The Environment Agency has got behind the vision of a £25million breakwater and marina for Ilfracombe.
At a presentation before some of North Devon’s movers and shakers on Tuesday, the EA said it was looking to improve coastal defences and as part of this wanted to work towards the much-longed for multi-million pound breakwater.
An inner breakwater and lock gates would also enable a marina permanently full of water to be created.
But the EA stressed this was a ‘long term aspiration’ and would require major funding.
It has been an ambition for Ilfracombe for more than three decades and if it ever happened, it would provide a huge boost for the town and North Devon, putting it on an equal standing with the likes of Torquay and Plymouth.
Major regeneration of the harbour could also make the possibility of a passenger ferry link to South Wales a reality, and also pave the way for visiting cruise ships and even historic tall ships.
In the meantime, an EA statement said it was currently seeking funding to carry out minor improvements to the sea defences at Cheyne Beach to prevent waves overtopping the wall and flooding the car park.
It is proposing to carry out the work by March 2021 and said the project includes some landscaping work at Wildersmouth Park, in conjunction with North Devon Council, reducing flooding between the beach and the harbour.
It went on: “The Environment Agency is also looking to carry out major improvements to the outer harbour area of Ilfracombe and is working with North Devon Council and Ilfracombe Harbour Board, who have exciting plans for a multi-million pound breakwater outside the outer harbour.
“The EA is looking to contribute to this work to ensure that it also provides a reduction in flood risk and ensures the harbour is able to adapt to climate change in the future.
“A partnership with the council and the Harbour Board will look to encourage development, recreational activities and harbour operations in the town, leading to economic regeneration and benefits to the local community, while also reducing flood risk.”
Alan Kift, a founder member of the Ilfracombe Harbour Development Group, said it was something they had been working towards since 1982.
He said: “This is the finest opportunity we have had in over 30 years and we sincerely hope the district council will take this on board as a priority.”
NDC leader Des Brailey said: “The Environment Agency recently gave us an interesting presentation on what possibilities there are for preventing flooding in Ilfracombe in the long-term future. We look forward to hearing more about these plans as their work continues in this area.”
Harbour board chairman Geoff Fowler said they were pleased the EA had shown such interest. He said: “They came across with a very positive message and it’s up to us to see whether we can move things forward for the future.
“With the certainty of sea levels rising during the next 100 years they have to look long term and on that side of things they really are keen to see what could be done, looking at the bigger picture of the harbour and seafront area.”