July 2007 – Future Coast

Future Coast – Organised and Sustainable or Chaotic and Dying?

We are an island Nation, no matter where we work live or play we can never be more than app. 75miles from the sea. We are one of the greatest Maritime Nations on earth. No longer the largest but certainly among the greatest.

The sea and our relationship with it has, arguably, shaped and moulded us as a people over many centuries. It is very much part of the British psyche.

The UK coastline is more than 19,000kms long. It is an environment of huge diversity and contrast. The coastal zone supports a large proportion of the population, 16.9 million. Our management of the coast has to strike an equable and sustainable balance between competing interests and objectives ie:

  1. Protecting vulnerable communities from the ravages of coastal erosion and sea flooding
  2. Ensuring sustainable economic development
  3. Providing a sound basis for tourism and recreation
  4. Protect the ecology of the coastal zone

The balancing act to achieve these four objectives may well be difficult but it is not impossible.

An added difficulty is their achievment against a backdrop of considerable uncertainty and wildly varying projections of what effect global warming, climate change and sea level rise holds for us over the coming century.

It is absolutely crucial if only for the sake of future generations that we adopt adequate and effective management structures and policies NOW capable of working through the coming problems in a sustainable way.

This begs some questions:

  1. Do we have effective management structures and policies in place now ? It is my earnest belief that we do not.
  2. Are we about to put effective management structures and policies in place? Again it is my belief that we are not.
  3. Are we going to continue the massive underfunding of the coast ? Yes all the evidence eminating from Government shows that we are set to continue coast management by default for fiscal rather than sound coast management rationale.

For some years now the Civil Engineering fraternity, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Local Authorities and various other groups have been warning Government much more needs to be spent on Flood Managament Infrastructure. Those warnings have largely gone unheeded. It is undeniable that Government has increased the annual budget but by nowhere near enough. The result of that unwillingness to invest at an appropriate level is clear for all to see in Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire et al.

Along with this many Maritime Authorities and again the Civil Engineering fraternity as well as other experts and groups have repeatedly flagged up and warned Government against continuing the massive underfunding of the coast and it’s infrastructure.

Unfortunately to no avail!

In recent and consecutive years the coast protection budget allocation has been reduced and reduced.

By way of example the 2005/6 “Flood and Coast Protection” budget was £570,000,000 of which only £47,000,000 was allocated to be shared by some 92 Maritime Authorities for coast protection. This year I believe the total budget is some £600,000,000 of which only £46,000,000 is allocated to Maritime Authorities for coast protection.

This is not accidental it is by design. Some years ago DEFRA launched it’s second generation Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) programme, these SMPs are designed to legitimise the underfunding. So confident were DEFRA that this would just happen they closed their regional coast protection offices. Obviously if you intend to effectively walk away from the coast and reduce the funding you do not need regional offices to oversee any coast protection works as there will not be any!

Whilst fluvial protection and coast protection have very different drivers and solutions the comparison is clear for all to see. Lack of funding is just as lethal in both areas. There is of course at least one difference in fluvial and coastal outcomes. Rarely is property loss total in fluvial areas but on eroding coasts total loss is the inevitable outcome for homes, businesses etc as a direct result of the withdrawal of support from Central Government with inadequate funding and policies.

What is it about the British Government and Civil Service that they choose to ignore all advice ( other than that which fits in with their lack of commitment) and wait for the cataclysmic event to happen with all the human misery and suffering it brings whilst eventually forcing them on to a more sensible, sustainable policy and funding path ?

I truly believe that time is running out on the coast, we are at a crossroads, the choice of future coast needs to be made without further delay. It really is make your mind up time.

Future Coast can be either:

  1. Organised, successfuly managed and sustainable
  2. Chaotic and dying on it’s feet

If it is to be option 1 then we need to embrace fully the EU recommended way forward, Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) policy path with adequate funding. Result living working sustainable coast well into this century. If it is to be option 2 then all we need to do is carry on as we are and watch Central Government, Ministers and the Treasury fiddle while Rome burns.

