COASTAL EROSION maps being created by the Environment Agency could cause chaos around the UK if management strategies are not finalised before their publication, engineers warned this week.
The new maps will highlight the expected shape of the UK coastline in timeframes up to 100 years in the future.
They are intended to assist the future management of coastal defence.
However, engineers fear that publishing the maps without clear plans on how the changes will be managed could cause uproar as people who are not currently aware that they are at risk from coastal erosion or flooding will suddenly realise that they are.
'It could be chaos, ' said North Norfolk District Council head of coastal defence Peter Frew.
Concern over the impact of the new maps has prompted continued discussion over whether to make them public.
'It is our doors that people are going to be knocking on wanting to know what we are going to do about it, ' explained Worthing Borough Council principal engineer Bryan Curtis.
But he accepted that the publication of the maps could result in more cash going into local authority coastal defence budgets: 'It has got to drive more investment in the coastline. It will show The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] what will happen if more is not spent.' The Agency's new series of maps will show coastal erosion risk by plotting the UK's coastline 20, 50 and 100 years into the future.
'Nothing like these maps exists at the moment. They will be a vital part of future coastal management, ' explained Agency project manager Geoff Astle. 'Defra will make the decision [over whether to publish the maps]. What I can say is that we will not publish these maps until the adaptation strategies are in place.' Adaptation strategies are part of a raft of measures in the so-called Adaptation Toolkit currently being prepared by government, one aspect of which includes deciding how to compensate people affected by coastal change (see analysis, page 15 and comment, page 17).
Environment minister Ian Pearson told NCE a report is expected 'towards the end of the year' on this issue.
Astle explained that since last summer the Agency has been gathering information to create the maps, including historic recession rates, clifftop positions, climate change effects and topographic data. The whole coastline has also been digitised.
The next stage is to send the maps to local authorities to be validated locally - effectively asking the authorities to sign up to the maps and accept that communities and huge swaths of land will be abandoned.
'We are effectively being asked to put our necks into the noose and kick the stool away, ' said Curtis. 'I have been going through our data. We lost between 180m and 275m of land between 1700 and 1820; the amounts of movement are fantastic.' Engineers also questioned exactly how erosion rates are being predicted as the Agency has not made this information clear. It has explained that a range of scenarios were being modelled from unrestrained erosion to erosion incorporating the residual life of current defences. But it could not explain exactly how the rates of erosion are being calculated.