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Sea change needed

Will the government ever tackle social justice for coastal communities?

IF THE government decides a piece of infrastructure is to be built - the Olympic Park for example - compulsory purchase orders are issued and properties are bought at market rates.

Similarly, if the government decides to build a new motorway, or widen an existing one, such as the M25 extension currently out for tender, compensation is paid to those affected.

And if the government decides to put a pumping station in someone's garden, or flood land to provide additional flood capacity for a water course, that person is compensated.

But if the government decides to stop defending stretches of coastline and people's homes then fall into the sea as a result, these people get nothing.

As much as the government will defer responsibility for exactly what work is carried out on the coastline to local authorities or the Environment Agency, it is the government that is making the rules. It is telling rural coastal communities that cash is no longer available to defend their homes.

In some cases, perhaps the right thing to do is to let nature take its course. No one wants to live on a concrete walled island accessible only by a rope ladder.

But where is the compensation for people who have made a decision to buy on the coastline after assurance that properties would be defended, and are now about to lose everything?

When asked the question directly by NCE, environment minister Ian Pearson admitted there were some people who were about to face difculties.

But he failed to commit to compensating them (see feature page 20). He said the adaptation toolkit would address these issues, but so far what is to be in the toolkit remains a mystery, and even those putting it together don't know what will be in it.

Between 2006 and 2007 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs invested £591M in flooding and coastal defences, yet only £65.7M of this went directly to local authorities for coastal erosion management.

Next year that is set to fall further to just £46.1M.

The Coastal Concern Action Group estimates that 16.9M people live in coastal zones.

Investment in the coast is falling, but the management challenge has never been greater.

Government is on the edge of committing an enormous social injustice by failing to support homeowners losing their properties and engineers managing the coast. It is not too late for it to address these issues by redirecting and increasing spending.

The question is: does it want to?

See comment on page 17

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