October 2004 update

In this area I am sure we are going to see over the coming weeks many meetings organised by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC). To explain the rationale and finer nuances of the second generation pilot Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), extracts of which were published in the Eastern Daily Press recently.

If this does happen it will be a real opportunity to register your view on it’s implications. It is also extremely important that you ensure your elected representatives at both Parish and District Council levels have a clear understanding of your view on this subject that they may put your case on your behalf.

On the wider front let us remember there are three such SMPs all timed to be launched together and have the same `consultation’ period. The three `pilot’ areas are :

  1. NNDC (Kelling to Lowestoft Ness)
  2. Shepway District Council (Dover to Beachy Head)
  3. Arun District Council (Beachy Head to Selsey Bill)

In July 04 DEFRA released a significant and major consultation paper entitled Making Space For Water as a stepping stone to new policy formation on fluvial flooding and coast defence. I would congratulate them on the scope of that paper, it tables a wide range of questions and thought provoking comments for stakeholder discussion many of which CCAG has been calling for over recent years. Again congratulations DEFRA, much of the content of the Making Space For Waterpaper you would have regarded as heresy not that long ago. The wind of change is indeed blowing! The consultation period is due to close on 1st November 2004.

I recently attended a conference in Southampton organised by DEFRA as part of this consultation process. I came away from there with the impression that Whitehall is in `listening mode’. Let us hope that they are hearing and we end up with a rather more user friendly, more socially just policy than that which currently prevails. Heaven knows the inadequacies of current coast defence policy are glaringly obvious. We desperately need change, radical root and branch change, not just tinkering about with what we are already saddled with. A bit of lateral thinking would be welcome to find innovative ways to address the coast defence problems of both today and the future. Thinking which encompasses the needs of man and his historic communities whilst addressing the major issues of global warming, sea level rise and climate change. That is the real challenge, build on what we already have and secure it in a more community based, Eco-friendly way. Under current policy flora and fauna are compensated when their habitat is lost to coastal erosion but mankind is not. Is that socially just or acceptable?

It would have helped me believe the Making Space For Water consultation document and intentions more if the second generation SMPs were produced after whatever new policy comes out of all this. How can SMPs be produced which, we are told, are going to be operable for the next 20-50 years when we have no idea of the policy framework of which they are supposed to be a part? All seems a bit cart before horse to me, unless of course Government has already decided on the do nothing approach with the SMPs as scene setters and `consultation’ window dressing en route to what has already been decided.

It would have helped me believe in the SMP if Government had come clean about the effects of offshore dredging on coastal process. But they have not.

I have to hand an internal document from Westminster, presumably never meant for public consumption. Which clearly shows political duplicity over offshore dredging, I shall quote from four paragraphs under the heading, Concerns regarding the potential impact of Marine Aggregate Dredging:

  1. “Coastal erosion caused by Marine Aggregate Dredging, effecting property housing and tourism on our coastal areas. `Managed Retreat’ regarding sea defence would be quite acceptable if natural erosion went to the rebuilding of depleted down-tide areas. However, the large-scale removal of marine aggregate has led many to believe that the rapid erosion taking place on our coasts is going directly to replace marine aggregate that has been dredged from the seabed.”
  2. “A deterioration in the overall health/quality of the marine ecosystem since large-scale dredging has been in operation, 35% of Norfolk’s salt marshes have disappeared. Marine and biodiversity are dramatically reduced for a significant amount of time.”
  3. “A reduction in the socio-economic aspects of the sea, including fishery and amenity interests through such an environmental impact could result in further strains on fishing. The impact of dredging on localised areas can be significant, with marine stocks in that area being sharply reduced for a considerable amount of time. Concerns have been raised by many fishermen who have experienced the effects of dredging at first hand.”
  4. “We still need to work to increase our understanding of the process of coastal erosion. Only through this will a true factual analysis of the environmental and financial costs of Marine Aggregate Dredging be revealed. Current scientific analysis simply doesn’t provide an accurate assessment of these problems.”

It seems to me that unless and until there is a complete cessation of aggregate dredging natural equilibrium in coastal process can neither be restored or take place.

If natural equilibrium can neither be restored or take place then the second generation SMPs are seriously flawed and must be withdrawn. I believe the Eurosion team got it precisely right when they said “Aggregate dredging can either cause or exacerbate coastal erosion.”

As someone remarked to me recently when discussing the dredging issue “This is just how the BSE crisis started, evasive politicians and denials.” Some people (particularly some politicians it would seem) never learn do they!

Herewith some dredging statistics for you. Between 1989-2002 the total tonnage extracted by region, according to the Marine Sand and Gravel Information Service (MAGIS) was :

East Coast137,817,564
South Coast75,069,066
South West Coast30,336,752
North West Coast4,841,101
Rivers & Misc.1,005,752

So the total tonnage extracted from the Humber and East Coast areas (between which Happisburgh is situated) was 162,670,130 Tonnes.

Malcolm Kerby (26 October 2004)