Can sea walls really protect us and still attract tourism?

As the British weather continues to challenge our natural defences, the government has looked at engineered methods of protecting buildings and the surrounding area from the worsening effects that Mother Nature throws at us.

One such way in which we look to protect ourselves from flooding is the introduction of sea walls, however this has proven controversial as the unsightly walls have become a battle ground between the local residents and the tourism industry.

So is there a way to keep everyone happy?

What is needed is a walling system that is designed to withstand a one in 100 year storm and yet still looks attractive to those who both live and visit the area. Traditionally sea walls have been made from boulders, steel, concrete, aluminum, fiberglass composite and in some cases gabions and have been designed to withstand varying physical forces as well as location specific aspects, such as local climate, coastal positioning, wave regime etc.

However, a range of environmental problems and issues have arisen, including disrupting sediment movement and transport patterns. Combined with construction costs, this has led to an increasing use of other coastal management options such as beach replenishment which has proven short term and not a long term solution.

One solution which the popular coastal town of Blackpool have invested in, is a sea wall for its marine frontage of approximately 11.25 kilometres, all of which is now protected from erosion by the sea wall. However this needs constant maintenance with Engineering Services being responsible for the maintenance and improvement of seven miles of coastal defences.

Under the Coastal Protection Act, Blackpool Council must ensure the stability of the sea walls and ensure their continuing maintenance, for which a detailed Coast Protection Strategy was adopted by the Council in 1995.

Blackpool Councils twenty year coastal defence strategy has rebuild those sections of defence most in need. The £62 million of works have also been completed transforming the promenade between the Sandcastle Centre and North Pier, and a new 3.2 kilometre concrete seawall has been built along the same stretch. This has been Blackpool’s largest ever civil engineering project to date and took four years to construct working from South to North.
Rhyl on the other hand have used a retaining wall concrete block system for their West Coastal Defence works. Conventional solutions such as cladded sheet piles were considered, though the cost of the sheet piles and the associated cladding made the scheme unviable.

The retaining wall was constructed using positive connection modular blocks which incorporated a geogrid reinforced earth system and was completed within just 30 weeks, with 50 blocks being installed over a tidal cycle. Close monitoring of the finished wall and backfill showed there had been no settlement and there is little to no maintenance required.

The Rhyl scheme has proven so popular with the local community and holiday makers that it has become the flagship scheme for the regeneration of Rhyl under the Welsh Government’s North Wales Coast Strategic Regeneration Area initiative.

So can a sea wall keep everyone happy?

Visit your local seaside towns and you decide

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About the Author: Louise Chouhan-Hodges

Louise joined CPM in 2009 and has over 20 years experience in the precast concrete drainage arena.

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