Only days left to shape Swanage’s seafront for next 100 years

Controversial multi million pound plans to stabilise the eroding cliff along the seafront in Swanage in Dorset are nearing the end of a public consultation process with a drop in meeting for residents and visitors.

Swanage Town Council, which owns Sandpit Field, the Weatherstation Field and the Spa Beach Huts is holding an event between 4 pm and 7 pm on Thursday 19th October 2023 at The Mowlem in Shore Road in Swanage.

Map of Sandpit Field and weather station field

The area along Swanage seafront that needs urgent stabilisation

Stark choice between two schemes

At the drop in meeting, the public will be able to view the two options which are offering a stark choice between undertaking the essential stabilisation of the cliff at a cost of £4 million, or going for an ambitious £11 million scheme.

The more expensive option will totally relandscape Sandpit Field and the Spa Beach Huts into one large green space and completely remove one end of Walrond Road.

The global engineering company WSP drew up the schemes alongside Swanage Town Council and consultants Dorset Coast Forum. According to WSP, both options will last for a 100 years.

They’ll also be a chance at the meeting to ask questions and discuss the reasoning behind the designs, as well as completing the consultation survey which closes on Tuesday 31st October 2023.

swanage town mayor Tina Foster at sandpit field

Swanage town mayor Tina Foster examines one of the 40 reported cracks

“This is not a done deal”

Swanage town mayor Tina Foster said:

“I want to let people know that this is not a done deal. There are genuinely two options on the table and we need to hear from residents and visitors which scheme they prefer or perhaps people have other ideas that we could consider.

“So please come along to the drop in meeting at The Mowlem and fill in the survey. We want your feedback, as we can only make a decision based on the information that we receive.”

Sandpit Field

Lots of people joined the project officer from Dorset Coast Forum James Mitchell on a walk around the area to find out more about the options

Sandpit Field

Braving the galeforce winds people were able to see for themselves the problems caused by the cliff erosion on Sandpit Field

Cost exceeds the money in the council’s reserves

The cost of both schemes, even the basic plan, exceed the amount of money that Swanage Town Council has in its reserves. Currently it holds £3.85m, of which £3.5m is available to fund the seafront stabilisation.

This means that both will require the council to borrow money, sell assets or obtain grants to cover the additional cost.

It’s believed by some town councillors that the greater accessibility of the £11 million scheme will stand a better chance of attracting more grant money.

Plan of Sandpit Field option one

Option one: The essential scheme costing £4 million

Plan of Sandpit Field option two

Option two: The enhanced scheme costing £11 million

Current seafront landscaped in early 1900s

Sandpit Field was gifted to the town by the executors of Arthur Rainsford Mowlem in 1990, while Weather Station Field was given by John Ernest Mowlem to the former Swanage Urban District Council in 1924.

Historically, the area of land has not always looked like it does today. It used to be sand dunes and rough grassland until it started to be developed at the beginning of the 1900s along with the De Moulham Estate.

In 1910, the southern end of Walrond Road was contructed by digging through the cliff, dividing in two, what is now known as Sandpit Field and the Weather Station Field.

Later in 1922, the northern section of the Shore Road was widened by cutting back the bank and building high retaining walls which still exist, although they are now showing signs of subsidence.

Walrond Rd construction 1910
M Ayres collection

Digging out the southern end of Walrond Road in 1910. Should we now fill it back in?

Seafront land c1906
M Ayres collection

The seafront in 1906 showing a small landslip half way along the road, illustrating that the problem isn’t a new one!

Sandpit Field and Spa 1980s
John Hinde

The seafront in the 1980s with the retaining walls that in 2023 are now showing cracks

The Spa Tea House

The current concrete terracing of the Spa Beach Huts now looks quite bleak and unattractive but in the 1920s there was a cafe described as the Tea House with a balcony and pavilion, surrounded by attractive bathing huts.

It was built after World War One, initially as a private development before being acquired by Swanage Urban District Council in 1959 and then transferred to Swanage Town Council.

The scheme that the council is calling the enhanced scheme could restore The Spa back to its 1920s heyday with a modern update, challenging whether the basic plan or the enhanced proposal, best retains Swanage’s more traditional feel!

Spa Advert 1921
M Ayres collection

What a difference from today – an advert in 1921 for the upmarket Spa Tea House and Bathing Huts

Spa Aerial 1950s
M Ayres Collection

The Spa in the 1950s from the air

Spa beach huts 1950s
Francis Frith

And the view of The Spa and its Tea House from the beach, also in the 1950s

Spa beach huts 2023

The Spa Beach Huts in 2023 – many of the huts have been removed due to the subsidence

Decision timeline

  • Thursday 19th October 2023 – Drop in engagement event at The Mowlem 4 pm to 7 pm
  • Tuesday 31st October 2023 – Public consultation closes, survey and engagement event data reviewed
  • Consultation data passed onto Swanage Town Council for review
  • Consultation report made publicly available
  • Late 2023 / Early 2024 – Swanage Town Council decides on an option to take forward
weather station field

Filling the cracks in the path is just a short term solution

Further information

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