Rock Fall at Great Cliff!

6 December 2023

A rock fall in the rear car park occurred at Great Cliff on 5th December 2023. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and a car had mainly superficial damage. The netting prevented much more serious damage, but this will need to be put back in place after the mess has been cleared up. With the extreme weather conditions, it's a reminder that everyone should be aware that there is a possibility of a rock fall from time to time and not to linger too long anywhere near the cliff face.

Investigations are taking place to ascertain the owners (if any) of the rock face and to see if one of the local authorities could survey the area, bearing in mind the possible impact on the A379 above. Network Rail have confirmed that they are not the owners and so enquiries are currently with Teignbridge District Council and Devon County Council.

Teignbridge District Council have taken an active interest as apparently, they own the top part of the cliff and they have provided some initial feedback on 21 December 2023, from their consulting engineers who have inspected the cliff as follows:

"They have identified the need to undertake vegetation clearance and rope access inspection by an engineering geologist to provide suitable advice on the whole condition and remedial requirements. This is currently being scoped out and we will provide further feedback once the land ownership and responsible parties are identified, as discussed below.

Their initial feedback is that the rockfall was probably caused by a combination of factors including the weathering and weakening of the bedrock, disturbance by tree roots and poor weather.  During stormy weather, the roots of trees growing in the face have the ability to impart significant vibration and leverage forces into the rock mass.  This, together with a general loosening and deterioration of the rock mass by weathering was probably sufficient to have triggered failure. The tunnel will have caused stress relaxation in the rock mass which in turn may have further reduced the stability of the cliff at this location. 

There are trees growing on the rock face and it is possible that they could trigger other falls therefore there is a pressing need to remove the trees from the area immediately above the tunnel entrance. I am arranging a contractor to undertake this as soon as possible, likely to be very early in the new year unless there is availability before this. This will be on a ‘without prejudice’ approach whilst the land ownership and responsibilities are determined to ensure that the risk is being appropriately mitigated. It is likely we will require access from the car parking area and have the area sufficiently clear to allow any debris to be removed from site. Once we have engaged a contractor I will be in touch to confirm and logistics.

I note there has been a history of land ownership conversations with the council and the former owner of the Great Cliff Hotel prior to construction of the new building regarding the cliff face and responsibilities for it. Therefore, I am awaiting confirmation from our estates and legal teams the extent of these conversations and confirm the relevant landowner responsibilities and the extent for which we will undertake any inspections and remedial actions that may necessary.

The engineers will provide a full report in January, however there is some initial feedback that I must bring to your attention and perhaps this is something you wish to discuss with your managing agents and insurance companies.

Firstly, the consultants have identified that the canopy on top of the fence is not designed to stop rockfalls and should not be relied on for any sort of protection from rockfalls.  The recent rockfall event clearly demonstrated that the mess panels are not adequate in containing fall material. Rockfalls can occur at any time and without notice and therefore the fence and canopy should not be relied upon for adequate protection. The fence is within the ownership of Great Cliff and was provided as part of the original development as such should this be relied upon for protection of users of the car park I suggest that that the existing system is inspected by a suitable engineer and conversation with your insurers about any potential risks.

The area at the base of the cliff in the vicinity of the rockfall should remain fenced off so that cars do not park underneath it. I will provide some additional fencing this week to extend the area to be excluded, please could you advise the relevant uses of the spaces regarding this particularly over the Christmas period. I will try and locate some additional signage to affix to the fencing.

The tunnel should not be entered, I have requested a further inspection of this tunnel by remote means to better understand the condition and any remedial works which are required and can provide further information once we know."