We wrote to Dr Phil Norrey, chief executive of Devon County Council. He promised a swift and detailed response to our questions. This is what we received three weeks later and then only after sending a reminder:
Your email to the Chief Executive was passed on to me as Head of Service for Highways. I apologise for my delay in replying.
To answer your questions I have provided the text in red below after each of your questions:
1. Does the County Council intend to honour its obligations to maintain the public highway on the foreshore at Hallsands for the foreseeable future? Yes, the County Council does intend to maintain the public highway at Hallsands for the foreseeable future.
1. what nature of events would prompt abandonment? N/A
2. what processes would be followed in the course of such an abandonment? N/A
3. where would the public highway then end? N/A
2. Does the County Council resile from its responsibility for maintaining the sea defences that underpin the public highway? DCC do not intend to maintain the ad hoc rock armour as this is not a specifically designed and engineered sea defence. This rock armour was previously placed in its current location ( prior to residents privately funding the recent replacement ) as a gesture of goodwill, with the informal agreement of the landowner on a without prejudice basis and without any acceptance of ongoing liability.
The Environment Agency have produced a document – The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for Devon & Cornwall which specifically refers to Hallsands saying ‘ There are no defences present along most of this section, but there has been ad-hoc rock placement at the back of Hallsands beach to protect a local development. It is unlikely that maintenance of this short length of defence would attract public funds, and so under this Policy this section would continue to evolve naturally, with any defences gradually deteriorating and failing due to lack of maintenance.
However, if alternative (private) funds are available to maintain this short length of defence, then there is no reason not to allow this to occur, when considering the impact on coastal processes, in order to retain this tourism asset. The SMP clearly states that ‘No Active Intervention’ is the policy for this section of coastline.
3. Why did it take six weeks or more for the County Council to fence off the dangerous craters in the said public highway? As far as we are aware, the contractors working on the rock armour were going to use their fencing following completion of their works. This clearly wasn’t enough so we added more once we were made aware.
4. If the County Council has it in mind to abandon either or both of road and sea defences, then why did it not mention this when consulted in the planning process for the development of five new houses and conversion of two others all served by the road, or, considering the impact of such abandonment on visitors, in the planning process for the café on the beach? For the road please see answer to question 1. For the rock armour please see answer to question 2. At the time of the planning Application when DCC were consulted, there was no reason to suggest that the carriageway serving the properties was under threat.
5. Will the County Council give an undertaking that in future when consulted on planning applications and when the circumstances are similar to those at Hallsands, i.e. that the Council has it in mind to withdraw support, maintenance or services for vital infrastructure, the County Council will inform applicants accordingly? DCC can only respond to Planning Applications in relation to the circumstances that are prevalent at that time.
The above, as you will have concluded by now, is world-class twaddle. We discuss Mr Whitton’s most notable twaddling in the blog entitled Devon CC – you couldn’t make it up.