The cliffs overlooking Oddicombe Beach in Torquay are about 60-70m high and are formed of strong breccia with some interbeds and lenses of much weaker sandstone. The cliffs are prone to rockfalls and for many years engineering geologists from Frederick Sherrell have carried out inspections on behalf of the Local Authority and when necessary, advised on maintenance works to reduce the rockfall hazards. In 2001 the appearance of cracks in the South West Coast Path at the top of the cliff and a noticeable increase in rockfall activity from the cliff raised concerns about the possible development of a very large topple failure. Further investigation identified cracks to buildings, garden walls and paths at the top of the cliff and subsequent monitoring demonstrated that some of the cracks were moving.
There were obvious safety concerns, but given the height of the cliffs, it was not practical to stabilise the cliffs. It was also not possible to predict when a failure would occur. Therefore, as a precaution the footpath was redirected inland. The north end of the beach was also closed and properties at the top of the cliff evacuated.
In 2013, twelve years after the problem had been identified, and during one of the wettest winters on record, a very large topple failure affected a 150m long section of the cliffs. A 30m wide strip of land at the top of the cliff was lost to the landslip, including one of the evacuated properties. All of the debris fell onto the closed northern end of the beach and into the sea.