ACTION is needed to combat the increasing threat from the sea which threatens to swamp Weymouth seafront and parts of the town centre.
Waves could be washing over the promenade within 20 years if nothing is done to tackle rising sea levels and combat future flood risks.
Although there is no danger of the seafront being underwater permanently in that timescale there is a risk of waves coming over occasionally, according to the Environment Agency (EA).
Parts of the town centre and around the harbourside are also at increasing risk as time progresses with the amount of properties currently at risk from flooding (447) doubling in 12 years and increasing ten-fold over the next 100 years. Sea levels could rise by up to 1.26 metres by 2126.
Weymouth and Portland Borough Council is working with the EA to understand future flood risk and will be putting together a plan detailing the sequence of defence works required. The first phase, in the next five to 10 years, will involve raising the Esplanade sea wall, said environment spokesman Ian Roebuck. Further works will see harbour walls strengthened and a tidal barrier being constructed at the harbour entrance.
Cllr Roebuck admitted the risk from flooding was ‘very real’ and action was needed. Defences could cost up to £65million and it is hoped most of this will be paid for by the government – the case for support was put to environment minister Dan Rogerson on a recent visit to Dorset. The council has also adopted a flood defence contributions policy which sees developments in risk areas making a payment towards defences.
Moves to protect Weymouth comes after an unremitting torrent of wild weather in Dorset since before Christmas.
The coast was pounded by giant waves to such an extent in recent weeks that flood warnings reached danger levels with risks to life.
South Dorset MP Richard Drax, who attended the meeting with Dan Rogerson, said it was important the area was protected.
He said: “Sea defences in and around Weymouth harbour are vital, not just to protect life and property but also to create an environment in which jobs and wealth creation thrive.
“The Environment Agency says we can expect more of these storms in the future.
“Now is the time to shore up our defences to protect this beautiful, historic seaside town and the businesses that depend upon its unique location.”
Asked about the threat to Weymouth seafront in particular, a subject which was discussed with Mr Rogerson, an Environment Agency spokesman said: “We have no concerns that the promenade will be under water in that timescale although it might be susceptible to very occasional wave overtopping.
“Importantly, a co-ordinated plan is being developed to specify the sequence of works required to manage current and future flood risk and that the case for partnership funding was put to the minister.”
A flood risk management strategy from 2010 examined options for managing flood risk. If nothing is done to protect the town centre the number of properties and damage from tidal flooding will significantly increase over time.
The indicative standard of protection for coastal areas is a one in 200 year tidal event but the protection at Weymouth harbour is more like one in 100 years and around the Esplanade it is ten to 25 years. There are 447 properties at risk in Weymouth town centre from flooding in a one in 200 year tidal event with wave overtopping. By 2035, the number of properties at risk doubles and by 2126 it increases ten-fold to more than 4,000.
Sea defence strategy for next 50 years
BOROUGH council spokesman for environment and sustainability Ian Roebuck said the authority was working alongside the Environment Agency on a project to ‘improve our understanding of coastal processes, ground conditions and the implications of sea level rise in Weymouth’.
He said this would inform a longer term sea defence strategy for Weymouth Esplanade and harbour over the next 50 years.
Cllr Roebuck said the EA would be reporting back next March on its investigations.
He said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that sea levels are rising.
“All the scientific evidence is there. And we will be having more storm events in the future like we have seen recently. The risk we are facing is very real.
“In the next five to 10 years we are expecting millions of pounds to be spent on the first stage of protection.”
Work to restore defences after severe storms
THE Environment Agency is working to restore sea defences in Weymouth and Portland after severe storms battered the coastline.
It is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds strengthening defences at Preston Beach and Chesil Beach, working in partnership with the borough council.
It comes after weeks of unprecedented rainfall, gale-force winds and strong tides.
‘Rock armour’ has been brought in to protect Preston Beach in a project costing £300,000.
Residents had a chance to comment on works and give their views on flood warning systems at drop-in sessions organised by the Dorset Coast Forum.
Repairs to Chesil Cove on Portland could cost more than £600,000.
This includes £180,000 to repair gabions, £250,000 for sea wall repairs, £170,000 for shingle recycling and £15,000 for air and land surveys.
Rising sea levels pose a risk
GEOLOGIST Dr Ian West said Melcombe Regis (town centre) is on a sandspit and that road surfaces are around the original level of the sandspit surface so buildings are not much above extreme high tide level.
Speculating, he referenced the Great Gale of 1824 which destroyed the Esplanade. He believes this to be a 1 in 250 year event.
He said: “When the next great hurricane does appear the houses placed on the original crest of the sandbank (Georgian houses on seafront) may flood to some extent. Much more threatened are newer houses built on the backslope of the sandbank towards the harbour.
“As long as the sea level does not rise much and as long as the next great hurricane does not return, the Georgian houses high on the sandbank will not suffer much.”
Dr West added: “With or without global warming eventually the old sandspit of Melcombe Regis or Weymouth will be flooded, either by an exceptional great storm as a near random event, or by progressive sea-level rise and moderate storms in the long term. If the timescale is long and local people are lucky there may not be much to worry about. There is no special reason for any more alarm than in recent years. The risk has been there in the past.”