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.
The road between Torcross and Strete Gate suffered significant damage during the recent Storm Emma. The southern section of the road from Slapton Turn (Sands Road) to Torcross has now been cleared of shingle but a 450 metre section between Sands Road and Strete Gate was undermined and partially washed away, and is likely to be closed for some time while Devon County Council engineers evaluate the extent of the damage.
All agencies involved in the Slapton Line Partnership, including South Hams District Council, the Environment Agency, Natural England, South Devon AONB, the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Field Studies Council at Slapton Ley, and Devon County Council, together with the three Parish Councils of Stokenham, Slapton and Strete, are working to establish the best way to reconnect local communities in the area.
Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet member for Highway Management, said: "Public safety is our paramount concern and we would advise people to please follow the diversion and obey the road closure. We appreciate this is a vital route and we are working closely with our partners to decide on the best course of action from here."
Councillor Julian Brazil, local County Councillor for Kingsbridge and South Hams Councillor, said: "We want to reopen the road as quickly as possible but that will need funding from Central Government or their agencies. We need to see what permissions or agreements may be required. Last time there was damage at the Torcross end all the various parties worked together and we managed to sort thing out pretty quickly. I'm hoping it will be the same again."
Photo courtesy of Paul Farrier
"Work is almost complete on bore holes and trial pits. We have continued to monitor the site for movement. With investigations complete, the contractor’s accommodation will be demobilised from site but we will continue to check the tell-tales for movement – this will be on a weekly basis unless conditions dictate otherwise.
We are currently reviewing some very outline options and getting the contractor to estimate the costs of these options. We have to continue to treat these works as emergency works, otherwise it is unlikely we can build a business case to support the economics to justify doing any work. As emergency works, we have to select the option with the best benefit / cost ratio. We believe that this will mean a new, much deeper, steel sheet piled wall with a capping that overlaps, but does not tie in to the existing wall (so it doesn’t directly transfer vibration to the existing structure and houses behind it.) We believe this would be affordable, but are awaiting confirmation, now that we know how deep the shingle is (14 – 17m or so) whether it would remain stable if beach levels were further depleted. We are hoping to understand this within a couple of weeks and will then need to confirm what consents are required (we believe planning permission and Marine Management Organisation consents would be required as a minimum) and what this means for programming work.
In the meantime, beach levels have risen by about 1.5 – 2.0m since January, which in itself is the best outcome possible. We’ll be interested to hear what the current weather is doing to levels – hopefully further raising the levels in front of the defence. If so, this would make any installation work much easier."
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.