November 2011 Comments

I have for some considerable time refrained from making comment or updates as there has been considerable activity ‘behind the scenes’ and I was conscious that any comment could have affected some of the negotiations and events which were taking place. However I believe the time is now right to comment on a number of relevant issues.

Firstly and perhaps most importantly (in the wider context) is the all new Central Government policy for Flood and Coastal Risk Management which came into being in July of this year. This is a policy which seeks to convince us, and no doubt the Association of British Insurers ( ABI ) that more will be done on the coast when in fact Government is looking to do much less with an ongoing reducing budget. The only positive I can find in the new policy is the fact that it removes any doubt that we manage our coast for fiscal reasons rather than sound coast management rationale. My own view is that the new policy is hugely divisive, has increased costs for the Maritime Authorities when seeking to provide a scheme which is subject to central funding grant in aid and could be damaging in the long term.

The conundrum for Government which this policy seeks to resolve is, how do we do less on the coast whilst convincing the public we are doing more!

There is nothing within it to address the shortcomings of past policy. For me the most glaring example is the continued combining of fluvial and coastal policy and approach. Clearly the drivers and solutions are entirely different for fluvial (rivers) and the coast (sea), this combined approach can surely only disadvantage both areas. It may make ‘political sense’ on paper but to both myself and others, including some highly respected coastal managers, it is a major stumbling block to achieving good coast management. I can however understand why it appears attractive to Government. I’m sure they would claim it reduces their operating cost. Problem is it conveniently obscures the paucity of funding for the coast when budgets are announced and produces policies which are centred on fluvial thinking much of which simply does not apply on the coast.

Also there is still no mechanism (policy or funding) for adaptation on the coast in the face of projected rising sea levels and climate change. Both changes appear inevitable and beyond the control of man which makes it fundamentally important that we have adequate, effective policies in place to successfully manage our way through said changes. In a word Adaptation.

Secondly we still have a situation where when losses are incurred to people and communities resulting from policy change on a hitherto defended section of coast usually from Hold the Line to either No Active Intervention or Managed Realignment there is still no policy or funding to deal with the consequences of that change. Yet for flora and fauna in the same situation there is a policy of 100% compensation irrespective of cost. Quite simply that can not be either right or socially just.

On another aspect of policy, or rather the lack of it, it seems that we the people are denied the right to a properly constructed appeal procedure against decisions made by the Government created quango Natural England (NE) who are charged with policing the environment. Problem is Government and the politicians would have us believe NE are just advisors, a view which NE itself strongly supports and propagates. In practice however it seems no Government Department or politician will challenge or go against NE ‘advice’. So it would appear that policy is being set by default with a singular lack of checks and balances. We need more than just relying on the goodwill of any individual within it or NE itself.

Over the past year we have seen a plethora of public consultations from Government Departments and quangos on proposed new policies, indeed at one stage it was difficult to keep up with them. Those proposed policies have since been ratified and are now in place. The question and comment I constantly hear from communities and individuals (including those who have to manage the coast) is are these consultations meaningful or are they simply a box ticking exercise to comply with convention rules as precious little attention seems to be paid to constructive comment made in the consultation responses.

Perhaps at some stage in the future we will get a politician or politicians who will not just read the script handed to them by senior aides and have enough knowledge, understanding and balls to get involved in the creation of Flood and Coast Management policy which will actually work for the coast and it’s people within a fair and socially just framework.

With 16.9 million people living in the coastal zone in this country (Atkins 2004: ICZM in the UK – a stocktake) we deserve better, much better than that which is currently being foisted upon us.

I do realise that these comments may cause some consternation amongst some of the politicians and civil servants within DEFRA, EA and NE with whom I have had the very real pleasure of working over recent years. However I hope they know me well enough to know that my abiding principle has not changed and that is to ‘work with in search of better whilst telling it like it is’.

Malcolm Kerby (18 November 2011)