The design of the new higher sea wall at Dawlish and whether it will negatively impact on the amenity of the area is the only matter than planners deciding whether it should be built can consider.
Network Rail has submitted its long awaited plans to improve the sea wall, which will improve the long-term resilience of the railway linking Devon and Cornwall to the rest of the UK, to Teignbridge District Council.
The scheme will raise the wall from its current height of 5m to 7.5m, widen the walkway to 4m from its current 3.1m width, and inlcude a barrier between the pedestrians and the edge of the to stop people falling off the wall.
The design will prevent stormy conditions from damaging the railway at Dawlish, as back in 2014, the line was washed away in the storm, and the tracks and station are regularly being damaged by flooding.
The plans have been submitted for ‘prior approval’ under Network Rail’s permitted development rights.
Under this Teignbridge District Council will now be able to formally consult the local community on the proposed designs and whether they would negatively impact the amenity of the area. If not, then the council should approve the application.
Cllr Humphrey Clemens, Teignbridge District Council’s Executive Member for Planning, said: “A ‘Prior Approval’ is much like a normal planning application and will follow a very similar process, which includes our target to make a decision within eight weeks. For this type of application we can only consider whether the design or external appearance would impact the the amenity of the neighbourhood and is reasonably capable of modification to avoid such impact.
“The application has only just come in and whilst we have been involved in discussion with Network Rail and other partners for some time, we have not had a chance to review the detail. We will be looking closely at the details of this application but in principle certainly welcome these enhancements and rail resilience improvements the scheme can deliver.”
A Network Rail spokesman added: “The new sea wall will provide far more protection from waves and extreme weather and is future-proofed to protect the railway and the town, taking into account predicted rising sea levels. The local community will also benefit from a wider, safer promenade which retains the views of the coast – a feature that the area is famous for.”
The government has invested £15m to appoint world-leading coastal, tunnel, cliff and railway engineers to undertake detailed marine and geological studies to develop long term resilience plans further.
Work has already begun to repair the breakwaters which provide a vital defence for the coast against the elements, while there are plans for a causeway option which would see the line rebuild from the tunnel at Smugglers’ Lane in Holcombe, out on to the beach past Spray Point, and then would curve back in land towards Teignmouth.
The option could cost up to £500million but no funding has yet been pledged for the work or a timeframe put in place.
Mark Langman, Network Rail’s Western route managing director, said : “The Department for Transport and Network Rail have been working tirelessly to determine what needs to be done in order to protect this vital transport artery for Devon and Cornwall.
“From blank page studies that looked at all options we’ve identified this as the most feasible rail route for Devon and Cornwall and there are areas that specifically need our attention.
“Improving the resilience of the sea wall at Dawlish is one of the most immediate and easiest areas we can begin work on and we’ve now submitted detailed plans to Teignbridge District Council.
“These plans are now subject to the views of the council, their residents and a final decision from government.
“In parallel we continue to work on possible solutions at Holcombe and Parsons Tunnel and will be sharing these with the community later this year.
“Maintaining this vital rail link for Devon and Cornwall remains a high priority for us, as I know it is for government.”
Subjected to planning permission being granted, it should take around nine months for the new sea wall to be constructed, although how the scheme will be funded still needs to be confirmed.