Posted: 06.01.21 at 14:25 by DANIEL CLARK
Multi-million pound plans to restore the Otter Estuary to its natural and historic flood plains have been unanimously approved by East Devon district councillors, who heard that the move is necessary in response to climate change.
The council’s planning committee voted on Wednesday, January 6 to approve the Lower Otter Restoration Project, which will create 55 hectares of mudflats, saltmarsh and other valuable estuarine habitats.
The £15m project, led by landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency, will see the Big and Little Marsh floodplains around Budleigh Salterton restored, with breaches created in the Little Bank, the Big Bank and the River Otter Embankment to allow water to flow through.
The aim is to avoid the significant risk that, in the event of a major flood or extreme tidal event, there could be a catastrophic failure of the existing embankments, with unpredictable environmental and social impacts.
In recent years, part of the South West Coast Path that runs along the embankments has been closed to the public for significant periods due to erosion caused by such events.
The committee heard that if nothing was done, changes to the environment would probably occur, but would be unmanaged and unpredictable.
Mike Williams, from the Environment Agency, told the meeting that their vision is for a nation ready for and resilient to coastal change, today, tomorrow and the year 2100, and the Lower Ottery Restoration Project (LORP) plays a part in delivering that vision for East Devon.
He said: “It is simply a matter of time before the embankments fail and lead to substantial flooding. This will cause great change, but this should be seen as an opportunity to be granted now while it remains possible.”
Dr Sam Bridgewater, head of wildlife and conservation at Clinton Devon Estates added: “We must adapt to climate change. There are two options – a managed transition, or the second which is unmanaged with none of the protections in place.
“We aim to adapt the Lower Otter Valley to the current and future challenges climate change will bring.
“This is among the biggest changes that East Devon has seen but the natural environment will be improved by the scheme. It is a bold initiative but the times demand it and we must confront climate challenges.”
Head of conservation for the Jurassic Coast Trust, Sam Scriven, added that the scheme would benefit the Jurassic coast.
He said: “It is rare for a major project like this to improve rather than harm the world heritage site.”
Cllr Olly Davey said that while the project will involve a massive change to the Otter Valley and he understands how frightening that may be for some people, on the whole, this will improve the existing situation.
He added: “I do understand the concerns and hope their fears are not founded, but I am satisfied as a can be that it is not going to lead to any increase in the risks to the residents. I will be sorry to lose some of the habitat that we have there along the Otter Valley but quite looking forward to seeing how it will evolve, as doing nothing is not an option.”
Concerns had been raised by local residents about the risk of flooding.
Margaret Yerrell said the project will lead to unpredictable and irreversible changes; Ian Smith said it will bring the sea from over 2km away to edge of homes, and asked councillors to not give permission for ‘the dangerous and unnecessarily overextended project’, while David Butler said that rushing to make a decision would lead to the risk of adverse outcomes.
But councillors agreed with the recommendation of planning officers, who said the proposal is acceptable subject to appropriately worded conditions relating to archaeology, materials of the footbridge, access details and public rights of way, contamination, a construction management plan, groundwater levels, adequate car parking, the provision of a footpath, arboricultural and tree protection details.
As part of the plans to restore the historic floodplain of the River Otter, breaches in existing embankments would be created to allow water from both the River Otter and the Estuary to inundate the site, creating intertidal saltmarsh and mudflats.
In addition, South Farm Road will be realigned and raised at a point just to the south of the existing road, and a small car park created at its western end and a new road bridge will be required, and a new footbridge to the South. Existing footpaths will be realigned and the landfill site capped and planted with grassland and woodland.
The spit to the south will be allowed to evolve naturally, necessitating the removal of the southern part of the loop path known as Donkeys Turn.
The cricket club will be moved from its current location to land off of East Budleigh Road, permission for which has already been granted under a separate planning application. Floods have left part of their current Ottermouth home under water on three occasions in the last 10 years, with a plan to relocate to Janie’s Field on the outskirts of the town having been agreed.