The Parish of Stokenham, bounded by the black line on the map, covers the whole of the southern half of Start Bay, from Slapton Sands to Start Point and on to Lannacombe Beach. It encompasses the villages of Torcross, Beesands, Hallsands, Kellaton, Kernborough, Dunstone, Beeson and Chillington, as well as Stokenham itself, covers an area of some 20.6 square kilometres, and has a population of approximately 2,000.
The seven larger settlements and many smaller hamlets and farms are connected by miles of narrow country lanes, byways, bridleways and footpaths. The main arterial route in and out of the parish is the A379, which runs north to Dartmouth and west to Kingsbridge. This route is serviced by the First Western National Bus Company, with connections available to Plymouth (change for Derriford Hospital), Salcombe, Dartmouth, Totnes (our nearest main line railway station) and Exeter. The parish also enjoys the service of The Coleridge Bus, a community bus providing weekly runs from outlying areas to Kingsbridge. There are airports at Plymouth and Exeter.
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP discusses the situation at Torcross with officials from the Environment Agency at a site meeting with residents
After weeks of worry and concern, some clarity was finally achieved at a meeting on Monday 15 February, when Sarah Wollaston, together with Environment Agency staff, officers from Devon County Council, and district and parish councillors, met residents to discuss a proposed way forward after the damage caused by recent storms to the sea defences at Torcross. Apart from the obvious signs of damage, including the collapsed sea wall, which forced the closure of the A379, locals told tales of cracks appearing in their houses, and of sleepless nights broken by terrifying vibrations as huge waves hit the exposed sheet pilings along the water's edge.
Officials from the Environment Agency, who own the sea wall, explained that movement in the wall had caused the construction joints in the concrete to open, leaving gaps of up to 30mm along the full length of the structure. In the short term the EA are proposing to place rock armour in front of the wall and have already secured funding for this, but this would only be a temporary measure – a longer term solution will have to await detailed engineering reports, which will attempt to find out what is going on underneath the wall. This, in turn, is made more complicated by the possible presence of unexploded ordinance in the area, which rules out the usual methods of surveying, most of which rely on drilling – obviously not an option if there's likely to be an unexploded mine in the drill site. In short, it is a complicated and delicate process. When asked for a timeframe for the survey and repairs, the official said that teams were being mobilized as he spoke and that it would be "days, not months" before things started happening.
In the meantime, the A379 would be reopened to light traffic via a diversion through the car park and, in response to complaints that 3,500 people had been left without bus transport, a replacement shuttle bus service has been organized, with seven return journeys a day between Kingsbridge and Torcross (see The Bus is Back! below).
Asked by residents for a longer-term outlook, and in particular whether the Powers that Be had given up on Torcross and the maintenance of the Slapton Line, Dr Wollaston reiterated that the official position was to "hold the line" until at least 2030. Householders concerned that their homes might not be in a safe condition were advised to contact Devon Building Control on 01626 215793 to arrange for a surveyor to advise them. Building owners would need to make their own arrangements with regard to damage that clearly does not pose a risk to safety.