June 2005 Comments

The much reviled and despised Kelling to Lowestoft draft Shoreline Management Plan ( SMP ) consultation period ended on the 29th April having received over 2500 responses. This was indeed a staggering result which , I feel sure, is without precedent. Well done to everyone who became engaged. That response was effectively a referendum on the change in central government policy on coast defence, DEFRA Ministers and Senior Civil Servants please take note your intention to move to mass abandonment of coast defence under the euphemism Natural Process is absolutely unacceptable. That is the message contained in the SMP response.

Natural process may well be the way forward IF we could start with a blank sheet of paper the fact is we can not, nor indeed can we return to the blank sheet of paper scenario. We will now never know how our coastline would have evolved had man not intervened to protect his environment.

If we are serious about striving for a sustainable coastal policy, then we must make it precisely that, sustainable. Not just sustainable in government terms ( which really means spending as little as possible ) but sustainable in a principled manner for all of the people and their cultural heritage. this I believe is one of the cornerstones of the coming Integrated Coastal Zone Management ( ICZM ) as outlined by the EU policy makers in Brussels.

Recently we have had the Government Making Space for Water consultation exercise and the Tyndall Centre project Living with a changing coastline both of which seem to have failed to address some of the basic issues involved in the littoral process and the application of social justice.

How can we ever have natural process whilst some hard defences remain in place ? Happisburgh is a prime example of this, where some defences have been allowed to deteriorate and have been removed we have witnessed very rapid UNnatural process with hugely accelerated rates of erosion. The lesson here is plain for all to see : you cannot choose not to defend an area in isolation, just as you cannot choose to defend an area in isolation.

Surely if natural process is aspired to all defences must be removed including , in this area, those protecting Sheringham, Cromer, Bacton Gas Terminal, Sea Palling and Great Yarmouth. If this is not done then we can never achieve natural process. To remove those defences is, of course, wholly undesirable and impractical in our modern society therefore natural process of coastal re-alighnment itself becomes an impractical aspiration and impossible to achieve.

Another major prerequisite to embarking on the path of natural process is to leave all sediment, both mobile and dormant, in situ. Which would mean a complete and immediate cessation of ALL marine aggregate dredging. Without it natural process can never be achieved.

There can be no half measures here if we do not remove all hard defences and stop dredging completely then we would be placing unnatural pressure on and discriminating against some areas, or communities in favour of others. That in a modern society is completely unacceptable. Possibly even unlawful, Article 14 European Convention on Human Rights specifically refers to discrimination against property.

We already know that the DEFRA criteria and point score system is designed to transfer funds away from the coast inland to fluvial flood areas. Vis a vis the 05-06 spending on Flood and Coast Protection is £570 million pounds with only £47 million going to Maritime Authorities, of which I believe there are over 70, and some of this has to be shared with the Internal Drainage Boards. Are we going to revert to natural process in fluvial areas? Are we going to remove all property built on the natural floodplains of this country over the last 30 years? Our government positively encouraged building on the fluvial floodplains resulting in the flooding chaos we have today.

It was of course natural process we witnessed on 31st January 1953 around the North Sea resulting in the loss of over 2000 lives and the events of 26th December 04 around the Indian Ocean both of which wrought unbearable human tragedy, suffering and devestation. Had effective defences and warning systems been in place perhaps the outcome of those natural events would have been less costly in human terms.

We are being warned ever more stridently of an impending storm of epic proportions for all of us. The combination of Global Warming, Global Dimming, Tectonic Plate Movement and Climate Change bringing significantly increased risk of severe and freak weather conditions.

Is this an appropriate time in our evolution to be calling for a return to natural process ?
Is this an appropriate time to be seriously considering wholesale abandonment of our coast defences ?
Are we witnessing a typically British ( Westminster and Whitehall ) cock up in pursuit of short term financial perceived gain for which this nation, it’s millions of coastal dwellers and their descendants could pay a very heavy price indeed ?

It will be too late when much of England is gone due to ill founded policy for it will be gone forever!

I repeat, the response to the SMP consultation was in effect a referendum on the direction of changed government policy.

Malcolm Kerby (17 June 2005)