Lower Otter Restoration Project: questions answered by project manager

PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 January 2016

23-05-0399SH Otter Estuary

23-05-0399SH Otter Estuary

Archant

Landowner Clinton Devon Estates, together with the Environment Agency, is proposing the reintroduction of tidal flooding to the River Otter estuary. This Lower Otter Restoration Project has provoked much debate, and concern from some residents. Earlier this month, project manager Mike Williams wrote an article setting out the ideas behind the scheme. Here, he responds to questions about the project asked by the Journal.

Besides the currently proposed scheme, and ‘doing nothing’, have any other solutions to the estuary’s management been considered?

Clinton Devon Estates commissioned a report in 2009, which was carried out by Haycock Associates. It suggested a number of future ways of managing the Lower Otter and was presented to many interested parties on completion. It was out of that presentation that the managed realignment proposal arose. The Haycock report is available online.

Other ways to address some of the issues that we face have been suggested; dredging the river channel for instance, or carrying out works to improve drainage from the southern marshes. These different options have been reviewed as part of our ongoing project development. Although some alternative options might address particular concerns, such as the prolonged flooding in the marshes, none individually address all of the existing threats. Our aspiration is for an integrated rather than partial solution, and to deliver a project that works with nature rather than against it. We also have to work within the existing legislative rules and governmental funding priorities. Securing funding for ongoing maintenance is difficult and works to reduce flood risk have to demonstrate significant benefits compared to costs.

It has been said that the project will provide compensatory habitat to allow flood prevention works in Exmouth. Is this scheme therefore putting the needs of Exmouth residents ahead of the needs of Budleigh and the Otter Valley itself?

No. The delivery of compensatory habitat for coastal squeeze on the Exe does not provide the primary reason for the Lower Otter Restoration Project. The main reason is to address the local issues of the impacts of climate change on ageing and failing infrastructure in the lower Otter Valley. The project was being developed several years before the Environment Agency indicated that it would like to create this habitat in the Otter Estuary. We consider it an added advantage if this project can also facilitate necessary flood defence works to communities badly impacted elsewhere.

Residents and businesses in South Farm Road continue to be concerned about the project, following statements that the existing road would frequently flood at high tide if the scheme went ahead. It has been said you are still waiting for advice from Devon County Council. It was initially said the project would improve vehicle access to South Farm Road. Can you reassure residents and businesses that if it turns out their access would be made worse, the project would not go ahead?

No, not at the moment. In our initial discussions with residents and businesses at South Farm, we made the risk of tidal flooding of the road clear to all. We talked about possible options for partial raising of the road, but there was a clear desire for access that does not flood.

We will investigate the feasibility and costs of raising the road. This is likely to be complex and costly. As yet we don’t have definitive answers about what might be acceptable to the highways authority. At the same time as looking at how access might be safeguarded on South Farm Road, we will also look at alternative access routes to the land to the east of the estuary.

An important point to remember is that South Farm Road currently suffers from prolonged flooding after heavy rainfall events which already impedes access. In addition, an accidental climate-related breach of the embankment in the future would mean the road would become tidal. The project enables us to prepare for and mitigate as far as possible in advance, the impacts of what is a likely eventuality in the future. However, we cannot predict when a catastrophic breach of the embankment might occur.

Concern has been raised that the project could attract mosquitoes, which pose a risk to health, and that toxic material could leak from the former landfill site. In response, it has been said there is a ‘low risk’ of these things happening, but that further survey work will be done. What form will this take? And if this showed there was an increased risk after all, would the project be changed or stopped?

We have held preliminary discussions on the health risks associated with biting insects with experts from Public Health England, who have visited the site. They plan to return in 2016 to carry out additional studies. Their advice is that careful design and management of managed realignment sites, including the lower Otter, can be done so that the risks are not increased. We are also advised that the sort of habitat creation that we envisage (inter-tidal habitat) is unsuitable for invasive mosquito species. A survey to clarify existing presence of biting insects is planned.

There is no evidence of toxic material in the former landfill site; no reports of pollution in the ditches adjacent to the site have been received and there is no visual evidence of any impact. Further surveys are required, however, to provide additional robust evidence. These are likely to include taking water and gas samples from within the tip and excavation of trial pits to establish the content, condition and stability of the tipped material. The results would influence detailed design; we believe they are very unlikely to stop the project.

The main risk is likely to be from erosion around the tip; this can be managed by appropriate protection measures. Again, we believe it is better to implement such protection in advance in a planned way rather than as a response to accidental failure of the embankments in the future.

The Times has reported recently that Environment Agency guidance on flood risk underestimates how much rivers could rise due to climate change, as it is based on older data suggesting a 10 per cent increase in river flows, rather than later forecasts saying this could be up to 40 per cent. Will this affect the Lower Otter Restoration Project?

Greater increases in river flow will make failure of the embankments more likely as well as increasing the frequency of fluvial flooding. The project would be designed in accordance with guidance in force at the time of planning.

The project proposals include the relocation of Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club. What is the current status of this?

We are working with the cricket club to secure a long-term home with less risk of flooding. We have identified a potential site and have commissioned surveys to check its suitability as a cricket ground.

What is the funding status of the project – have any applications for grants been submitted yet? What are the likely funding sources?

Some funding is expected to come from the Environment Agency. Clinton Devon Estates is also part-funding the project, as well as providing the land and other in-kind contributions. Applications are currently being prepared for submission to one of the Interreg Va programmes (there are several possibilities) and to the Heritage Lottery Fund. We may also apply to other, smaller sources of funding, such as Sport England and the Landfill Communities Fund.

If the consultation and funding applications are successful, when might the project start?

Project development is anticipated to take about three years, with construction planned for 2020 or 2021.


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