'Let's make our prom great again - and knock down Berlin Wall plan'

Torbay Weekly

Plans for a £1.35 million concrete flood defence wall along Paignton Promenade have had the natives up in arms.

Torbay Council has been forced to run a new round of consultation and engagement with the community after an initial backlash.

Experts say new sea defences are needed to safeguard an increasing number of properties at risk from flooding as climate change causes the sea level in Torbay to rise by more than 1m.  The number is predicted to rise to 352 in the area.

But campaigners fear the wall will ruin the look of the Victorian promenade. The Paignton Town Centre Partnership, who have already come up with their own alternative scheme, say it is already being dubbed the 'Berlin Wall'.

Here Richard Kaskow, from the Paignton Community Partnership, gives his verdict.

"By the community, for the community. That's been the same aim as our Paignton Community Partnership, except that writing about it is a lot easier than actually accomplishing anything in the town.

"Some 12 years ago, when I accepted the vacant position of chair of the Partnership, I remember Ken Robertson of the Regatta committee saying to me, 'I’m not sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with you'.

"Save for having helped the community deliver the park and the Council's library, it’s disappointing to see an ongoing lack of results since the Mayor's Vision in 2008 and subsequent Masterplans and Neighbourhood plans - when are the remainder of these aspirations for the town actually going to happen?

"Then, completely out of the blue, came the council’s proposed planning-ready sea wall scheme and proposed start date in October 2021.

"Serious concerns have been raised by seafront businesses about its physical and visual impact: a 1.1m high continuous concrete set back wall on the Paignton section, with the possibility of rising to 1.4m post 2035 if sea levels continue to rise as predicted.

"The existing defences will also be left untouched with no maintenance or strengthening. The Council argue that the alternative option of an even more unsightly 2.8m wall on top of the existing sea wall means that a lower set back wall is the only logical option. Frankly, I feel this is a rushed approach and I fear we are missing a huge opportunity to not only shore up our flood defences, but also create a well-designed destination promenade for the community and tourists alike.

"Given how centre-stage any solution will be, we cannot risk having an ineffective, poorly executed eyesore lumped carelessly on to what is one of the defining elements of our seafront.

"Research on the consulting engineers engaged by Torbay Council shows a world-leader in major engineering projects across the globe with many award winning sea wall designs.

The same company is involved at Sidmouth, where visual impact and engagement are central aspects of the project, and at Littlehaven they have created a technically effective yet highly elegant solution, inspiring the local community to enjoy a previously neglected section of the coastline.

How the Council have cobbled together their ‘Berlin Wall’ proposal with guidance from such an experienced firm beggars belief. That’s why our proposals have been met with such support with our message of 'Let's Make Paignton Prom Great Again'.

Assessing the Council's July 2019 business case for funding to the Environment Agency, I’ve prepared a report along with illustrations suggesting an alternative three wall solution for partnership approval that not only holds back the sea but provides attractive integrated seating, landscaping and lighting – a place where people can come and enjoy.

Chris Harvey, vice chair of the Neighbourhood Forum and like me an ex-Torquay schoolboy with significant IT and marketing expertise, has digitised everything, so do visit www.paigntoncommunity.org.uk or visit our 'Save our Promenade' display on the prom. Speaking to the people, explaining what is proposed, listening to their responses, their ideas – that's proper consultation!

The process must be fast tracked without cutting corners, as many of the hotels and businesses have talked to us about their flooding experiences and the inability to obtain flood insurance.

We await the Council's revised programme for proper consultation and sea wall design."