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News

Living with a changing coastline, Government sets out priorities for the future

Defra : 14 March, 2006  (Company News)
Embracing sustainable solutions to coastal protection in England will be a challenging step for some communities, Environment Minister Elliot Morley said today.
Launching the Government's revised guidance on Shoreline Management Plans in Dorset, Mr Morley acknowledged the natural resistance that people feel towards change, but emphasised that coastlines are dynamic and that it's not a realistic option to preserve the whole coast exactly as it is indefinitely.

'Our coastline has been shifting since the Ice Age as part of a natural process that has seen losses and gains to coastal areas' Mr Morley said. 'Climate change and sea level rise pose significant challenges, and the issue is how to engage with people in addressing the implications of change and understanding the options there are for adaptation.

'By adopting a sustainable approach it is possible to reduce both uncertainty and losses, but this requires a willingness to accept that solutions might not necessarily mean maintaining the status quo'.

SMPs set policy at a local level for the strategic management of flood and erosion risk. They encompass four principal approaches:

Holding the existing line, by maintaining or changing the standard of protection
Advancing the existing line, by building new defences on the seaward side of original defences
Managed realignment, by allowing the shoreline to move backwards or forwards through controlled movement; and
No active intervention, where there is no investment in coastal defences or operations
When SMPs were first developed 10 years ago they were an innovative step towards better understanding the coast and the need for strategic planning. The revised guidance launched today takes account of the latest science and information available as well as future challenges. It includes a shift from a look ahead of 50 years to one of 100 years, better linkages with the statutory planning system and more effective stakeholder engagement on preferred policies and their likely consequences.

The revisions are in line with the principles behind 'Making Space for Water', the Government's strategy for flood and erosion risk management, which makes sustainability a priority.

Mr Morley was a guest of the National Trust at Studland Bay, a site which includes a National Nature Reserve as well as being a designated heritage coast. Nearby are areas of high population around Poole, and as a tourist destination the site attracts over a million visitors a year, giving it significant economic value. A complex picture of dynamic natural processes is changing the shoreline and creating challenges in terms of its long term management.

Rob Jarman, Head of Sustainability at the National Trust, commented:

'The need to adapt to the impacts of climate change at the coast presents us all with some significant challenges and is having a major bearing on how the Trust manages its 700 miles of coastline. The Shoreline Management Plans are essential to help us plan ahead and adapt sustainably in partnership with other coastal owners and communities.'

Elliot Morley added:

'The operating authorities responsible must look at the range of options and avoid burdening future generations with the cost of maintaining unsustainable defences. We have to develop responses that are appropriate to the area at risk and wherever possible achieve sustainability through working with, rather than against, coastal processes. This includes significant ongoing investment in coastal defence where this is the best solution.

'This new guidance will help to ensure that plans follow a robust assessment of economic, environmental and social factors. Stakeholders will be engaged in an efficient and focused way so that risk is communicated clearly and local views are fully considered in developing the plans, whilst ensuring that the decision making processes are transparent and auditable

'I would like to thank all those who have been involved in developing this comprehensive new guidance, which should enable sustainable development principles to be turned into practice.

'Being here today has highlighted some of the problems we face and I congratulate the National Trust for facing up to the need to take action now to adapt to change.

'As a nation we need to start to accept that the coast will change as it always has but that through planning ahead we can manage that change and reduce both uncertainty and our losses'.
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