November 2008 - London, Reading and Holland

This has indeed been an extremely busy week.

Environment Agency

On Tuesday 25th Nov I was part of a contingent from North Norfolk which met with Lord Smith of Finsbury, the recently appointed Chairman of the Environment Agency (EA), along with the recently appointed Chief Executive Paul Leinster and senior staff.

The meeting was requested and organised by Norman Lamb M.P. our local Member of Parliament. I was also pleased to see Tony Wright M.P. (Great Yarmouth) present.

It was very heartening to hear Lord Smith acknowledge the extreme problems for individuals and communities faced with a change of current coast protection policy and it's application.

Good to hear from him that he believes the EA must pursue the matter of compensation for those affected , something CCAG has been calling for over many years. Along with this Lord Smith expressed a strong desire to switch the perception that the EA is undertaking a broad policy of abandonment of defences in many areas to one of trying to hold the line where possible.

DEFRA

From London I went to Reading where, on Wednesday, I took part in a DEFRA workshop on adaptation measures. This was one of a number I have attended and very much put the peoples view. These events are attended by representatives from a wide spectrum of government departments. We shall have to wait and see what form government's adaptation package will take, however I can certainly say that all departments are now aware of the problems and hardship faced by individuals and communities on the coast which the present coastal policy is causing.

Holland

From Reading I went directly to Holland for a series of fact finding meetings with relevant government departments and experts responsible for Dutch coast protection and water management. The trip was organised by Coastnet (www.coastnet.org.uk ) who act as secretariat on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coastal and Marine issues. The British contingent was Norman Lamb MP, North Norfolk (Chairman APPG), Graham Stuart MP, Beverley and Holderness (Vice Chairman APPG), Dr Theresa Reading (Coastnet) and myself (CCAG, external member APPG).

The day started at the Ministerie van Verkeer en Waterstaat with an excellent presentation from their team and much discussion with many questions from us.

We then moved on to Delft with presentations from senior engineers and coastal specialists at Deltares NL, a consultancy of world wide renown situated almost within the campus of Delft University. Again excellent presentations and many questions from us over a very welcome lunch.

Next stop was the Headquarters of Provincie Zuid Holland one of the major provincial government centres with a population of approximately 7 million people and responsibility for a major section of the coast. Yet again an excellent presentation and many questions. From there to the Dutch Parliament where we met with a Member of Parliament, this of course was of particular interest to our two MPs.

That concluded the day from which I arrived back in North Norfolk in the very early hours of Friday morning.

My overall impression is that the Dutch have a much more positive approach to living with the sea and coast protection than exists within the UK.

Perhaps this was best demonstrated in the reply to being asked "What will you do about a possible one metre rise in sea levels post 2050?" The response was both calm and assured "We will deal with it." And one is left in no doubt they will, with consummate success, rather than the throw the towel in and retreat now approach which seems to pervade and typify the UK response to the same problem.

The Dutch pay full compensation to homeowners etc when sacrifices have to be made in the wider National interest. Indeed I was most surprised having asked the question "In which legal framework is your policy of paying full compensation rooted, is it Dutch Law or European Law?" We were told "In Holland it is unthinkable to not pay compensation so there is no need for a legal framework, it is automatic".

Little wonder then that they are world leaders in coast protection with an investment of some 1.6 billion euros this year alone they are able to manage their coast in a socially just and extremely effective manner. Along with this their standard of defences is so much higher, for example: Relatively thinly populated rural areas have a one in 1250 year event standard. In this country not even London gets that level of protection at one in 1000 year event standard.

The major centres of population in Holland continue to enjoy protection to a one in 10,000 year event standard which they are giving very serious thoughts to increasing ten fold.

In offshore dredging, which they do allow, they have only one strictly enforced rule: NO dredging in any area with a depth of twenty metres or less.

Much more information was forthcoming on the day, however I can do no better than quote Norman Lamb MP "There is a compelling logic to applying the Dutch approach to the UK".

Finally my thanks go to the APPG and Coastnet for making this excellent fact finding trip possible with special thanks to all our Dutch hosts and their teams for such a warm and courteous welcome. All presentations and discussions were conducted in English not Dutch, very humbling and much appreciated.

Malcolm Kerby (29 November 2008)