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Call for 'whole truth' on Torquay seawall collapse

By Herald Express  |  Posted: April 25, 2013

roadworks: Roadworks at Livermead seafront Torquil MacLeod TQTM20130423D-001_C

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QUESTIONS are being asked about the recent breach in the Torquay seawall and discharge of raw sewage into Torbay.

Liberal Democrat leader Steve Darling has tabled questions about the incident.

He asked for it to be considered by the overview and scrutiny board as an urgent item on Tuesday 'so that lessons can be learnt and the whole truth told'.

Cllr Darling is asking:

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when the council first become aware of the threat to this section of sea defences

why the necessary works were not fast tracked in light of the sewage pipe and gas main being under threat

why plant was on site for about six weeks with little progress being made.

He is also asking if three weeks of negotiating between SWW and the contractor could have been avoided at the crucial time when the works could have been taking place.

He is claiming Torbay Council chose not to include the sewage spill in a press release issued on Tuesday after the breach was reported on Easter Monday, April 1, when the pumps were turned off on the Monday night, making a spill inevitable.

In a report to the meeting, Sue Cheriton, executive head of residents and visitor services, said works had been planned to repair the revetment to the front of the seawall.

However, the effects of almost six weeks of constant easterly winds found a weakness in the seawall.

"The problem was further exacerbated by the fact the beach was at a very low level which is reflected by the fact the local failure was at the base of the sea wall," she reported.

"Officers from Torbay Council and local contractors worked day and night during the week to prevent failures of the highway and other utility apparatus.

"Water quality surveys have shown that the unplanned spill did not have any long-term effects on water quality."

She said the wall has been in poor condition for many years as are a number of coastal structures within Torbay.

An initial funding request to the Environment Agency was made more than two years ago.

The most recent recorded inspection was May, 2012, when significant failures to the revetment to the front of the seawall were identified.

The council's funding committee in July, 2012, agreed £350,000 funding with officers instructed to apply to the Environment Agency for match funding. The proposed works were mainly repairs to the revetment to the front of the seawall. Potential bidders were instructed in August, 2012, and detailed design started. Some intermediate repairs were carried out in October, 2012.

Mrs Cheriton said the contractor was instructed to carry out all necessary pointing and sand bagging to help maintain the wall prior to a refurbishment scheme.

The works were supervised by Torbay Council's engineers service.

The tender was issued at the start of December, 2012, and returned on January 22.

South West Highways were appointed on January 30 with an initial start date of February 18.

She said: "The intention was to commence works as soon as possible in the hope that the majority could be completed before Easter.

"As some intermediate works had been carried out in October it was not felt the wall was at an immediate risk of collapse. The effects of six weeks of easterly winds and the fact that the beach was at a very low level did accelerate deterioration."

South West Highways had intended using a large crane on the road above the sewage pipe. When informed, South West Water expressed concerns and asked for extra protection to be provided. Agreement was reached between South West Water, Torbay Council and the contractor on March 22 and work started on March 25.

Mrs Cheriton said: "The contractor could have discussed their temporary works with South West Water in advance.

"However, South West Water may not have been prepared to discuss temporary works designs and individual method statements with each potential contractor.

"This could have led to the tender period being extended for the same three weeks."

Mrs Cheriton said warning notices were placed on every bathing water beach within Torbay by Tuesday, April 2.

A Torbay Council spokesman said: "Works to repair the Livermead wall and a large part of the existing sea defences to the front of the wall have been completed.

"The next stage is to replace the section of the sea defences which have been lost to the sea. This will require a large crane which will be brought on site this week to lift machinery and stone on to the beach.

"Times when work can be carried out depend on the tides. Work was not carried out last weekend as the tides were not low enough to allow the contractor to access the base of the wall, but work is expected to continue this coming weekend.

"The one-way Torbay Road closure will remain in place until these works are complete. Engineers originally estimated the works would take six weeks from the April 10. However, they are hopeful this could be reduced by a week to mid-May, although this is of course subject to weather."

TIMELINESaturday, March 30TORBAY Council received a report of an issue in Livermead, a rocking paving slab.An inspector visited the site but did not identify any failures in the pavement and so no further action was taken.Monday, April 1A HOLE in the pavement was reported in the morning, an inspector visited and asked for Tor2 to help open the footpath to investigate. Once the extent of the problem had been identified the road was closed for safety reasons and a marine contractor contacted. The contractor mobilised quickly and worked through the night to attempt to ‘plug’ the hole temporarily with more than 30 one-tonne bags. It was agreed late Monday night to switch off the pumps at Ilsham, firstly for the safety of the men and secondly that any spill would be better to occur at Hope’s Nose rather than directly on the beach.Tuesday, April 2FURTHER attempts to plug the hole only reduced the rate of erosion and the main failed.Further erosion put the gas main at risk and so a large piling rig and steel sheet piles were sourced.By 9.30pm the first sheet pile was placed in the ground to prevent further erosion of the road.Wednesday, April 3THE sheet piles prevented further erosion and temporary shuttering was placed on the outside of the wall to allow concrete to be placed in the hole.Thursday, April 4MORE than 100 tonnes of concrete in total was placed to repair the hole and the area behind the wall.Friday, April 5SOUTH West Water contractors started work to repair the rising main and the pumping station at Ilsham was switched back on late Friday night and monitored over the weekend.Water quality tests carried out on the following Monday showed the water quality to be excellent.

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