MORE than £11.5m could be spent in the next few years to stop one of Somerset’s key coast roads falling into the sea.

The B3191 Cleeve Hill runs along the West Somerset coast, connecting the town of Watchet to the A39 near Minehead, via the village of Blue Anchor.

The road has been closed several times in the last few years due to coastal erosion – including one occasion just after Christmas following reports of a landslide.

Plans are now in the works for a major scheme which would see the the cliffs reinforced and the road diverted south by 2025, to protect more than 20 properties and prevent the town from being cut off.

A report published by WSP in late-July identified a number of possible schemes for protecting the B3191 in both Watchet and the nearby village of Blue Anchor.

A total of six schemes were proposed for Watchet – ranging from stabilising the existing cliffs (which could cost up to £14.48m) to a new bypass through the former paper mill site (up to £71.7m) and even a new tidal lagoon to surround the town’s harbour (upwards of £1bn).

Somerset County Council has both settled on ‘Option 1(d)’ – which entails strengthening up to 350 metres of the lower cliff slopes, and moving the B3191 inland towards Saxon Close to allow traffic to bypass the most at-risk stretch.

This scheme is expected to cost between £18.3m and £28.1m – of which £11.55m will be spent on the coastal reinforcement.

This figure was confirmed in papers published before a meeting of the Environment Agency’s Wessex regional flood and coastal committee on Thursday (September 24).

Of the £11.55m earmarked for this scheme, £10m will be provided by the county council, with the rest coming from the EA.

The funding will be used to conduct detailed surveys of the Cleeve Hill cliffs, develop a detailed design for the preventative measures and ensure they are constructed and operational by March 2025.

An EA spokesman said: “The cliffs in this area are actively eroding and are high. When the B3191 is closed, Watchet is in effect an in/out town and the automatic diversion route in the event of a closure to the A39 is not available.

“The issue is that if the cliffs continue to erode, then there is a threat to both properties and infrastructure.

“There is a need to stabilise the cliffs to ensure properties and the newly aligned road are protected.

“The risk to the currently unprotected properties in Saxon Close will be reduced as an outcome of the scheme.”

A total of 23 households near the existing road will be better protected from coastal erosion once the scheme is completed.

The realignment of the road will be undertaken by the county council, which will “will supply or seek funding for all works to realign the highway”.

Plans were submitted to Somerset West and Taunton Council to build 136 homes on Cleeve Hill, with the developer offering to pay the cost of realigning the road if permission was granted.

But these plans were refused in July, with councillors arguing the cost of realigning the new road would make the development non-viable and lead to fewer affordable homes being delivered.

This refusal means the county council (which is responsible for highway matters) will have to fund the road realignment itself as part of its capital programme in the coming years.

The county council separately announced in early-September that £4m would be spent protecting the Blue Anchor pub and neighbouring properties in the village.

Rock armour will be installed along this stretch of the coastline, with mesh and turf being used to re-profile the cliffs to prevent future cracks or landslides.

The EA is expected on Thursday (September 24) to grant a further £450,000 towards the cost of these preventative measures, which will be carried out in 2021.

A spokesman said: “The construction of new defences could go a long way to improve the protection in this vulnerable area, protecting property and infrastructure, and preventing growing health and safety risks from cliff fall.

“The work will ensure access to a recreational beach for local people and visitors will be maintained, will prevent the collapse of a landmark hotel and protect an important through route in situ.”