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Sea Defences

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Petition of residents of North Norfolk and others.

Declares the Petitioners serious concern at the option contained in a paper from Natural England for an area of approximately 25 square miles to be inundated by the sea. The Petitioners consider that the news of this option being under consideration has caused a great deal of unnecessary distress.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to confirm he will take every step necessary to protect this area of North East Norfolk from the sea by defending the coastline.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Norman Lamb, Official Report, 22 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 757 .] [P000249]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, received 12 September 2008:

Coastal erosion and flooding has affected stretches of our coastline for generations. The Government remains committed to managing the impact of these natural process, and invests significant public funds in maintaining and constructing a range of physical barriers against the sea. However, there will be those areas where the power of nature is such that we cannot maintain the current shape of our ever evolving coastline. As such, the Government is also looking at ways that people can be helped to adapt to increased risk, as well as work to understand potential impacts.

The Petition refers to a draft report prepared by Natural England which looks at the potential impacts of climate change on the natural environment of the Broads, and considers possible options. Natural England act as advisors on environmental matters and do not make flood or erosion risk management decisions. The draft paper contained a number of possible scenarios, and did not advocate any of these as the preferred approach. The Environment Agency has responsibility for maintaining the sea and tidal river defences which protect the Broads area from saltwater flooding. In 1993, the Environment Agency embarked on a 50 year works programme aimed at maintaining the existing sea defences by constructing a series of offshore reefs, rock groynes and beach recharge.

Government investment in flood and erosion risk management has increased, rising from £307 million in 1996-97 to some £800m by 2010-11. In the Norfolk Broads area, over the past 15 years, more than £40m has been invested in strengthening the coastal frontage from Eccles to Winterton, and the Environment Agency have recently awarded a £7.5m contract for further beach management works which will start later this year. Flood protection for inland low-lying land and properties is provided by 240kms of riverside earth embankments. The Environment Agency are implementing a 20-year programme of improvement works on these embankments through a £120m public/private partnership project, which commenced in 2001.

Managing a stretch of coastline is a very complex matter, with decisions to intervene in one particular area impacting on others downstream of it. Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) allow the Environment Agency to set out a strategic approach for a whole section of coastline, managing the interdependencies between the coastal processes. They also give a long-term view, considering coastal management over the next 100 years. The management policy for this length of coast is set out in the 2nd generation Kelling to Lowestoft Ness SMP, which was published for public consultation in December 2004. This Plan states that it is currently the Environment Agency's intention to 'Hold the Line' by maintaining the existing sea defences in the short and medium term (i.e. for 50 years).

DEFRA guidance for the preparation of SMPs recognises the inherent uncertainties with longer term predictions, and highlights the importance of reviews and updates at appropriate intervals to take account of up-to-date science and the latest policy guidance. In the case of the Kelling to Lowestoft Ness SMP, it currently predicts that it will become much more difficult to maintain the coastline in its current position between Eccles and Winterton as the impacts of climate change increase, and the 'Hold the Line' policy is unlikely to be sustainable for the 50 to 100 year period. Future reviews of the SMP will be able to incorporate any new information and provide an opportunity to review this position. If it is still considered unsustainable to hold the current line of defence, the reviews will establish where a sustainable line of defence may be established.

This area has a dynamic coastline, most of which has been progressively retreating over past centuries. There are many stretches of the coastline which will be defendable in the future, however there may be a few areas where for good reasons (such as considerable cost in relation to benefits, or that the actual defence structure is not technically feasible) that this is not possible. That is why DEFRA is looking at ways to help communities to adapt to increasing risks of flooding and erosion. For example, we recently launched a consultation on ways to increase the uptake of property-level resilience and resistance measures. This is a key way for individual property owners to receive better protection against flooding. We welcome the participation of the North Norfolk District Council in work looking at ways to adapt to erosion risk, and will continue to engage closely with them.