Urgent works will begin next week on the embankment at Powderham, to address the increased risk of embankment failure following the discovery of a large hole within the bank. The wall on the embankment currently forms a key part of the defence strategy along the Exe Estuary protecting lower areas of Exminster, businesses and the railway line.
Beginning on 6 September, the footpath and cycle path will be closed for approximately three weeks for the work to be carried out safely. Users should follow the marked diversion, which largely avoids the busy main road, although the alternative route is bumpy and steep at times and may take longer than the usual path. The Turf Locks Hotel remains open and can be accessed from the north path.
The works have been commissioned as an urgent project after it was identified that the bank had significant weaknesses. The spring tides in March 2023 caused the formation of a 2.5-metre-deep hole. It was temporarily repaired as plans were developed for a more permanent solution, safeguarding the Public Right of Way and cycle path. The age and construction of the embankment, worsened by burrowing animals and water passing through the structure and creating void spaces, means immediate action is needed to ensure the bank is resilient to the forecasted high tides in autumn and winter storms.
Neal Ricketts, from the Environment Agency’s Asset Performance Team, said: “We continue to keep a close eye on the area following the incident in March. This essential work should prevent further degradation of the bank, meaning that the area can be enjoyed into the future and the nearby railway line is protected.”
The bank is a stone-faced earth embankment alongside the Exe Estuary between Turf Lock and the railway near Powderham Church, approximately 1.5km long. It was originally constructed in Napoleonic times and a concrete wall was built on top of the bank in 1963 by the Devon River Board. The ages and construction of the embankment means it needs maintenance each year to ensure it defends this section of the estuary. However, this is becoming increasingly challenging as the wall is tested by increased extreme weather and rising sea levels due to climate change.
The repairs will include restoration to the front and back of the bank, replacement of the stone pitching, reinstatement of the footpath and cycle path and reseeding the area with native plants.
The works are expected to be complete by the end of September 2023. The Environment Agency will continue to monitor the area alongside, investigating further options to ensure that the coastal defences remain effective into the future.
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