Moving cliff barriers among permanent safety changes considered to cope with coastal erosion

Council bosses are pushing forward with plans to improve public safety along areas of crumbling coastline in South Shields.

Saturday, 11th January 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 11th January 2020, 9:13 pm
The temporary fencing set up in 2019
The temporary fencing set up in 2019

Safety warnings were issued in 2019 after a sinkhole appeared near Souter Lighthouse close to existing clifftop barriers.

Later the same year, a large section of the coastal path between the Lime Kilns and the Grotto was also cordoned off while investigations were carried out.

This followed a survey which suggested Marsden Bay may be at increased risk of erosion with caves forming under the coastal paths.

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To improve safety for visitors, council bosses are looking to reposition fencing further inland between Marsden Grotto and the closed clifftop car park.

“We put some orange netting in as a temporary measure along the footpath [in the past] but realised it was very difficult to manage, what we really want to do is put a permanent option in there,” environmental protection project manager, Michelle Hogg, said.

“We want to realign the fencing to where it should be and away from these coastal caves of concern and provide a bit of a buffer obviously for future erosion.

“It [the route] will not be where the orange fencing was apart from in one section where the risk is quite close to the road so people will still be able to walk along the Leas.

“It was difficult to put temporary fencing in along that alignment.”

The council officer was speaking at a meeting of the East Shields and Whitburn Community Area Forum (CAF) during a presentation on coastal erosion.

Plans considered

Other safety measures at the site have included signs directing people away from the coastal footpath onto the coastal road.

And a ‘shoreline management plan’ also predicts where rollbacks might be for the whole of the coastline over the next century.

Although erosion is often slow, the meeting heard, larger events can see four to five metres of cliff lost in one go.

Another issue that dominated the meeting included the closing gap between the cliffs and A183 coast road, which Coun Alex Donaldson described as a “cause of concern for many.”

In the long-term, the coastal road is classed as a ‘moderate risk’ and options will be developed by the transport and highways team in future.

At the meeting, residents quizzed council officers on potential impact of climate change, HGVs and coastal erosion on the road.

Council bosses,responding, said government advice around coastal erosion works focuses on ‘adaptation’ rather than ‘protection’ which can often be costly.

Leader of South Tyneside Council and Horsley Hill and Westoe Crown councillor, Iain Malcolm, also weighed in on the discussion.

“It’s fair to say we do work with the government on this as they ultimately take responsibility for the island,” he told the meeting.

“The government, through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), do an assessment on a regular basis as to what parts of the coastline are worth defending and which they feel should just be allowed to go the elements.

“This isn’t just South Tyneside Council doing a bit of a desktop exercise.

“This is work that’s done with the government, DEFRA, the universities and other agencies in making an assessment of what we can do in the short-term which is moving a path so if there’s any sinkholes there’s no harm to life.

“It’s also looking at it in the long-term, how do we manage traffic movements because we can’t close the coast road and move all the traffic over Lizard Lane.”

Coun Malcolm added: “We’re going to have to start looking at what the plan is not for the next two or three years moving the road, this is something we’re going to have to do for future generations, perhaps in 20 years time.

“We have to start now, what are the viable options, then we have to lobby government about getting that funding and seeing if we’re going to have to redefine that part of the coast road.”

Council bosses need several ecological consents, including Natural England permission, before changes to clifftop fencing can take place.