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Coastal Erosion: Suffolk and Norfolk

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered coastal erosion in Suffolk and Norfolk.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Dame Angela. Although erosion along the Suffolk and Norfolk coast is nothing new, it is accelerating, causing great distress and leaving a trail of devastation. In my constituency, Lowestoft remains the only UK coastal town of its size without formal flood defences. With another tidal surge predicted for later this week, a decision must be made imminently as to whether to put up the temporary demountable barriers that provide some protection.

Immediately to the south at Pakefield, three properties were lost last month and a rock revetment, which was installed last December to help protect an access road, is providing limited protection, with erosion of the cliff taking place at a speed that no one predicted. Further to the south at Kessingland, an innovative scheme has been worked up, which now requires additional funding due to the impact of covid and the ensuing inflation and supply chain pressures.

These challenges are not limited to the relatively short coastline of the current Waveney constituency. As we shall hear from colleagues, they are taking place all along the 140 miles of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, not least at Hemsby in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis). Many people and many organisations are working tirelessly to protect these communities that are so cruelly exposed, and some innovative solutions are being worked up.

My hon. Friend mentioned Hemsby and he is quite right: we have lost properties, as many people have seen in the press coverage over recent weeks. Does he agree that one challenge we have seen is that, along our coastline, the impact of extreme weather conditions over the past year or so has gone way beyond the changes that were predicted when we looked at this some years ago with the Environment Agency? It is overdue an update on what pressure there is; the impact that we have seen has gone far beyond what was expected.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I agree wholeheartedly with him: the schemes at Pakefield and Kessingland were made on assumptions that we would be having pressures in several years’ time; they have in fact taken place in the past months and weeks.

As I said, some innovative schemes are being worked up and people are working tirelessly. However, there is a concern that the scale of the challenge is not fully recognised, and that the necessary financial resources are not being provided. The impact of not responding properly will have far-reaching negative consequences way beyond East Anglia.

That was a careful introduction and I thank the hon. Gentleman for it. He is absolutely right. I understand that the debate is about coastal erosion in Norfolk and Suffolk, but in my constituency of Strangford, especially in the Ards peninsula in the past few years, we have seen erosion in a manifest and significant portion as never before. I am looking forward, as I know the hon. Gentleman is, but if we are to address our environmental obligations, steps need to be taken, and taken on a UK-wide basis—not just for England, but for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England together, because then we can pool our energies and address the problem at a strategic level. That is how it must be done, because this is happening everywhere.

Order. In the spirit of Christmas, I allowed that intervention. The debate is about coastal erosion in Suffolk and Norfolk. The hon. Member is getting close to the edge of scope there, but because it is Christmas, I allowed it this time.

Dame Angela, that is very magnanimous of you. Actually, the hon. Gentleman does have a point in that coastal erosion is included in the responsibilities of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—I will come on to this—along with flood prevention and protection. It is an entirely different challenge, and therefore coastal protection, whether in Suffolk and Norfolk or in Strangford in Northern Ireland, needs to be considered separately.

As I mentioned, erosion along the East Anglian coast is nothing new. December appears to be a particularly bleak month, with a tidal surge predicted in the next few days, although we do not know its severity. If we go back 10 years, a storm surge took place on 5 December that caused devastation right along the North sea coast, not least in Lowestoft. If we go as far back as the 1890s, the author H. Rider Haggard, who had a home at Kessingland, observed:

“Never has such a time for high tides been known, and the gale of December last will long be remembered on the east coast for its terrible amount of damage.”

The remnants of the medieval port of Dunwich are in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who would have liked to be here but was unable to join us due to a funeral commitment. Dunwich has been described as England’s Atlantis. The 1953 big flood, which wreaked devastation on both sides of the North sea, resulted in the loss of the beach village—a whole community in Lowestoft.

Our coastline is, in many respects, wonderful and beautiful. It attracts visitors from all around the world but it is also fragile, being low-lying, standing on clay, and porous not impervious. The challenge we now face is that events that were once predicted to take place every 50 or 100 years are now taking place far more regularly, on an almost annual basis, with lives and livelihoods being threatened, and homes, businesses, roads, infrastructure and farmland all at risk.

In recognition of that challenge, the three district councils—East Suffolk Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and North Norfolk District Council—that have the responsibility for managing and protecting the coast have pooled their resources and formed Coastal Partnership East. The team has great expertise and knowledge and it is working tirelessly, but I fear that it does not have the resources to do the work that is urgently needed.

