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)