ONE of Somerset’s main coastal towns will be better protected from flooding and erosion following the completion of a multi-million-pound scheme.

Minehead town centre has been prone to coastal flooding for many years, with both residential and commercial properties being damaged or disrupted and Butlins having to temporarily close as a result of torrential rain in September 2023.

The Environment Agency (EA) began work around the time of this heavy rain on a £3.7m scheme to protect two sections of the coast near Minehead and West Somerset Golf Club, stabilising 360 metres of “a vulnerable shingle ridge” in a bid to protect businesses and properties from future flooding.

The completed scheme will ensure hundreds of properties and a key section of the West Somerset Coast Path (part of the King Charles III England Coast Path) will remain protected for decades to come.

Two sections of the shingle ridge were stabilised east of the main Minehead flood defence scheme, which was completed in 1996, with the EA focussing on the points most weakened by a series of recent storms.

One section lies at the northern end of the golf course, near the Upper Warren Road car park and the eastern  entrance gate to Butlin’s, while the other lies at the southern end of the course, near the Dunster beach huts and the mouth of the River Avill.

The ridge has been stabilised with 14,500 tonnes of granite rock armour, which was delivered by boat from the Glensanda quarry in western Scotland and then moved into position at low tide by diggers.

Somerset County Gazette: Granite rock armour being installed on Minehead beach.Granite rock armour being installed on Minehead beach. (Image: Environment Agency)

The rock armour was sourced from the same quarry that provided rock armour for the £3.8m Blue Anchor coastal defence scheme just three miles up the coast, which was completed in the autumn of 2023.

Without carrying out the work at Minehead, around 800 nearby residential and commercial properties would have been left at “serious risk of flooding” in the event of future storms.

EA coastal engineer John Buttivant said: “As we all know too well, Britain’s weather is becoming more extreme than ever, so time really was of the essence for us to be able to address the emergency repair requirements before winter hit.

“We chose to use Aggregate Industries because of their experience with the nearby scheme that they just completed at Blue Anchor.

“This allowed us to benefit from the same innovative approach, materials, equipment and even the same team, once again combined with Kier at the helm to deliver the project.

“As with the previous scheme, it worked incredibly well, helping us to not only keep to an incredibly tight delivery framework but benefit from economies of scale and an overall reduced carbon footprint too.”

By delivering the rock armour by sea (using Aggregate Industries’ own SeaRock1 barge), the programme was able to be completed without thousands of lorry movements along the busy A39 and the neighbouring rural roads, prevention additional congestions for motorists.

Kier senior project manager Matt Phillips said: “The project was hugely challenging, given the pace and scale of the scheme.

“This is not usually the type of project you can get off the ground in a few weeks given the complexity associated with coordinating everything from the shipping, tugs, rocks and barges through to the ground teams to deliver it all.

“Moreso, some suppliers simply wouldn’t have the capabilities to provide the vast quantity of materials required at such short notice.

“Fortunately, having previously worked on the Blue Anchor scheme we have already established a good working relationship with Aggregate Industries and were able to deliver a highly coordinated effort in a very short space of time.”

Nick Gilbert, business development manager at Aggregate Industries, added: “This really was no mean feat, requiring us to effectively deliver on a job that would usually take a six months lead time in just six weeks.

“However, through our dynamic experience in this area, along with our unique capabilities, such as having our own sea barge and a vast amount of ‘rock on stock’, we were able to pull it off.

“We couldn’t be prouder of our team for their sheer hard work and grit without which it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The EA has not confirmed whether coastal defence schemes will be needed elsewhere in the former west Somerset area in the coming years.

Its Wessex flood and coastal committee previously committed £1.5m towards coastal defence works in the Watchet area – funding which remains available.

While the EA has confirmed there are no time restrictions on spending this funding, Somerset Council  stated in December 2023 that it is ring-fenced to work on protecting the coast and therefore could not go directly towards either reopening the B3191 Cleeve Hill or delivering a new road towards Blue  Anchor.

A spokesman said: “There is £1m of flood defence grant in aid and £500,000 of local levy funding for Cleeve Hill.

“Our understanding is that the money is for coastal works, such as cliff reinforcement or strengthening, and couldn’t be diverted towards an alternative road further inland. In any case, this would represent a fraction of the money required.”