Western Breakwater during construction; Western Breakwater during construction;

Porthcawl Sandy Bay Coastal Scheme, Porthcawl, Bridgend

How can improved coastal resilience unlock regeneration?

Porthcawl in South Wales boasts a rich maritime heritage and attracts 1.1m visitors annually. While the town’s seaside location is a draw for visitors and residents, rising sea levels and increasing storm intensity due to climate change, coupled with aging infrastructure, has increased the risk of coastal flooding. As well as threatening properties, this has constrained development opportunities in the town.

Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) commissioned Arup to develop a business case for investment to reduce coastal flood risk to Sandy Bay, a wide and popular beach in Porthcawl. Our analysis revealed that the condition of Porthcawl’s historic Western Breakwater was key to managing coastal risk throughout the bay. As a result, we agreed with the funder, the Welsh Government, to include the structure in the project. 

The bay is surrounded by more than 100-acres of land identified for regionally significant regeneration. We developed a phased approach to the scheme so that works within the council’s control could be funded without the delay and risk of awaiting future development.

Where previous proposals would have seen sand dune habitat replaced with concrete terraced defences, our study into coastal processes demonstrated that these could be preserved and restored. Our designs sensitively restore and enhance historic coastal structures to minimise cost and carbon, while employing placemaking to enhance the promenade amenity for visitors and residents alike.

Project Summary

100-acre strategic regeneration opportunity safeguarded

>700properties protected from flooding

182-metreGrade II listed breakwater restored and strengthened

Building a business case

Sandy Bay has four connected but distinct frontages – Western Breakwater, Eastern Promenade, relict sand dunes and Rhych Point headland. We applied wave modelling by specialist subconsultant ABPmer to our flood model. This found that if the Western Breakwater were to fail, some 530 homes and 175 businesses would be at risk of coastal flooding. Understanding the relative costs and benefits of repairing this key asset helped the council to fund the project by increasing Welsh Government grant eligibility by £1.2m.

Porthcawl's Eastern Promenade Porthcawl's Eastern Promenade
Porthcawl’s Eastern Promenade. © Knights Brown 

Restoring historic flood defences, enhancing biodiversity

For almost 200 years, Porthcawl’s Western Breakwater has protected the town from extreme weather events. The grade-II listed structure forms a crucial part of the Porthcawl’s coastal defences, but a challenging programme of repairs and strengthening measures was needed to maintain its structural integrity. We consulted with the council’s specialists and Welsh Government’s historic environment service, Cadw, to safeguard the listed structure’s heritage value. Early engagement with contractors Knights Brown ensured that our designs could be effectively and safely constructed during low-tide windows and in difficult coastal working conditions.

The Western Breakwater during construction The Western Breakwater during construction

Our team conducted extensive research to understand the breakwater’s history and previous failures. Combining this information with drone, lidar, geophysical and geotechnical survey data enabled us to understand the structure’s existing weaknesses. We developed a design to reduce the risk of voids and impact of waves, targeting interventions where needed. We used stone sourced from the original local quarry to replace a failed seaward-sloping wall, grouted voids and constructed a cut-off wall to reduce the risk of future voids forming. To strengthen the slender parapet without damaging the historic masonry, we added Cintec reinforcement – a system combining steel anchors with grout contained in a fabric sock mesh. Our approach minimised the cost and carbon impacts of the project, as well as conserving the original character of the listed breakwater.

To support marine biodiversity,we partnered with CubeX and Swansea University to trial innovative modular textured panels forming an artificial reef and rockpools. Some panels were constructed with concrete mixtures incorporating local crushed cockle shells and ash, seeking to replicate the natural environment to encourage marine life such as honeycomb worm reefs. 

This project forms a vital part of the infrastructure for defending the town against flooding and key stakeholders who continue to live, work, visit and invest in the area will be reassured by the quality of the upgrade. ” Cllr John Spanswick Cabinet Member for Climate Change and the Environment, Bridgend County Borough Council

Combining flood protection with amenity benefits

Along the Eastern Promenade, repairs, parapet raising and strengthening were needed. A secondary wall to contain waves overtopping the promenade was originally planned but, during design refinement, our overtopping analysis showed that the wall could be replaced with multifunctional planters. These offered amenity of green space and integrated terraced seating, while minimising service diversions, which would have impacted cost, programme, and disruption to the public. Along with improved cycling and walking routes, they make this part of the promenade a more functional and enjoyable space for visitors and locals to use.

Image: Planters provide containment for wave overtopping.        © Knights Brown

Preserving dune habitats

The protection achieved by restoring and improving the breakwater meant we could take a regenerative approach to the bay’s relict sand dunes. Instead of carbon-intensive and expensive concrete structures, we could use low-impact interventions to restore and enhance existing dune habitats. 285m of low-level fencing was installed to encourage the build-up of new dunes. Combined with a growth and stability monitoring plan, these simple measures help maintain the coastal pathway in this part of the bay and complement the council’s Dunes2Dunes programme, encouraging sustainable management of the coastal landscape and connecting important dune ecosystems.

Fencing on dunes in Porthcawl Fencing on dunes in Porthcawl
Low-impact fencing encourages formation of new dunes. © Knights Brown

A coastal resilience scheme that delivers more

Correctly framing the problem and using sensitive, risk-based design has been key to success at Sandy Bay. The outcome is a scheme that manages coastal risk; sensitively safeguarding a historic breakwater and restoring sand dune habitat while reinvigorating the seaside promenade. But beyond protecting more than 700 properties from flooding and providing residents and visitors with much needed amenities, the scheme will act as a catalyst to unlock regionally significant strategic regeneration.

Learn more about our flood risk management services