That work is pressing, for a whole variety of reasons. I shall briefly outline the ultimate impact, which, as I said, reaches far beyond the East Anglian coast. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia produced a briefing earlier this month for the all-party parliamentary group for the east of England, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). It highlighted both the region’s vital offer to the UK as we progress towards net zero, and the risks that climate change brings. The briefing pointed out that we are the UK’s “most vulnerable region” to the impacts of climate change, with 20% being below sea level and the coastline eroding rapidly. It assessed that

“11,000 houses on the open coast are threatened by flooding and erosion over this century, if current policies continue.”

We should also highlight that as well as homes, businesses will be lost, including the caravan and holiday parks in Kessingland, Pakefield and all along the coast, which are so important to the region’s economy. Business opportunities could also be forgone. The transition to net zero provides a great prospect for Lowestoft, but if we do not build permanent defences around the port, the town will not realise the great potential offered.

Agriculture has underpinned the East Anglian economy for a very long time. We are rightly known as the breadbasket of England, but much of the UK’s most fertile land is low-lying and, particularly in the fens, relies on an extensive network of ageing drainage infrastructure and sea defences. The current funding methodology underplays the importance of protecting the UK’s most valuable agricultural land, thereby impacting on our food security. The 1953 floods gave rise to the construction of extensive defences to protect the regional coastline. However, many of those defences are now worn out and in urgent need of repair.

The impact of coastal erosion on the environment should not be underestimated. As well as being a vital part of the region’s leisure economy, the Norfolk and Suffolk broads are a haven for wildlife and a place of natural beauty and cultural heritage. However, they are at risk from the threat of coastal erosion, with the coastal frontage between Eccles-on-Sea, which I understand now hardly exists, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), and Winterton-on-Sea, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth, having been identified as the stretch of coast along which the broads are most at risk of encroachment. The Broads Authority recognised that threat in its Broadland Futures Initiative, but strategic planning for its management needs to start straightaway. It should be added that coastal erosion brings with it the risk of polluting our oceans still further, with the leaching of waste and plastics into the sea.

I shall briefly outline the areas at risk from coastal erosion in my own constituency. All four of those—at Corton, in Lowestoft, at Pakefield and in Kessingland—warrant a debate of their own, so I apologise in advance to those communities for my brevity, although I shall do my best to highlight the salient points of concern. Corton, to the north of Lowestoft, has been subject to coastal erosion for centuries. There was a village to the east called Newton, which no longer exists, and agricultural land continues to disappear over the cliff. The threat to the village of Corton is at present being managed, but my sense is that in due course more intervention will be required, and it is important that we be prepared for that and not respond in a crisis management way.

As I have mentioned, Lowestoft was hit hard by the floods in 1953 and 2013. Since 2013, work has taken place to protect the area around the port and the town centre, with flood walls being built around the outer harbour, but the barrage that will provide full protection has yet to be constructed. Time is of the essence in getting that built. My hon. Friend the Minister and I have discussed the matter, and I have written in detail to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is vital that that work proceed without delay.

The situation unfolding in Pakefield illustrates the gravity of the threat that coastal erosion is now presenting. It has been known for some years that there is a problem, and some four years ago the local community came together as the Pakefield Coast Protection Steering Group to work with Coastal Partnership East to come up with both temporary and long-term solutions. A rock revetment to provide temporary protection was installed last December, but that did not prevent significant further erosion following a storm last month, and three properties had to be demolished. There is now an urgent need to protect the toe of the cliff and to prevent the cliff access road from being lost. If the latter happens, a large residential community will be very cruelly exposed and at serious risk.

Park Holidays UK, which owns the adjoining caravan park, has recently obtained planning permission to roll back its site, and is in principle prepared to joint-fund a protection scheme, although it emphasises the need for speed in determining any further enabling planning application.

Three issues arise out of the situation at Pakefield. First, since this spring, Coastal Partnership East has not been attending the steering group meetings, as it has no further information or guidance to provide to the community and it is focusing its resources on emergency events such as those at Hemsby. I do not criticise it for doing so, but that illustrates the need for it to be provided with more resources and financial support. Secondly, it is clear that those who have lost their home to the sea are not provided with the appropriate level of compensation and support. Finally, it is concerning that the existing grant funding arrangements for protecting communities from coastal erosion are not working, are not fair and equitable, and need to be reviewed. The current budgeted cost for properly protecting Pakefield is estimated at approximately £11 million, but the flood and coastal erosion risk management grant-in-aid calculator calculates that only £492,000 can be provided towards that.

