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Dredging: Norfolk

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the effect of offshore aggregate dredging on sea defences and erosion along the East Anglian coastline on the Norfolk economy; what his policy is on the future of offshore aggregate dredging; and if he will make a statement. (175602)

Dredging of marine minerals in English waters is carefully controlled under the Environmental Impact Assessment and Natural Habitats (Extraction of Minerals by Marine Dredging) (England and Northern Ireland) Regulations 2007. Currently, the area licensed for extraction in the UK is only 1 per cent. of the sea bed. The actual area dredged is even smaller, equating to less than 15 per cent. of the licensed area.

All marine minerals dredging proposals are subject to an environmental impact assessment and must be accompanied by an environmental statement and coastal impact study. Dredging will only be permitted if conservative modelling and assessments indicate that no significant harm will occur to the marine environment and the coastline. As the dredging proceeds, such assessments are routinely checked through monitoring.

The recently published Marine Aggregate Extraction summary report (Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund, 2007) concluded that, based on recent research, modelling and field studies, almost all marine aggregate extraction areas are too far offshore to have any effect on the coastline.

The Government wish to see indigenous mineral resources developed and utilised within a framework of sustainable development. Marine dredging of sand and gravel makes a significant contribution to the supply of aggregate to the construction industry, and is important for beach nourishment as well as flood and coastal defence schemes, particularly along the north Norfolk coasts. In 2006 the total marine aggregate production from the UK was 24.3 million tonnes, with 33 per cent. (8 million tonnes) derived from the east coast.