Malcolm Kerby (25 July 2007)

July 2007 – wider comments

In common with many people and communities around the UK and beyond I would like to extend the sympathy and good wishes of Happisburgh to everyone who has suffered so cruelly from the major flooding incidents in recent times. We understand perhaps more than many the anguish and devastation of losing ones home and/or belongings. Yet again our deepest gratitude is due to the emergency services and armed forces who have to pick up the pieces.

Whenever such cataclysmic events occur there always seems to be a search for someone, anyone, to blame. Whilst the sheer scale of recent flooding has been immense it was as a result of really quite exceptional rainfall and weather patterns. Maybe an indication of what could be in store for us all with increasing global warming and climate change.

Could we have done more over the last quarter of a century to bring the infrastructure of both fluvial flood and coast protection up to a more acceptable operational standard? Yes of course we could and should!

Why are we constantly told by Central Government resources (money) are finite and we simply can not afford to do the job adequately or properly?

We, the people, really must bring Government to book on this. How can we not afford to spend our own money(taxes) on our own protection in both fluvial and coast protection terms yet our Government deems we can afford such hare brained projects as the Millienium Dome, an extremely questionable incursion into the middle east and the 2012 Olympics which we patently can not afford. These three items alone will cost the taxpayer (you and me) many, many BILLIONS of pounds. Along with that much has been handed out around the world in foreign aid.

All of which may be highly laudible but surely can only come (if we can afford it) AFTER the Government has invested OUR MONEY in making us as safe and secure from the elements and climate change as is humanly possible in our own HOMES AND COMMUNITIES.

Malcolm Kerby (25 July 2007)

July 2007 Comments – Selsey Sea Wall

Two pictures of yet another crisis in a coastal community. As can be seen the sea wall at Selsey has collapsed and created app. 40 metre gap.

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Obviously this needs repair as a matter of urgency. However I fear the financial problems will prove greater than the technical problems to overcome.

With Central Government effectively walking away from the coast how on earth will this or indeed any other Maritime Authority in a similar situation be able to cope financially.

The longer remedial action takes the worse (and more expensive) the solution will be. Unfortunately those with absolute responsibility, DEFRA, are busy trying to build a different kind of barrier. One which attempts to put not only the Maritime Authorities but now the Environment Agency between us (the problem) and them.

Typicaly British Civil Service, make the situation so complicated they can get away with doing nothing except talk about the problems for ever and dream up the most obscure ways forward. Anything except address the problem effectively at an early and cost effective stage.

It will be interesting to see what happens at Selsey against the backdrop of the upcoming second generation Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for this area and Central Government’s aversion to and perpetual underfunding of the coast.

Malcolm Kerby (22 July 2007)

June 2007 Comments

The Tyne to Flamborough Head Second Generation Shoreline Management Plan (SMP2) is now coming up for acceptance or rejection by all the Local Authorities (LAs) throughout that coastal strip, a large area involving a number of different authorities.

Scarborough Borough Council is the Lead Authority on this SMP2. I was particularly disappointed to read a recent article in the newspaper Scarborough Today reporting that John Riby, head of engineering services at Scarborough Council is recommending to the elected members that they vote to adopt SMP2 saying that to do otherwise may put future funding for defences in jeopardy.

I would most strongly urge the elected members of all The LAs involved to look closely at the North Norfolk experience where our proposed SMP2 clearly stated that the defences between Sea Palling and Winterton, which protect the northern Norfolk Broads area, would be maintained for the next 100 years by annual beach recharge. Yet almost before the ink was dry on the SMP document funding for that area was withdrawn, significantly increasing the risk of a breach.

It is my absolute belief that it is completely wrong that DEFRA insists on trying to push SMP2s anywhere else in this country until the enormous problems the Pilot SMP2s revealed are resolved.

The most contentious of course is the complete lack of Social Justice within these plans.

I also believe that any elected member who votes to adopt any SMP2 which has no Social Justice measures built into it could be doing his or her electorate a major disservice.

Government is trying to force through SMP2s to minimise future spend on coast defences.

The SMP2 for this area, which we have rejected, significantly inreased risk to the built and natural environment with absolutely no measures in place or recommended to mitigate that risk for communities or individuals (Social Justice) and is therefore absolutely unsustainable.

