Councillors sitting at last night’s Full Council meeting (23rd June) have voted unanimously for improvement works to Westward Ho! slipway, which will be carried out next month in July. The accompanying report to Councillors highlighted that access to the beach at low tide has become increasingly difficult in recent years as successive storms and tides have stripped beach material away and lowered the levels of the beach.
The existing concrete slipway has already been extended on two separate occasions in the past, but the report recognised that storm damage and ongoing erosion had necessitated the need for a fresh solution. The support for the project also highlighted the importance of the Blue Flag beach, which the slipway serves to both locals and visitors alike, and particularly as a primary access point for families or those with a disability. The slipway is also essential for Rangers and the RNLI during normal day-to-day operations and for blue light services during emergencies.
The design challenges in this location have been considerable, not only because of the destructive tide and wave action that any structure would need to withstand, but also a need to minimise disruption during construction.
The engineering solution to be implemented will involve an extension to the existing concrete surface which will be anchored below the sand and into the clay level of the beach. The new structure will be given further protection from storms and scouring wave action by the positioning of rock armour (large boulders) that will be repurposed from the soon-to-be-redeveloped Clarence Wharf car park in Bideford.
The works are scheduled to start in the middle of July to coincide with favourable tide conditions. Part of the design consideration was to include a method and materials that would reduce build time while not compromising the longer term objectives of the installation. As a result the build duration has been minimised to just 2 weeks, during which time the slipway access will be out of use and people will be directed to nearby steps and the sleeper bridge access point at the Sandymere parking area in Northam Burrows.
The cost of the works will be around £38K and will come from existing budgets and funding balances already earmarked for Westward Ho! and also from the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Sustainable Development Fund.
Longer term projects to repair storm damage from earlier in the year and improve resilience along other sections of the pebble ridge in this vicinity are now being drawn up. This includes consideration of new access points over the ridge in the form of a sleeper bridge from the Wilkeys Field boardwalk.
Councillor Claire Hodson, Ward Member for Westward Ho! and Deputy Leader, said: “This is a really well thought out scheme and importantly it is something that is both affordable and can be implemented immediately this summer. This will then hopefully provide locals and visitors alike easier access to the beach and one that will prove resilient to future storms and flooding.”
Councillor Nick Laws, Ward Member for Westward Ho! Said: “Not so long ago I witnessed an elderly couple trying to access the beach via the slipway, and they just couldn’t manage it and had to give up, which I found very upsetting. The problem is that due to the wave action and storms, access can change overnight and where it is level one day there can be a drop of many feet the next involving the movement of thousands of tons of sand. This is not just an extension of the slipway but one that will be embedded beneath the clay sub-surface and will therefore provide access at all times without interruption.”
Jenny Carey-Wood, AONB Manager, said “We are delighted to support this slipway improvement, addressing a key priority this year to improve physical access to the AONB for local people and visitors. Westward Ho! beach and the Burrows offer a great opportunity to improve our wellbeing with the stunning views along the coast, beach based recreation and a chance to discover its fascinating nature and heritage.”