proposals are based on an opinion you are not prepared to discuss or defend.

You have published documents classifying areas of cliffs by risk assessment.  The length classed as high risk is only about 17% . Furthermore there are long lengths where no protection exists at present and no sign of problems but still classed as medium risk. 

The recent problems along this stretch of railway have been mud slides and there is a need to greatly improve drainage of the cliff.  A lot of the cliff has good vegetation growth which suggests a stable face. The mud slide in 2104 started out relatively small and then, presumably to remove other at risk material, and because the railway was already closed due to the Dawlish collapse, the fire brigade followed by water canon from clay works used water to produce a larger slide.

Crude engineering. This is just build a wall and use nearly a million of tonnes of fill material.

The proposed schedule is to build the wall, back fill and then move the rail track. After this is done then do the filling and other measure to the cliffs.

I question whether filling against the cliff is necessary or will ever be done since there would now be room for the slips, of the type normal here, without affecting the railway.  Generally it has been mud slides here and not of any great extent, nor producing any great quantity of material.

Peter Kay (Exeter-Newton Abbot a railway history) notes the position of the top of the cliff has not changed over many decades.


D S C Sharland MICE C. Eng. B.Sc(Hon)

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