Swanage seafront survey result gives council splitting headache

The results of the public consultation on controversial multi million pound plans to stabilise the eroding cliff along the seafront in Swanage in Dorset have been published and it shows a fairly even split in opinion between the two options.

Unsurprisingly for Swanage, there were strong and passionate views for and against both proposed designs with 51.1 percent backing the £11 million enhanced scheme and 43.6 percent favouring the £4 million essential scheme, with the remainder selecting ‘don’t know’.

Map of Sandpit Field and weather station field

The area along Swanage seafront that needs urgent stabilisation, with Shore Road running between the beach and the green areas

Slim majority in favour of the enhanced scheme

The survey by the consultants Dorset Coast Forum on behalf of Swanage Town Council, was completed by 468 people, with around 430 people attending a variety of engagement events to discuss the two proposals.

  • Those who preferred £11 million enhanced scheme: 51.1 percent
  • Those who preferred £4 million essential scheme: 43.6 percent
  • Don’t know: 5.3 percent

While there’s a slim majority in favour of the enhanced scheme, it still leaves a significant percentage of those who completed the survey, not in favour of the £11 million proposal.

Swanage Town Council is now going to have to make its decision without being handed a decisive direction by the consultation results.

The report also noted that conversations with the public at the engagement events, “largely matched the survey results in terms of the split reaction to the schemes”.

Other findings were that people would like to see more detailed information on both schemes including budget breakdown, timeframes, gradients and the impact the scheme would have on traffic management across the wider area.

Seafront stabilisation consultation

The consultation drop in event at The Mowlem in October 2023

Essential scheme

Plan of Sandpit Field option one

Option one: The essential scheme costing £4 million does only the necessary stabilisation work required with little to no enhancement of the area

Selected comments

“Sandpit Field has worked for events over many years. I would need persuading that a scheme using all STC reserves is desirable.”

“Prefer this option. Option 2 is too expensive. Worried how it would be funded.”

“Obviously it’s necessary to stabilise the whole area but I’d prefer it to stay as much as possible the way it is.”

“Could we enhance this more for disability access?”

Sandpit Field

The consultation included a guided walk around Sandpit Field led by James Mitchell from Dorset Coast Forum

Enhanced scheme

Plan of Sandpit Field option two

Option two: The enhanced scheme costing £11 million relandscapes Sandpit Field and the Spa Beach Huts into one large green space, removing one end of Walrond Road and creating a second event space, new toilets and showers and a cafe

Selected comments

“Swanage version of HS2. Unaffordable, not needed, no proper option appraisal.”

“I like the idea of something more ambitious. We should be looking to the future, adding value in terms of rental from huts, tearooms etc. Realistically, Shore Road being shut would enhance the scheme.”

“We need to smarten up to compete with other seaside towns.”

“Why spend £11 million on something the town does not need?”

azz festival at Sandpit field
Swanage Jazz Festival

A key finding was the retention of Sandpit Field as a large events space was important to those surveyed

Other survey findings

  • Most popular proposal was to retain and improve a large events field (Sandpit Field)
  • Strong support for significantly improving accessibility to the area, new accessible public toilets and showers, and increasing the range of plants and biodiversity
  • Support for filling in Walrond Road and, separately, preserving existing layout and character but not overwhelming
  • While still supported, there’s less priority for a new cafe, improved beach huts and an additional event space
  • Of those who preferred the essential scheme, the most common theme for their choice was the cost of the enhanced scheme
  • Of those who preferred the enhanced scheme, the most common theme for their choice was the opportunity to enhance and invest in the area
  • The integration of improved traffic management was consistently cited through the survey. Of those who felt there was something missing from the enhanced scheme – ‘the pedestrianisation of Shore Road’ and ‘traffic management’ were the most popular themes of respondents’ answers. There were also more than 100 mentions of ‘Shore Road’ in all the comments
Storm Ciaran

Lots of mentions for Shore Road, with many requesting the seafront road to be pedestrianised. Pictured here in the aftermath of Storm Ciarán it’s clear that any long term plan for the road or a beachside cafe must include a flood risk assessment

Funding is key to both schemes

At this stage, neither option can go ahead without additional funding to top up the amount of money that Swanage Town Council has already earmarked for the project.

The cost of both schemes, even the basic plan, exceeds the amount of money that the 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.

With the top concern of the enhanced scheme being the cost, more people may support an ambitious scheme if it was paid for by a grant, like government Levelling Up funding.

weather station field

The cracks caused by subsidence are beginning to show along Weather Station Field

“We are very grateful for your input”

Swanage town mayor Tina Foster said:

“Thank you to everyone who contributed to the consultation on the green seafront proposals. The Swanage community always responds well to public consultations and we are very grateful for your input.

“We will continue to keep everyone updated and involved in the process as the project progresses.”

swanage town mayor Tina Foster at sandpit field

Swanage town mayor Tina Foster inspecting evidence of subsidence

What next?

The next stage will be for the Swanage Town Council to consider the consultation results in detail and then let residents know the future plan in early 2024.

The report will also be passed on to Dorset Council Highways to review the impact of the scheme on the wider area in Swanage including Shore Road.

Further information

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