PLANS to future-proof the historic Cobb harbour in Lyme Regis took a step forward this week, as West Dorset District Council agreed to invest £1million in the scheme.
The council’s Strategy Committee agreed to contribute £1million towards the £2.3million total cost of Phase V of the Lyme Regis Environmental Improvements Scheme, which will focus on the Cobb. The remaining funding is expected to come from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
The Environmental Improvements Scheme started in the 1990s, with the construction of Gun Cliff Walk and the sewage works. The shingle Cobb Gate beach and sandy Cobb beach were then given a new-look, along with an extension of the Cart Road to protect the seafront from storms, and stabilisation works were carried out in Lister and Langmoor Gardens.
The latest phase of the scheme, including stabilisation of East Cliff and the construction of a new sea wall, now known as Church Cliff Walk, opened in 2015.
Work to protect the Cobb for an estimated 50 years will be the final phase of the scheme, enabling the Grade I listed structure to remain in safe use as an historic harbour and a vital part of the town’s coastal defences.
A report put to district councillors this week stated: “Preparatory work has revealed significant signs of scour [loss of fill material], which is destabilising the structure. Surfacing is generally poor; restricting access for the less-abled, the landing quay is not fit for purpose and services to the Cobb Buildings and landing quay are in poor condition.”
After further analysis, investigation and consultation, the preferred design option for the scheme was separated into five elements:
- Scour Protection – Construct scour protection on the seaward and harbour toe of the Cobb to prevent scour. This will complement existing scour protection and is required to prevent loss of fill material and undercutting of the structure.
- Structural Monitoring – Implement a detailed structural monitoring regime over the life of the scheme (approximately 50 years). This will monitor the ongoing stability of the Cobb once the gradual loss of fill material from within the structure has ceased thanks to the scour protection.
- Wave Overtopping – Prevent wave overtopping of the causeway section of the Cobb [between the harbourmaster’s office and Gin Shop steps] during stormy weather, as seen in 2014, which caused significant damage and an electrical fire. This element has two options – masonry wall or rock armour, with masonry wall clad in Portland Roach Stone the preferred option.
- Surfacing – Improvements to surfacing at specific locations and the construction of a 1.2 metre wide path along the Cobb to provide more even, smoother access, especially for less-able visitors, made from Portland Roach Stone. This element also incudes the improvement and resurfacing of the landing quay area.
- Amenity – Includes utility services, health and safety improvements and lighting upgrades, including upgraded services to the landing quay. Health and safety improvement will include a barrier and signage on the steps to the high wall, which is required to prevent accidents and fatalities, and subtle signage is also proposed at steps further along the structure. The proposed lighting upgrade incorporates low-level lighting on the inner harbour edge of the low walkway to reduce the risk of people falling into the water. The council is also in discussion to remove the existing “ugly” street lighting from the Cobb.
Fundamental element of town’s coast defences
The report added: “The Cobb is a working harbour, an important historic structure, a major tourist attraction and a fundamental element of the town’s coast defences. The harbour structures, with their rock extensions, form a bay which protects the town frontage from storm waves and keeps the snad and shingle beaches stable.
“Progressive movement of the structure is ongoing and this is apparent in longitudinal cracking and slab separation in both the low and high walkways as the main wall gradually spreads. Cracks and damage to wall facing are also apparent and raise concern over loss of core material and sudden collapse during storm conditions.
“Major strengthening work to parts of the structure, comprising piling and underpinning sections of the footings, reinforcement of the walls with stainless steel rods and masonry repairs, were last carried out in the 1980s.
“Since then, the council has carried out ad-hoc repairs, adding to the patchwork of surfaces making up the low walkway. Some areas are very uneven and it is not always practical to meet conservation requirements and eliminate possible trip hazards.
“Several injuries due to trips are reported each year and the surface is difficult and uncomfortable for wheelchair users. Fish landing facilities are poor.
“The most frequent problem has been storm damage to the low walkway. Heritage requirements and limited maintenance funding make strong, durable repairs difficult and the overall condition of the surfaces has been gradually deteriorating. £170,000 in government emergency grant was spent on repairs and advice from English Heritage following the 2014 storm damage with the repairs also being used as a trial of methods and materials for Phase V.”
Members of West Dorset District Council’s Strategy Committee agreed to the £1million funding, which will partly come from corporate reserves and partly from Section 106 money.
The proposed design is expected to go to public consultation in late July or early August.