Climate change and global warming are with us and there no doubt will be changes in our coast over the coming years. We should not be frightened of it nor should we shrink from addressing it.

New innovative policies and approaches will have to be found which must be firmly rooted in a socially just framework only then will they be sustainable.

Currently plans such as the Tyne to Flamborough Head SMP2 are bedevilled with old thinking dusted off to appear new and without Social Justice will completely disenfranchise an increasing number of people and communities.

I would suggest we must not allow that to happen, currently the best way to achieve that and protect all our coastal futures is to reject these incomplete Second Generation Shoreline Management Plans.

Malcolm Kerby (01 June 2007)

June 2007 Update – Coastal Defence Neglect Exposed

So the MPs and the National Audit Office (NAO) have now expressed what some of us have been saying for some years, see article COASTAL DEFENCE NEGLECT EXPOSED EDP 15th June 07.

From a Stakeholders viewpoint the central, core problem with coast protection in the UK is the massive underfunding over the last 25 years by central Government no matter who has been in power.

If you ally this to the utterly ridiculous way the management structure has been set out there can only be one conclusion : coastal chaos!

Firstly we have one Government department in overall charge of Flood and Coast Protection (F&CP), DEFRA . Those of us who have been closely involved with the subject will immediately identify the first major problem. That is the lumping together of Fluvial and Coastal management policy and approach. Quite simply this does not work. Fluvial flooding and Coastal Erosion/Flooding are distinctly different problems and have distinctly different drivers and solutions.

For far too long this confused approach has allowed Government to significantly reduce spending on the coast to positively dangerous levels. Let me give you an example of how they manage to make the majority think the spend on the coast is adequate.

In December 2004 the then Environment Minister, Elliot Morley MP, informed the House of Commons of the F&CP budget for the coming financial year, 2005/6, he said it was to be £570,000,000. Now that sounds like a significant sum but we have to remember there are app 90 Maritime Authorities in this country all of whom are charged with Lead Authority status for the coast protection of their area

When asked directly how much of that £570,000,000 is going to be spent on the coast the Minister’s reply included this gem along with all the spin and waffle ” £47,000,000 is going to the Maritime Authorities not all of which will be spent on the coast,some will be spent inland by the Internal Drainage Boards”.

So from a budget of over half a billion less than 47 million was earmarked for coast protection!

For an island nation such as ours surrounded on all sides by the sea, that is little short of positively irresponsible and scandalous. Oh yes, don’t be fooled into thinking that was a one off, it has been the same year after year and continues to be so.

To make matters worse the Environment Agency (EA) has now been given overall charge of F&CP, this is due to take effect from April next year. So the quango that has for years been addressing the fluvial problems is now going to be in charge of coastal erosion problems. That means the whole annual budget will be theirs to decide how much they spend on the coast and what the split between fluvial and coastal spend will be.

Some would say the EA has done a reasonable job in fluvial areas but are ill equiped to cope with the coast.

A second problem has been the rather confused messages to Government from the scientific community. I have been to many conferences and meetings and have listened to academics calling for a return to natural process on the coast. When are they going to understand that is quite simply not possible in many areas. I would wholeheartedly support the theory of natural process, our coastline is a living one which has been eroding, accreting, evolving over thousands of years and may well have been very different had we not used artificial methods of moderating that process.

Today the inescapable fact is that we have intervened in the past and we are now stuck with that and all of our future planning must recognise that we are starting from where we are not where we may well wish to be. So the call from some academics to return to natural process is not practical and is purely academic.

We all,stakeholders, scientists and policy makers have to understand that uk coast plc can not be preserved in aspic as it were, that climate change and global warming is undoubtedly going to severely test our coastal resolve and we must equip ourselves NOW (there has already been too much talk and not enough action) with management structures, policies and most importantly adequate funding that we are in a position to absorb the impact of rising sea levels and climate change the future may bring not just for our sake but for our children and their children.

Our current approach to the defence of the realm from the sea (and the 16.9 million people who live in the coastal zone) is confused, woefully inadequate and massively underfunded. It appears we are going to miss a rare opportunity by not making Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) part of the upcoming Marine Bill.

