Save Holcombe Beach statement, January 2020

Many regional spokespeople appear avowedly pro Resilience in their recent correspondence, maintaining a view that the Rail Link must be secured above all else. This entrenched position only serves to divide the public, and fails to reflect the call of the two local preservation groups to work to achieve a robust future for the Railway without destroying a priceless asset in the Brunel sea wall and surrounding beach and sea environment. The current challenge presents an opportunity to shine a bright light on Teignmouth and Holcombe with a world leading design, perhaps including local clean energy generation as part of an offshore reef arrangement incorporated in new sea defences at Holcombe. Instead we are faced with the prospect of a dismal dystopian wall of concrete stretching for anything between 750 metres and 1700 metres, depending on which Network Rail illustration one picks. The carbon footprint of this alone is enough to make people shudder.

Recent weeks have witnessed strong and ever growing local resistance. Whilst we represent a civil and constructive challenge and debate, there are increasing calls from a radical fringe element to engage in more direct action, and this will only grow in strength unless reasoned voices are heard. Working with us might ultimately make the difference between the backers of the scheme being seen as heroes or villains.

The main threat to the railway is supposed to be from the cliffs, but if that is so then why has there been no slippage since the 2014 incident? We know that preventative maintenance had effectively stopped prior to this, and also that the monitors which were installed have not recorded any movement since. There is a strong case that the washing down of the loose scree that followed the 2014 collapse has effectively now removed this threat. Geologists have advised that the reported threat of toe failure to the cliffs is not an issue for the type of rock found here.

Residents above the site of the 2014 slippage state that there have been flooding problems in Woodland Avenue for the past 30 years, with the resultant floodwater seemingly having caused or contributed to this failure. In late 2019 South West Water carried out extensive works here, and initial findings are that this has been effective. This last Autumn has been record-breakingly wet. Between September and November we had 19 inches of rain; half our annual average and more than double the same period in 2018. Surely common sense suggests that if there are significant weaknesses in the cliff, this is when they would have become apparent, yet the cliff has remained intact, much as it has done for the past 175 years. At the very least there should be cross agency liaison between Network Rail and SWW to review and publicly report on the current drainage, before undertaking massive works and expenditure which might be unnecessary.

Assuming that cliff stabilisation is still deemed necessary, the manner of doing this has been questioned, with an independent GeoTechnical engineer describing the plans as, “untested and ridiculous”. They highlight a major issue with the building of buttresses below the cliff, in that water will then accumulate at the base, leading to a likelihood of further problems.

NR talk of mitigating impacts on marine flora and fauna, but it is just not possible to mitigate for the loss of any of the schedule 5 protected species with which we are blessed here. In these challenging times we all share a responsibility to do what we can to protect the diversity of species with which we share the planet. We await the Geotechical Survey and Environmental Impact Assessment with interest, but already fear that the parameters used within these will be insufficient. Climate change is now recognised as a reality, but there are many different views of the extent of sea level increases for the years ahead. This surely makes it crucial that any scheme which is developed has inbuilt flexibility in order to cope with different scenarios which may arise. Above all it seems sensible not to be too hasty to adopt a specific scheme before these dynamics are properly understood.

We learnt in the press last week that the current works at Dawlish have been suspended after 6 month following the collapse of the substrata beneath the new concrete wall. How can half a billion pounds be spent on a further scheme given this scenario? Other past history, for example at Hallsands and more recently Dawlish Warren, Sidmouth tells us that the sea can be unpredictable and unforgiving. It seems logical that flattening the existing sweep of the bay and it’s natural cove and replacing the sandy beaches with a solid concrete structure will lead to scouring of the sea bed and transport of material towards the Teign Estuary. This could potentially destroy the Port, and guarantees need to be sought that this will not occur before commencement.

As with the environment, our heritage is a priceless asset which once lost can never be reclaimed. Brunel’s iconic sea wall has stood here for nearly two centuries, and brings delight to countless residents and visitors each year, as well as being admired right around the world. The local economy benefits greatly from this, as it does from the beautiful views of the coast and cliffs seen as one looks up and down the coast. The case has been made that the loss of income to the West Country economy justifies sacrificing the beach, but no comparative assessment has been made of the value that that the beach itself brings in terms of visitors.

Whilst we reserve judgement on the next stage of consultations for the plans, there is a strong feeling locally that the consultations to date have been derisory, with very little information given and puerile questioning being used in official surveys. The low response to this is a reflection of this, and is certainly not representative of local feeling. Over 3000 people have now signed petitions objecting to the Network Rail plans. It is insulting and discriminatory to Teignmouth residents that the forthcoming consultation is being held at the Golf Club on Haldon Moor, rather than in the town itself. Previous consultations have been largely staffed by p.r. and marketing people, making it difficult if not impossible to get answers.

We urge all interested parties to consider the issues raised here, particularly the uncertainties which would persist through and beyond construction, and to prevent the current scheme being pushed through at the expense of other alternatives which might be superior and more cost effective. Above all, we ask that the scheme is seen to be subject to proper scrutiny, and the only realistic means for this is a public enquiry.


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