Kessingland is an example of a highly innovative nature-based scheme, where the parish council, with local landowners and businesses, and the local internal drainage board have worked together successfully. The scheme involves the managed realignment of the coast to create an intertidal habitat in front of new sea walls and a pumping station. The problem that the scheme now faces is that, due to economic pressures beyond the control of the parties, there is now a significant funding shortfall. The scheme has to proceed. If it does not, the A12, which links Lowestoft to Ipswich and beyond, will be flooded on every mean high water spring tide. It should also be pointed out that that road will be used to support the construction of Sizewell C.

I have covered a number of specific local challenges and a wide variety of concerns. I shall now seek to bring matters together with some suggestions as to how the situation can be improved so as to provide coastal communities on the East Anglian coast with the protection and support that they are entitled to expect.

First, I refer to the recommendation in the Tyndall Centre briefing that the specific risks to the region arising from climate change require a scientific, quantitative assessment. I agree with that. We need to know the full extent of the long-term challenge that we face, so that we can pursue a strategic approach rather than a case-by-case crisis management course.

Secondly, much of the work of DEFRA, the Environment Agency and Coastal Partnership East is innovative and forward thinking, but I suggest that the national framework could be improved by giving a specific focus to coastal erosion, as we have touched on. The ministerial responsibilities of my hon. Friend the Minister include floods, both fluvial and coastal, but coastal flooding and erosion is a very different beast, which requires a bespoke and individual focus. Looking more closely at ministerial responsibilities, he is responsible for floods, but the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), is responsible for climate change and adaptation, and my noble Friend Lord Benyon is responsible for green finance. Those three issues are all inextricably connected and intertwined, and they should not be shared out between three Ministers; they should all be under the same roof. Back home in East Anglia, some have suggested that there should be a Minister for the coast. I can see merit in that, but I am mindful that in other cases, the creation of a so-called tsar does not necessarily lead to the solution of a particular problem. Let us get the policies and who is responsible for their implementation right, before we do anything else.

Thirdly, speed is of the essence. The pace of erosion and ensuing risk is far outstripping the ability of Coastal Partnership East and its supporting councils to put together business cases. The coast in Norfolk and Suffolk is experiencing accelerated coastal change, and an emergency package should be made available to support those most at risk, particularly where rehoming those affected by erosion is the only solution.

Fourthly, the capital funding model needs reviewing. From my perspective, the cases at Lowestoft, Kessingland and Pakefield are compelling, and it is perverse that so much lateral thinking has to be applied to get the necessary funding in place. Such a review should include the need to fully incentivise and maximise private sector investment in nature-based solutions.

H. Rider Haggard’s journal notes:

“For generations the sea has been encroaching on this coast”,

the East Anglian coast. It states that since

“the time of Queen Elizabeth”—

meaning Queen Elizabeth I, not Queen Elizabeth II—

“no concerted effort has been made for the common protection.”

Some 130 years later, I suggest that we should correct that omission.

Apologies, Dame Angela. I think that that is called getting to the end of term.

It is something of an honour to stay for the very last debate of 2023, especially as it is so directly relevant and so phenomenally important to my constituency. I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for doing a fantastic job in securing this debate and shining a light on its subject matter. It is extremely pertinent to my residents and is of growing concern, particularly at the moment.

North Norfolk is an entirely coastal constituency. It encompasses 52 glorious miles of coastline, from Holkham all the way up in the east—sorry, the west; I should know it by now, having been there for four years—all the way down to Horsey in the east. North Norfolk has its own set of pressing and important matters of which the Minister should be aware.

Over the next approximately 85 years, 1,000 homes are said to be at risk in my constituency; of course, that could be inaccurate, but not in a good way. We know that the climate data is getting worse for us all, and that sea levels are rising. The prediction is that 30 cm of sea level rises will occur by the end of the century, and of course the impact of that will almost certainly be that coastal erosion will get far worse. Couple that with materially wetter winters, excess groundwaters, hot, dry summers, particularly like the one we had two years ago, and the ground contracting and expanding, and the impact on our coast is profound.