We need NOW a separate wholly autonomous department (see Alernative Governance) that is free and unconstrained by other responsibilities to manage the coast in a socially just effective manner adequately funded, within an ICZM framework that can manage this country’s coast in the best interests of all of the people that we and future generations are able to enjoy a viable, sustainable coast that can thrive and prosper in spite of sea level rise and climate change.

We are an island nation whether we like it or not, we either get on and address the issues or we wither on the vine. Perhaps a reminder of the European view is timely : when dealing with coast defence issues we must “pay due regard to coastal communities and their cultural heritage” and when determining coast defence policy ” the precautionary principle must always be applied “.

Our current approach will only ensure we pass on an unbelievably high (not just in financial terms) cost to future generations. That in my view would be a complete betrayal.

Malcolm Kerby (15 June 2007)

December 2006 Comments

In recent years I have tried to convince the UK coastal world that the erosion problems we suffer here in Happisburgh are not Happisburgh specific.

The truth is that Happisburgh is but part of a national problem which is going to get much, much worse as a result of mixed messages from the scientists and the perpetuation of the massive underfunding of coast protection in this country. There are now press articles from all around the country flagging up coast defence issues, see the latest addition to the press articles elsewhere on this site.

What we are witnessing is a rapid slide into coastal chaos for it will not be long before the situation becomes irreversible in many areas. I really thought there was an opportunity to get some common sense and joined up thinking when DEFRA launched the Making Space for Water project however I now feel history will show it as a wasted opportunity of mammoth proportions.

Along with that the only tangible change that seems to have come out of that project with any haste is the handing of overall strategic control of all coast defences to the Environment Agency (EA). Many key staff within the EA do not feel that is the best way forward. Many key players in coast defence around this country also feel it is not the best way forward. Personally I feel it is a huge mistake and can only lead to an already confused situation becoming much worse. Many believe it is something the DEFRA civil servants have wanted to do for a considerable time.

Over recent times we have seen significant changes in both the political management of DEFRA and the Civil Service staff. With the moving on of the ex Minister Elliot Morley there was a sigh of relief out here in the real world, who could forget his abysmal performance in the adjournment debate on March 8th last year which really underlined his lack of understanding and knowledge of the subject to hand.

We now have a new Minister, Ian Pearson MP, whom I have had the very real pleasure of meeting on three occasions. This man impresses me enormously not just because he had the courage to come to North Norfolk at his own behest on a fact finding visit but because I sense we are dealing with a very genuine man. He has resisted the temptation to make any early promises and has consistantly called for constructive dialogue. Now if only this man can get to see the real picture and not the one that is presented to him by his civil servants we might just get some progress in the right direction.

On the Civil Service side we have seen the retirement of the DEFRA Chief Engineer, to the immense relief of many of the Operating Authorities where he was intensely disliked. In my view we are now free of a very dogmatic individual who did coast protection overall in this country no favours at all.

I should add I have the greatest respect for many of the DEFRA Flood Management team and understand something of the enormity of the problems they have to wrestle with, not least the Treasury and it’s Green Book and Multi Coloured Document. However there is an urgent need to move on from the way things have always been done and a need to REALLY listen to what we are saying out here. It would also be extremely useful if the second generation Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) are not pushed into other areas of the country until the problems thrown up by the pilot SMPs are fully resolved. I have travelled the length of the country and spoken to many coast dwellers, those in areas where a new SMP has been announced are already seeing adverse effects on property values and viability both in terms of Insurance and open market.

As far as North Norfolk is concerned, in the wake of the absolute rejection of the second generation SMP for this area, North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has recognised and is acting upon the absolute need to buy some time for it’s coastal communities by investing in some defences which hopefully will get us through ten or so years while we wait for a more sustainable coastal policy and SMPs to eminate from central government.

It would be extremely useful if DEFRA, whose change of policy and direction without addressing social justice has caused immense social and economic problems, would match fund NNDC in their efforts. If they do match fund we can all take heart that DEFRA is sincere in it’s approach and would be a clear sign that we are all working together to achieve an effective proper outcome to the problems the SMP has thrown up. If they choose not to match fund then they run the very real risk of perpetuating the adversarial approach that has bedevilled the situation for years and is so counter productive.

