Blue Anchor shoreline protection work could start in summer

WORK to protect a vulnerable part of the Somerset coast could start this summer after local councilors awarded the contract for the project, writes Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter.

Somerset West and Taunton Council carried out emergency repairs to the sea defenses at Blue Anchor in late 2020 to prevent the namesake pub and B3191 from falling overboard.

A more permanent scheme to protect the road and nearby properties has been devised, with a total of £4 million officially committed by Somerset County Council.

The District Council has now awarded a contract for the work to Kier Property Group, allowing rock armor to be delivered to the site by August so the work can be completed before winter.

The existing sea defenses at Blue Anchor are a mix of sloping concrete walls, built between the 1920s and 1980s.

The council undertook the first phase of emergency repairs after two “significant” holes were discovered in part of the wall in early June 2020.

In early November 2020, 1,800 tonnes of granite rock armor was delivered to Blue Anchor Bay by boat for the second phase of repairs, designed to shore up the base of the cliff to prevent further landslides.

Both stages of these emergency repairs have been funded by the Environment Agency (EA) to the tune of £385,000, to ensure Blue Anchor is protected during winter storms.

The County Council announced in September 2020 that it would commit £4million to a scheme which would stabilize and ‘regrade’ the upper slopes of the cliffs near the Blue Anchor pub, as well as protect a further 130m of coastal area .

Rock guards will be installed along this stretch of shoreline, with mesh and turf used to reshape the cliffs to prevent future cracks or landslides.

District Councilor Andrew Sully, holder of the environmental services portfolio, said on Thursday afternoon (April 21) the contract needed to be awarded urgently to ensure the project could be completed before winter.

He said: “There is a significant start-up lead time (four months) for ships and rock armour, which is required to implement the coastal protection program at Blue Anchor.

“We need to be ‘in contract’ with Kier to place an order for the ships and the rock, so delivery can take place in August.

“Any further delays would mean work would start in the fall, and there is considerable construction and financial risk when working in the coastal environment in the fall and winter.”

Mr Sully said the need to place the order meant there was not enough time for the decision to go through the usual Democratic channels.

Councilor Libby Lisgo, who chairs the Community Oversight Committee, gave her backing to Mr Sully’s decision, made under “special urgency” rules.

The B3191 provides a valuable diversion route for locals and holidaymakers during road works or congestion on the A39 between Minehead and Williton.

In addition to the Blue Anchor program, separate discussions are underway on ways to protect the other end of B3191 at Watchet.

The Cleeve Hill Development Group has submitted revised proposals for 136 homes on Cleeve Hill, which would include moving the coastal road inland in return for allowing fewer affordable homes on the site.

Such a project is favored by the county council, the cost of which is estimated at £18.3 million and £28.1 million – including £11.55 million for the reinforcement of the existing cliffs (with 1 £.55 million pledged by EA).

Ms Lisgo and Mr Sully are both standing in local elections for the new Somerset unitary council on May 5, in Lydeard and Rowbarton & Staplegrove divisions respectively.

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