Monday, 15 December 2014

Mullion Harbour Repairs; another update

It was almost exactly 12 months ago, last Christmas, that the first storm of the winter hit our coast.  What followed was an unprecedented series of violent westerly storms which continued, with catastrophic consequences, until mid February.  The storms left in their wake a devastated coastline with landslides, floods, beaches stripped of sand and historic features left in ruins.  One such structure which suffered as a result of these storms was Mullion Harbour, and back in February we reported on this blog, slightly prematurely it seems, as this was posted before the the 'mother of all storms' hit our shores on Valentines Day 2014.

Surveying damage to the southern breakwater
It was with some trepidation that we surveyed the harbour following the storms.  The Mullion Harbour Study completed in 2005, agreed that at some point in the future, with predicted increase in sea levels and storm activity, the Trust would one day have to stop undertaking repairs to the harbour walls, following a 'catastrophic event'.

volunteers helped salvage thousands of lost setts

Despite the ferocity of the storms however, the main western breakwater miraculously survived reasonably unscathed following the storms, indeed it showed that the recent investment in repairs and maintenance had paid dividends and the structure was in remarkably good shape, albeit in need of a serious face-lift  The smaller, and frankly less well built, Southern breakwater did suffer more substantial damage, although the concrete repairs undertaken the previous year remained intact.

With some generous funding from the Environment Agency and NT insurance funds, it was agreed that the damage was repairable, and work started on the Western breakwater in early summer to replace more than 5000 granite setts stripped from the surface.  The huge granite coping stones, some weighing more than a ton, were lifted back into place and by the end of the summer the breakwater was arguably in better shape than it has been since the day it was built in the late 1890s.

work starts on the southern breakwater
Repairs to the smaller southern breakwater weren't so straight forward.  The storms had inflicted much more serious damage to both the stonework and concrete foundations.  Following an engineer's survey, it was agreed to undertake these repairs, like the previous repairs in 2012, by using the now tried and tested approach of using reinforced concrete where appropriate, since this creates a much stronger repair and should allow the structure to survive future weather events better.  Since Mullion harbour is a Grade II listed structure, consent was required from Cornwall Council, with advise from English Heritage, for the use of non-traditional materials and thus altering the appearance of the harbour.  A compromise was agreed whereby the seaward, less visible and more vulnerable aspect of the wall would be repaired in concrete, whilst the more visible and sheltered landward side of the wall would be re-constructed with natural stone.
The use of concrete should help protect the harbour longer term.

With these inevitable time delays, work finally started on the Southern breakwater in September and are due to carry on through the winter months...... weather permitting.  the expected costs of the work is likely to be in the region of £400,000.

We are hoping to work with Cornwall Council and English Heritage over the coming months to speed up the consent process so we don’t have long delays like this in the future, to agree a philosophy of repair and to be better able to understand and describe what might constitute a future 'catastrophic event'.

Western breakwater; setts in place, prior to re-pointing
Let's hope we're in for a quieter time this winter.  The events of last winter weren't quite the predicted 'catastrophic event' which will inevitably be thrown at us one day in the future, but for the time being Mullion Harbour is being repaired and it will hopefully be in better shape than ever to withstand whatever nature throws at it.



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