Malcolm Kerby (13 December 2006)

October 2006 Comments

I would like to begin this month by referring to the press article 25th September Sea defence boss attacks agency . This I think is a measure of the importance of DEFRA’s decision to give the Environment Agency (EA) overall control of coast defence.

Peter Frew coast defence boss at North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) is a quiet, thoughtful,extremely competent man who really knows his subject. He is also well aware of the backlash which can be exerted by the government agencies on those such as himself who speak out or step out of line. So I take my hat off to him, it was a brave move to speak out on behalf of the coastal dwellers of North Norfolk.

I sincerely hope the crass idiot within the EA who made the comments which sparked the article is now looking for another job as far away from anything to do with coast defence as possible. All I can do is offer him some advice, stay away from public relations it is not your forte!

What this episode highlights is the sizeable mistake of giving the EA overall control it will make a difficult situation even worse ( as I outlined in my Alternative Governance for living with a changing coastline document, October 2004). It can only lead to greatly reduced local input on coast management with a more centralised, dictatorial approach. The EA is a government quango of leviathon proportions not renowned for it’s speed or accuracy of response. Recently I have been working with people on the south coast, the Kent/Sussex border, where the EA is trying to push forward coastal realighnment seemingly irrespective of the effect on both people and some say the coastline itself. This most certainly does not hold much promise of a brighter more effective coastal future.

Closer to home the EA I believe were the champions of the reef scheme at Sea Palling some years ago which was never completed and went astronomically over budget. As predicted by many local people (who were of course ignored in just the same way that our response to the proposed Shoreline Management Plan has been ignored) that reef scheme, whilst turning around the fortunes of Sea Palling village itself, has proved to be a huge and extremely costly white elephant causing extreme problems elsewhere along the coast and is a leading example of unsustainable development in coastal terms.

DEFRA have recently(Aug 06) published a consultation document under the Making Space For Water strategy asking for comment on it’s decision to give the EA overall control of coast defence. Rarely have I seen such a biased document. I would certainly recommend that everyone responds to this consultation by outlining the abject folly of giving the EA overall control. It will lead to an even worse situation than we have now.

Having recently returned from a trip to the North East of England and Scotland looking at coast defences, as well as an earlier trip to the South coast (around the Lydd, Camber, Dungeness area) I am left with a lasting impression that until we have locally driven solutions within a whole coast framework employing all the options and managing the whole coast for sound coast management reasons we are heading for chaos and disaster.

Coast management decisions made under purely fiscal drivers are not coast MANAGEMENT at all but merely an opt out abdicating our responsibilities (and cost) to future generations.

Malcolm Kerby (03 October 2006)

August 2006 Comments

This month we shall welcome Ian Pearson MP, the new Minister, to this area so that he may see for himself the true extent of the problems along our coastline.

I have to say I do admire the man for volunteering to come here, before being asked, at our meeting on June 8th having only been in post for a very short time and I would ask all of my friends and colleagues in these parts to join with me in offering the Minister a genuinely warm welcome.

It is my most fervant hope that the visit will open the way for a new era. An era of greater understanding by all sides of each others problems, of much closer and more meaningful dialogue and above all an era of ACTION and co-operation.

As many will know I have an absolute conviction that if we (all sides) are prepared to sit round the table together, enter into discussion starting with the areas on which we agree (there are some) and move naturally into the more contentious issues we will achieve an outcome which can be bought into by everyone.

Recently Prof. Tim O’Riordan presented the preliminary findings of the research project carried out by the Tyndall Centre on the impact of the draft, pilot, second generation Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for this area on our communities. I am particularly pleased with the results as they confirm what CCAG has been putting forward over recent years. Let us hope that Government from this point forward stops just hearing us and actually starts to listen.

On the wider front I have been working with communities in other parts of the country, the South East and the North East in particular. One of the things that puzzles me enormously is why DEFRA is pushing SMPs into other parts of the country before the problems thrown up by the pilot plan here have been resolved. It is common knowledge that our pilot SMP has caused significant property and planning blight throughout the coastal strip and up to app. two miles inland. Surely by imposing SMPs in other areas DEFRA is spreading blight all around the country. Come on DEFRA do the responsible thing, place a moratorium on all further SMPs until the problems with the pilots have been resolved.