At the moment we see about 30 cm to 2 metres of erosion each year, but that is not a guide. Even since August, in my constituency, the end of Beach Road in Happisburgh has lost 8 metres alone. A few years ago, sections of my coast vanished at a rate of 13 metres in a month. It is not an exact science, but parts of the coast can be unaffected for years and then suddenly slippages or erosion can happen at alarming rates.

The North Norfolk coast is as varied as it is long. The stretch from Holkham to Weybourne is at flood risk, and that from Weybourne to Happisburgh is affected by erosion at starkly different rates. I live around the Runtons; they are in not too bad a condition in comparison with further east of Cromer, which I understand is rather like something out of a picture postcard for everyone’s holiday—it is the most beautiful area—but the east of Cromer is where constituents are experiencing particular challenges. Villages such as Overstrand, Trimingham, Bacton, Walcott, Mundesley and, of course, Happisburgh are the focus of North Norfolk District Council’s attention at the moment. Extremely careful and sympathetic measures are required to support those communities in the years ahead, and that is where much of the attention in my constituency is focused.

A lot of my residents are probably not aware of how much is being done. I am the first Conservative MP for about 18 and a half years, and we were one of the first places in the entire country, out of only two, to get the snappily titled coastal transition accelerator programme money—CTAP for short. In effect, it was a slug of money—£15 million—from the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), to help plan for the future.

There are, of course, other schemes such as those my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney spoke about in his constituency. There are areas to protect Cromer with rock revetments to the west of the pier, and of course groynes are being refurbished; the same is happening in Mundesley. All in all, we have received about £20 million of funding, which we hope will go some way towards supporting the area for the next 50 years. Importantly, my hon. Friend spoke about how we should go about repairing those things and still investing where appropriate.

Then, of course, there is the multimillion-pound sandscaping scheme around Bacton gas terminal, brought about by Dutch innovation. I have talked about Bacton gas terminal many times in this place because it is an area of critical national infrastructure. The Bacton sandscaping has helped to protect many communities around Walcott and Bacton from the flooding that they experience year after year. As private investment comes in to transition Bacton gas terminal, I hope the sandscaping scheme will continue to be enhanced.

The simple answer is always that we need more money, and factually, from what I understand, the Government have put in record amounts. They have doubled the previous amount to about £5.2 billion look after flooding and other coastal erosion matters; 17% will be spent on areas of the country such as Happisburgh. We also need to have a bit of a grown-up conversation. We need to be able to give people certainty about what they can do, and with better information we can start to paint a picture of how our coast is changing.

Of course, we also need to ensure that any plans we put in place are economically viable, technically feasible and environmentally acceptable. Trying to protect one area along a coastal stretch will have impacts on the neighbouring areas. These things do not exist in isolation, of course; after many years of protecting our coastline we have discovered that they are linked.

It is worth mentioning my hon. Friend’s point about having a Minister for the coast. I do not wish to do him out of a job already, but that was brought up by Norfolk County Council leader Kay Mason Billig, and the environmental portfolio holder, Councillor Eric Vardy, has been fantastic on this. He is an environmentalist who has really spearheaded this issue. I have a lot of sympathy with what they are saying.

The coast of the British Isles is just under 7,000 miles long, and coastal areas share many characteristics. Many suffer rural deprivation and have greater housing challenges. I can talk about the problems that we experience in the particularly idyllic areas around Blakeney till the cows come home, but of course they are mirrored in the south-west and coastal areas of Suffolk. There are greater connectivity problems in every sense—infrastructure, mobile and the like—and a lack of high-skilled employment opportunities. And, of course, there are flooding and coastal erosion matters, so I have a great deal of sympathy with the call for a coastal Minister. Instead of doing nothing about it, on 2 February 2024 at 7 pm, I am holding a major public meeting in Hickling to talk about flooding in and around my constituency.

As I wrap up, which I am keen to do now, I want to say two thank yous. In North Norfolk we have taken this matter very seriously for some years. In no small way that is down to the coastal transition manager at North Norfolk District Council, a gentleman called Rob Goodliffe. It is rare to find people of such ability, knowledge and passion. Mr Goodliffe puts his heart and soul into these matters with the knowledge that he has and, to boot, he is a jolly decent gentleman.

Councillor Angie Fitch-Tillett has for many years been the councillor responsible for Poppyland and looking after the coastal portfolio. She worked alongside Mr Goodliffe and is as passionate as she is knowledgeable. Once again, huge thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney for shining a light on this very important matter.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) on securing this important debate and setting out so clearly the case for change. My North West Norfolk constituency has a glorious coastline stretching from the bottom of the Wash up to Hunstanton and its famous striped cliffs, across to Burnham Overy Staithe, before joining the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker). However, along that coast we face significant coastal erosion and defence issues that need to be addressed.

