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The long goodbye

Coastal defence - Controversy is raging over management plans for protecting Britain's vulnerable coastline. Bernadette Redfern reports.

Across the UK local coastal authorities responsible for managing Britain's coastline are putting together their shoreline management plans.

The first versions were introduced in 1996 and left councils to choose exactly how to defend their coastlines.

But times have changed and the second round of plans is inuenced by new policy. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) Making Space for Water strategy dictates that risks caused by coastal processes are managed in a 'sustainable' manner.

This means no more defences unless the cost benet analysis stacks up. If it does not, miles of coastline and hundreds of properties are at risk. Nor will the owners of these properties get any compensation when the buildings eventually disappear into the sea. Even if the analysis does stack up, competition for funding is fierce and a recent veto on new project funding is starting to bite (see News).

Furthermore, the Environment Agency has been given new powers by Defra to oversee the second round of shoreline management plans (SMP2s). The remit is yet to be finalised but the changes mean that areas that have historically beneted from coastal defences may not be so lucky next time around.

Major problems are emerging as these plans are put together.

People living on the coast are appalled to learn that their defences may no longer be maintained and their homes could eventually be lost.

Worse still, people are not being compensated.

Environment minister Ian Pearson told NCE this week: 'Solutions to flood and coastal erosion risk must be sustainable and cost-effective and offer the taxpayer value for money. We are, however, facing an increasing challenge from climate change and sea level rise and the need for solutions sustainable in the long term is more important than ever. This may force authorities who were reluctant to accept this during SMP1 to be more realistic during SMP2.

'The policy of successive governments has been that there can be no right to compensation for damage from ooding or coastal erosion given that defences are provided under permissive powers. But I am conscious of the distress that can be caused when people are faced with the loss of their homes as a result of coastal erosion, particularly where they had previous expectations of continuing public investment in defences. We're looking into helping communities adapt to a changing coastline. We're assessing the scale and effect of these concerns and developing a broader portfolio of options for addressing them.'

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