Sheps Steps top priority after North Swanage residents voice concern

Replacing the steps down to the beach at Sheps Hollow, which were swept away by storms, has emerged as a top short term priority in managing the future of North Swanage following discussions with residents.

A share of a £3 million grant from the government to Dorset Council is to be spent on the North Beach area of Swanage to address the growing problem of coastal erosion and part of that money will go towards restoring the access down to North Beach.

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Setting up for the evening meeting at All Saints Church Ulwell, to hear the concerns of locals

No way down to beach at risk of fine

A series of open meetings about the management of the coastal erosion hosted by Dorset Coast Forum, at All Saints Church Hall in Ulwell and online, drew more than 150 residents, businesses and beach hut owners – and their biggest concern was what happens next for Sheps Steps below the Ballard estate.

The wooden and plastic structure, heavily used by dog walkers, sea swimmers, joggers and in summer by tourists, was wrenched away from the cliff face by a series of strong storms in autumn and winter 2024.

There are currently signs up around Ballard estate to say that there is now no way down to the beach – with possible fines of up to £1,000 for those who do try. An alternative route down to the beach at Burlington Chine is being suggested instead.

But locals have been assured that replacement steps down Sheps Hollow are now a priority, although money in the Coastal Transition Accelerator Programme (CTAP) is not accessible until autumn 2024.

Residents say some people are still attempting to reach the beach at Sheps Hollow rather than walk to Burlington Chine

“We can’t access money until October”

Dorset Coast Forum project officer Sara Parker said:

“The overwhelming concern raised was about the future of Sheps Hollow steps, everyone was talking about them.

“People were saying they will still try to get down to the beach that way and it is not safe. It is tricky – I know people are going to try to get down there, whether it’s walking the dog or for swimming, and they won’t always listen if you tell them not to.

“Although Sheps Hollow falls within the CTAP funding guidelines as soft engineering, CTAP money doesn’t become available until October 2024 so we can’t access the money before then.

“We are concerned about people using it through summer, especially after rain, or a dry spell and then rain, so we are asking Dorset Council ranger Katie Black and her team to go out on site to try to identify any potential temporary work with a view to doing something more substantial later.”

Warning signs on the Ballard estate have been put up to keep people safe this summer

“Being safe is the most important thing”

Sara Parker added:

“Sheps Hollow Steps has risen to the top of the list of immediate things people want to see action on, which is totally understandable.

“It is a long way round via Burlington Chine, particularly if you have all your kit and you are taking the whole family down there, but the last thing we want is people not to be safe.

“Sheps Hollow is a priority for the authorities, it has risen to the top of the list, it’s what people mostly talked about and we will be doing something about it.

“But please, please, in the meantime people need to appreciate that being safe is the most important thing. We don’t want someone hurting themselves.”

Land is still on the move at Burlington Chine after one of the wettest springs on record

Recent landslips in the area

Other issues raised at the CTAP talks included recent landslips in the area, beach huts, beach management including possible recharge of the beach and replacement groynes, and the long term safety of homes near to the cliff edge above North Beach.

The views of stakeholders given at the meetings will be digested and reviewed over summer and may result in a major update for Swanage’s strategy plan for a changing coastline, last set out in 2014.

A call has been made to set up a coordinated group including Dorset Council, Swanage Town Council and other interested parties actively engaged in cliff and beach maintenance and improvement.

CTAP aims to accelerate strategic planning to set out how local authorities, partners and communities will address the long-term transition of homes, businesses and assets away from the coastline at risk.

It is hoped to establish medium and long term plans that enable coastal areas at significant risk to address the challenges posed by a changing climate.

There have been calls to move garden fences away from the edge of landslip areas

“Precariously located”

Swanage resident Janice Smith, who attended the meeting at All Saints Church Hall on Wednesday 10th April, said:

“I would like to see fencing and boundary walls precariously located above the beach huts and paths moved away from the edges of the gardens.”

The remaining steps at Sheps Hollow are still shifting and cracking with land movement

“Steps need an urgent redesign”

And another local remarked:

“If safety is the main issue regarding residents, the steps at Sheps Hollow need an urgent redesign and a more permanent build.

“So many people use the Sheps Hollow access and everyone wants to know what is happening, but we don’t know where to go for information, or how to influence any remedial action.

“Currently, visitors still use the route even though it is clearly dangerous. We need proper and permanent steps and access to Sheps Hollow.

“With more cliff falls and higher tides there is more potential for people to be stranded on the beach or to get into difficulties, putting more demand on emergency services with limited resources.”

It has been a difficult winter for Swanage’s North Beach area and now attention is turning to its future

26-week closure placed on the steps

A spokesperson for Dorset Council said:

“Over the winter there has been significant movement and landslips in this area and as a result a 26-week closure has been placed on the steps. This closure began on Tuesday 27th February 2024 and currently runs until August 2024.

“The ground around the steps is showing signs of ongoing movement, and work to repair the steps cannot be undertaken until this stabilises.

“The situation is being regularly assessed and the council’s Greenspace and Coastal teams are exploring long-term options for the steps as part of the Swanage Cliff Management Strategy and the CTAP project.”

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