Multi-million-pound Lower Otter Estuary Project set for planning approval

The River Otter

The River Otter - Credit: Daniel Clark

Multi-million-pound plans to restore the Otter Estuary to its natural and historic flood plains to avoid a catastrophic failure of sea defences are set to be given the go-ahead. 

East Devon District Council’s planning committee are being recommended to approve the Lower Otter Restoration Project, which will create 55 hectares of mudflats, saltmarsh and other valuable estuarine habitats. 

The project, led by landowner Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency, would 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. 

A graphic showing what is planned for the Lower Otter Estuary

A graphic showing what is planned for the Lower Otter Estuary - Credit: Lower Otter Restoration Project

The funding will support the Lower Otter Restoration Project’s aims of climate change adaptation by working with natural processes to provide benefits for people and wildlife. 

As part of the plans, 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. 

An aerial image of the River Otter

An aerial image of the River Otter - Credit: Lower Otter Restoration Project

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. 

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Recommending approval, the report of planning officers said: “This is a significant application within the Lower Otter Valley which will result in a change to the existing landscape, which has been managed over the past two centuries.  

“The proposal would clearly significantly change the area, particularly by way of breaches to the embankments which would irreversibly change the habitat and visual appearance of the estuary. 

“The ambition to return the river to a more natural watercourse will result in the inundation of water to the project area and will result in large areas of new habitat creation.  

“In addition, significant rerouting of the existing South Farm Road is required, and there will be a requirement for additional car parking and a new footbridge to provide adequate facilities for those accessing the area by car, on foot or by bike. 

“The scheme is widely supported by a number of significant conservation bodies which have an interest in the site, this is a result of a number of years of consultation on the project including working groups. 

“The Flood Risk Assessment and modelling have fully considered the impact of the scheme on nearby residents and businesses, and have concluded that the risk is minimal. 

“Concerns have been raised regarding the positioning and size of the proposed car park which will be addressed by a planning condition, which will also include the requirement for a footpath from the proposed car park and impacts on trees, local landscape, the setting of heritage assets, use of the estuary and contamination have also been addressed. 

“It is considered that 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.” 

The Environment Agency has submitted plans to East Devon District Council on behalf of LORP as the £15 million project enters its final phase and if approved, work will start in 2021 and be completed by spring 2023. 

The Lower Otter project is largely funded by the European Interreg programme through an initiative called Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts (PACCo). It is partnered with a similar project in the Saâne Valley in Normandy, France. 

If successful, the adaptation model for these two projects will be rolled out to other locations in the UK and France. 

East Devon District Council’s planning committee meets on Wednesday (January 6) to determine the fate of the application. 

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