Repairs to Exmouth’s damaged sea wall are now likely to start in October as the town faces a race for the work to begin before any winter storms.

Some of the work has been completed as part of a first phase, but East Devon District Council’s cabinet heard on Wednesday (June 5) that phase 2 would now be likely to begin in the autumn, a month later than an earlier prediction.

Phase 1 is around the Sideshore development on Queen’s Drive, with phase 2 carrying on to the west to a slipway.

Tom Buxton-Smith, a council engineer, said the need to have a competitive tender to identify the best contractor for the work meant an October start is now most likely.

“This still puts us ahead of the winter,” he said.

“That is ultimately our biggest risk; leaving the wall in a state of disrepair throughout the winter.

“Everything we have been doing to date is still classed as an emergency and we’re still keen to race against the incoming likely winter storms to ensure we have a secure sea defence before the worst of winter hits.”

A map showing where the sea wall is at risk.A map showing where the sea wall is at risk. (Image: East Devon District Council)

Mr Buxton-Smith presented a range of options for how phase 2 will be completed.

A potential complicating factor relates to concession stands housing two local businesses.

Mr Buxton-Smith said one option is to continue the sheet piling used in phase 1 for the entirety of phase 2, navigating it around each concession to create a continuous barrier. This would give the scheme a 100-year life.

However, if gaps in the sheet piling arise by stopping short of either side of the concessions, and other defences such as rock armour used to protect those businesses, then the design life would likely be less than a century.

Moving the concessions is not considered viable in the timeframe, as any new location is likely to require planning permission, something that is unlikely to be secured by the time the repairs start, and is also not guaranteed to be permitted in a less vulnerable location.

Costs have also risen over time, with an initial £1.1 million pledged by the council for both phases in total earlier this year, but then increased to £1.5 million for just phase 1.

While the total estimated £3.3 million cost for both phases is well above this, Mr Buxton-Smith noted that the council had not had to find more money than its pledged £1.5 million, with the additional cash coming from external sources.

Cllr Geoff Jung (Liberal Democrat, Woodbury and Lympstone), portfolio holder for coast, countryside and environment, apologised for inconvenience the phase 1 works cause, but added that “the consequence of not doing the works means that was not a consideration”.

He continued: “As these are emergency works [to the sea wall], we can proceed without planning permission, but it doesn’t mean we can do what we like,” he said.

“We need to replace it like for like unless this can be justified through engineering or surveys, and we may need retrospective planning approval later.”

He added that phase 3 of the works would deal with any potential cladding of the wall and that a separate report by the scrutiny committee would look into the reasons relating to the failure of the sea wall and why businesses and associated infrastructure were built next to it.

Furthermore, Mr Buxton-Smith added that the Exmouth slipway, which was demolished after storms this April damaged it further, would be repaired with a scheme that had a five-year design life.

A bid for funding had been submitted to the Environment Agency, he said, and that the outcome of this should be revealed in the coming weeks.

He noted that a more permanent scheme would be needed in future.