Southwold beach level blow after scheme fails

Southwold mayor Simon Tobin at the town's beach.

Southwold mayor Simon Tobin at the town's beach. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2013

Hopes that the level of Southwold beach could soon be restored have been dashed after it was revealed that an £8.5m coastal defence scheme was not working as expected.

Groynes were installed in front of Easton Marsh and Southwold town beach between 2005 and 2007 as part of a multi-million pound scheme to protect them from erosion and prevent flooding.

This week, town councillors were told that, although the scheme was providing a reasonable level of protection from flooding, the groynes were not capturing as much sand as expected and the fault would take at least five years to resolve.

Paul Patterson, senior coastal engineer for Waveney District Council, spoke at Tuesday's Southwold Town Council meeting.

He said: 'I believe the groynes are not performing in the way we want them to.


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'The identification of problems and correction of that involves significant sums of money.

'We continue to make bids for a slice of the national funding pot but funds are tight and money is being allocated to the most needy projects.

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'The beach at Southwold is not regarded as a priority for funding at a national level when there are other places where beach levels are low and the flood risk is higher.'

He said Waveney would continue to look at short-term solutions such as painting white lines on the edge of the promenade, improving signage, moving sand around where available, and installing railings where appropriate.

Southwold mayor Simon Tobin called for urgent action to restore the level of the town's beach in September when a woman was injured after falling several feet from the promenade onto the sand below.

He said he believed the groynes were too short to be effective.

Mr Tobin said: 'Local people are very concerned that the beach levels are very low around the front of Southwold town. I would encourage Waveney to do everything possible to resolve the problem.'

The Southwold Coastal Scheme was a joint Waveney and Environment Agency project funded by a Defra Grant in Aid (GiA).

The design, length and spacing of the groynes was the product of extensive computer modelling and was meant to produce a 6m-wide flat crest of sand that was 1.2m below the promenade level.

It was expected that major groyne improvement works and beach replenishment would be required at 15-year intervals.

But within six months, the completed beach was reworked by the North Sea and it became clear that its natural shape would not be as expected.

Waveney and the Environment Agency raised their concerns over the changes with designer Halcrow, which undertook monitoring and produced a report to explain the differences.

No further action was taken but, within a year of the scheme's completion, it became evident that it would not deliver what was promised and the beach would be more variable under normal sea conditions than predicted.

A programme of beach monitoring commissioned by Waveney has revealed the drop from promenade to beach between East Street and the pier is between 5ft and 6ft, compared to a prediction of less than 4ft.

Waveney has now submitted a joint bid with the Environment Agency for more Defra funding to carry out a further study assessing the performance of the coastal defence scheme.

The review is expected to show that lenghthening the groynes will increase their beach retaining capacity.

It is also hoped that the monitoring data will show that there is the capacity to move sand from the Denes to replenish the town beach, subject to impact assessments and conservation consents.

If the project is approved for GiA spending, it is hoped the study will begin within two years and lead to work starting within five years.

However, Mr Patterson warned that there was currently high pressure on government budgets and GiA funding would not cover the whole project cost, leaving a gap to be filled from other sources.

He said Waveney had been submitting bids every year since 2009 and had so far been unsuccessful.

He said that while the beach continued to provide a reasonable standard of defence against flood and erosion it would be a lower priority for funding that other locations at greater risk.

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