Malcolm Kerby (07 August 2006)

July 2006 Update – SMP Consultation Response

When reading the response to last years Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) consultation I would ask everyone to remember that the SMP was required by Defra. The company which produced the SMP was appointed by Defra and paid by Defra. The guidelines and parameters within which the SMP was produced were laid down by Defra. What we are dealing with here is very much a Defra SMP produced in the name of the Local Authorities.

The SMP consultation response is absolutely scandalous, a complete whitewash, it makes no attempt whatsoever to take account of and build into the SMP local views. Like the SMP itself it chooses to ignore scientific fact that if selected, comparatively small, parts of the coast are defended it simply is not possible to achieve natural process elsewhere along the coast. The end result will be coastal chaos. Some would say pretty much a true reflection of the state of current coastal defence policy itself for England and Wales.

What we do learn from the response is that the SMP consultation itself was merely window dressingfor a hopelessly inadequate, technically flawed SMP. It would certainly appear it was decided early on that there should be a period of public consultation, without it much criticism would have been leveled at Defra. However it seems the attitude was ‘don’t worry lads we will have the consultation, invite comment then ignore it’ and stick to the original inadequate, seriously flawed policies anyway.

Almost 2500 people became engaged with the system believing the consultation to be an honest one. Every one of them has been let down by that system.

Quite simply what has gone on here stinks.
Consultation? … What consultation!!
Response? … What response!!

Go back to the drawing board Defra and your house trained, tame consultants. The people of Norfolk and indeed this country have a right to expect more of you. What you have produced thus far is inadequate, inoperable for the Local Authorities and unsustainable in the extreme.

Malcolm Kerby (04 July 2006)

July 2006 Comments

As many people have pointed out to me, it is many months since I have made comment. This is not for the lack of material to comment upon, but simply because I felt very strongly that after the veritable whirlwind of activity in the wake of the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) and the consultation which followed, I rather foolishly believed that given the space and time to take on board the consultation findings, the Civil Servants would finally come up with some common sense.

Much has happened in recent times; perhaps most significantly we have a new Minister in charge of coast defence policy. One would earnestly hope that this Minister is going to be his own man and not let his civil servants bamboozle him with their rather obscured view. By obscured I mean they are seemingly unable to move away from the way things have always been done, much of their approach seems to be rooted in misconception and fear of change.

It is quite possible that we are facing unprecedented problems in the management of our coastline. Global warming and the consequent rise in sea level combined with a sinking land mass, changes in weather patterns with a high probability of a marked increase in rather more extreme storm activity. The relatively new discovery of global dimming which seems to pose a real cath 22 scenario that if we are effectively changing the way we live, clean up our act and reduce carbon particle emissions it may allow even more of the sun’s energy to reach us thereby accelerating global warming.

There has never been a time in our development requiring lateral thinking in coastal defence more than now. There is a demand for green energy. Why can we not think about tri functional sea defences? Defences which use the massive tidal force of the sea to produce renewable energy as well as enhancing the tourism value for the many coastal areas requiring regeneration. Along with those benefits surely we could construct them in such a way that we actually manage and enhance the sediment budget? This I believe is the truly sustainable way forward; sea defences which pay for themselves over time.

Is it really beyond us? After all we can make bombs which follow a laser line to deliver pinpoint accuracy, missiles which can follow a road map. Isn’t it amazing how we can spend billions on ever more sophisticated means of destroying man and his habitat but so very little on the preservation of man and his habitat?

Finally, I would thank the new Minister, Ian Pearson MP most sincerely for meeting with our MP Norman Lamb and three of us from North Norfolk so early in his new post. That could not have been easy for him but greatly appreciated. The Minister also volunteered to come to North Norfolk and see for himself “before the summer is out”. Hats off to the man and I very much look forward to offering him a genuinely warm and constructive welcome to this area.

Malcolm Kerby (03 July 2006)