This year, we marked 70 years since the terrible 1953 floods, with the tragic loss of many lives in Hunstanton, Snettisham and others parts of the east coast. Earlier this year, I was present at memorial events in Snettisham and other places to mark the anniversary. I came away from all of those with a clear sense that it is our duty as MPs and custodians of our areas to do all that we can to protect our coastline and coastal communities. By taking action we can help to limit and mitigate coastal erosion and its consequences, as set out in the shoreline management plans and the Wash East coastal management strategy.

Today I want to highlight the importance of coastal defences between Snettisham and Heacham, which are made up of a natural sand shingle ridge and stretches of concrete defences. Every year, there is a beach recycling where material is moved to top up the sand and the shingle ridge, which provides a natural flood defence for properties, caravan parks, holiday homes and prime agricultural land. That is an exemplar partnership project and I pay tribute to Mike McDonnell, chairman of the local community interest company that provides nearly 60% of the funding for the annual beach recharge. Only a few weeks ago, he stood on that shingle ridge with me as we met the Environment Agency and other organisations.

We were there to talk about local concern that the periodic beach recharge project, which was expected to take place and involves bringing new material on to the beach, is not happening this year. In part, that is due to an assessment by the Environment Agency of monitoring data that showed that it did not need to happen. However, that was concerning for my constituents and me. I met the Environment Agency because it said that financial and technical constraints meant that the measure was considered undeliverable in any case. The forecast costs had, for example, increased from £3 million to £8 million. However, given that the Environment Agency has £5.2 million for flooding and coastal erosion projects, it is not acceptable that those costs might prevent doing what is necessary and what is set out in the plans to defend against coastal erosion.

The Environment Agency’s assessment means that further work is now under way to consider how to protect the coastline, as well as the approach set out in the Wash East coast management strategy. My constituents, the county councillors, the borough councillors and I are in no doubt that protecting the coastline is vital. However, as King’s Lynn and West Norfolk local councillor group leaders highlighted in a recent letter to the Secretary of State, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has highlighted, the funding threshold for coastal defences does not give due importance to the damage to internationally renowned sites of special scientific interest, which I am lucky to have in my constituency, and to habitats, agricultural land or vital tourism. That approach clearly needs to be revised and reformed.

It should be a common cause that a managed retreat for loss of land is not acceptable in North West Norfolk. We need to hold the line. As I stood on the beach looking at the homes, the Environment Agency representatives assured me and others that they were committed to long-term coastal defence measures. In his letter last week responding to council leaders, my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney referred to the Environment Agency providing

“assurances to the community that the management of this coastline is a high priority.”

So it must be. The Government must ensure that funding and support are in place for the shoreline management plan strategy for 2025 and onwards. We need to do everything we can to protect North West Norfolk’s coastal environment.

Before I bring in the Opposition spokesperson, I should let the remaining speakers know that I intend to call Peter Aldous to respond to the debate at 28 minutes past 5. Bear that in mind, please.

It is, as always, a very real pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Dame Angela. I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for securing this debate and, as always, offering a thoughtful and considered contribution. He may not know this, but I always think of him quite fondly, because he was the first person that I ever intervened on in a Westminster Hall debate, so I am pleased to respond to him in a slightly different role.

I also thank the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) for highlighting the number of homes at risk and emphasising the need for certainty when it comes to climate risk. I thank the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) for emphasising the importance of coastal defences and the need to allocate money effectively. I also have to mention the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir Brandon Lewis), because I had a wonderful holiday in his constituency in summer 2020, when we were unable to go abroad. I had a wonderful time in Great Yarmouth; it is a place I think of fondly.

I recently watched an ITV piece about the flooding situation in the area, and I want to quote from it to emphasise the human cost of coastal erosion and flooding. I should also mention that the issue is very personal to me: I represent Hull, which is at risk from various types of flooding, and am an east coast MP, so I am unfortunately very familiar with coastal erosion and flooding. I quote the piece:

“When Carol Boyes retired to Hemsby with her late husband 20 years ago, she couldn’t see the sea. There were two rows of bungalows in front of her. Now, it’s approaching her doorstep. The road outside is collapsing, much of it lies smashed on the beach. At 78, Carol will soon be homeless.”

It is worth highlighting that human cost. Flooding and coastal erosion are personal: we are talking about people losing their businesses and their homes, and I want to recognise that. My heart goes out to all those who are devastated by coastal erosion and tidal surges.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there is a hugely important human aspect to this issue. Having been to the area and met residents who are losing their properties, I could not help but be moved by the tragedy of what they are facing. Does the hon. Lady also agree that there is an onus and requirement on private landowners? That is one of the complications in Hemsby: the Geoffrey Watling Trust is not doing anything to protect the road that it owns, on its property, to help residents such as those the hon. Lady mentions. The council is doing great work and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) outlined, other organisations are working very hard, but we also need private landowners to step up and do the right thing to help those people.

I agree that this has to be a group effort. Whether they are private landowners, the public sector or the individual people living there, everybody stands to gain from protecting properties, so it has to be a group effort.

Because the issue is so personal and means so much to people, it is disappointing that the Government have not made a priority of it. I recognise that the Minister is fairly new, but part of the reason for the lack of priority is the number of fairly new Ministers that have been looking at this area. That lack of priority means that communities are now paying the price: 203,000 properties that have already had flood protection face an increased risk because of a £34-million shortfall in the Environment Agency’s maintenance funding for 2023. I mention that because maintenance has already come up in the debate. The Environment Agency actually has the funding, and there was an underspend, but the National Audit Office report stated that, because of Treasury rules, that money could not be allocated to maintenance. That seems to be an immediate solution that the Minister could offer. Does the Minister know what has happened to the 4,200 flood defences that have been rated as poor or very poor? Does he know how many defences have been damaged by Storms Babet and Ciarán, and will he update us on what is happening with those? As has been mentioned, we have had a problem in this area for over 100 years, but we still have yet to have a solution offered by the Government.

I have personally heard concerns about the situation in the Pakefield area of Lowestoft from Councillor Peter Byatt and Jess Asato, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Lowestoft. Councillor Byatt told me that although some work has been done, without emergency funding being released to provide the required coastal armour, they face the real prospects of losing around 30 homes, as well as more of the caravan park, which is a vital part of their local economy. Jess told me that the Government have been warned about this for years, so she was incredibly frustrated for residents who feel they are being left to the mercy of the waves.

Coastal communities collectively perform poorly on the Government’s chosen matrix for levelling-up funding. Again, the solution does not involve offering more money; it is about the formula used to allocate money. The investment criteria for round 3 of the levelling-up fund does not include standalone coastal defence schemes that are not part of a wider transport regeneration or culture bid. Will the Minister say whether there are plans to change the formula for the levelling-up bid, so that areas like all those mentioned could bid for that money for coastal defences?

The Environment Agency’s funding formula to protect communities does not consider the cost of flooding to hospitality and tourism industries. That point was raised by one of the Conservative Members. It is allocated on the basis of homes, not businesses. That is something on which many coastal communities rely heavily. Coastal communities are missing out on two different funding matrices. They miss out on being able to access the levelling-up money and the Environment Agency’s funding formula.

To answer the question, “What will Labour do?”, which I am sure is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, Labour will establish a flood resilience taskforce, which will meet every winter ahead of the peak season for extreme weather. This COBRA-style taskforce will co-ordinate flooding and coastal erosion preparation by central Government, local authorities, local communities and the emergency services. It will ensure that vulnerable areas are identified. The need for mapping, to understand climate change and to identify where the risk is, was raised by a number of Conservative Members, and I completely agree. Not only do we need to identify those areas, we need a plan for how we will protect them.

The taskforce will work closely with the Environment Agency to ensure that its formula to protect communities considers potential damages to hospitality and tourist attractions when looking at what it protects, not just homes as is currently the case. It will be chaired by a DEFRA Minister and bring together senior civil servants and Ministers across Government. Although sadly I cannot offer hon. Members a Minister for the coast, I will instead offer a Minister for resilience, who will sit in the Cabinet Office. The taskforce will also bring together regional flood and coastal communities and other frontline agencies, including the Environment Agency and the fire service. That Minister for resilience will look not only at coastal erosion and flooding, but at all the other issues that are the natural result of climate change. Our flood resilience taskforce will play a vital role in identifying and protecting vulnerable areas. Under a Labour Government, places such as Hemsby, with the significant contribution it makes to the local economy through tourism, would have greater eligibility for funding for flood and coastal defences.

As I have mentioned, it is not a matter of getting the cheque book out and committing more money. The Government have committed more than £5 billion for flood and coastal defences by 2027. Labour’s plans are about ensuring that the budget already committed to flood defences is used to maximum effect in places such as Hemsby and Pakefield. We also understand that local authorities, in their role as risk-managing authorities, do not receive maintenance funding to support flood defences in the same way the Environment Agency does. The preferred option in the shoreline management plan for Suffolk in the case of Pakefield cliffs is, as has been mentioned, to hold the line. However, there is no long-term plan effectively to manage or finance that. The Government are dodging their responsibility to the people of Lowestoft and all coastal communities where this pattern is repeated time and again. That is why our flood resilience taskforce would ensure that existing funding is properly targeted to the areas in need, and it would provide accountability on the delivery of projects to ensure that they happen on time. While we must, of course, do everything we can to protect existing properties, we must equally ensure that none are built where they will soon face that threat as sea levels rise. As the Minister knows, a local planning authority can designate areas that are at risk from coastal change—in other words, erosion or induration—as coastal change management areas to ensure that there is control over future development. However, in a reply to a written question in October last year, I was informed:

“Neither Defra or the Environment Agency maintain”


“record of the number of CCMAs”.

That was still the case when I asked again. If they did, they would know—this is quite shocking—that only 15% of coastal planning authorities have a designated coastal change management area. That means that, for the majority of our coast, there is no plan to manage coastal erosion or the changes happening to it.

My understanding—I have just double-checked this, but correct me if I am wrong—is that there is no coastal change management area covering South Suffolk, but that there is one for North Norfolk. That is extremely worrying. A study by the University of Plymouth found that vulnerable coastal areas have been omitted from coastal change management areas and that only a third of areas that have been designated directly as coastal change management areas aid the coastal community to adapt to future sea level rise and coastal change. What that all basically means is that there is no plan to manage coastal erosion and change for most of our coast, and the Government are not even aware of where there is a plan. Their answer to the written questions was that they have no idea what is happening to plan for change all around our coast. What is the Minister doing to ensure that all coastal planning authorities have a coastal change management area plan?

The situation shows, again, that the Government are asleep at the wheel. They are too distracted by their internal family bickering and are failing the coastal communities of the present and the future. The systems that cause sea level rise—specifically, the thermal expansion of the ocean and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets due to global heating—have a centuries-long time lag. Increased coastal erosion and flooding are here to stay. We need a strategy and a long-term plan to deal with their effects and to support our communities. Only Labour has the plan and the will to do that.

On that promise of a brighter future, at this Christmas time, I wish everybody a very happy Christmas and new year. I say thanks to all of the staff and the Doorkeepers. Hopefully, it will be a much brighter and more prosperous 2024.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for securing this important debate. It is good to see so many colleagues joining him in the House to make their very valid cases. I am particularly pleased to hold the role of Minister with responsibility for flooding, having worked as a rural practice surveyor before entering this House and having visited many of the locations that have been mentioned, not only in Norfolk, but in Suffolk, and particularly the Holderness coast; I am very familiar with some of the challenges there. I am very interested in this brief and very keen to take it forward.

I recognise the challenges that many of my hon. Friends’ constituents—households and businesses—face, and, of course, this is deeply concerning to all who experience coastal flooding and erosion events. Events like the storms this autumn put into focus the need for many of us to adapt to the threats that we face from climate change and the resulting impacts, such as coastal erosion. I understand the impact that those experiences have on people, whether that is through damage to or loss of property or through the impact on their businesses and livelihoods and how that can affect their wellbeing.

As climate change leads to sea level rise and more extreme rainfall, the number of people who are at risk from flooding and coastal erosion is, unfortunately, likely to grow. That is why it is absolutely important that we have debates such as this, where specific cases can be raised, in addition to the conversations that my Department and I are involved in.

The impact of the recent storms on coastal communities such as those at Lowestoft, Pakefield and Kessingland on the Suffolk coast, as well as—as has been mentioned—on communities on the Norfolk coast, such as at Hemsby, has brought this issue into sharp focus. That is why the Government are acting to drive down flood risk and to support those who are at risk from coastal erosion from every single angle.

I will come to some of the specific points on which we are focusing. Our long-term policy statement, published in 2020, sets out our ambition to

“create a nation more resilient to future flood and coastal erosion risk.”

It includes five ambitious policies and a number of actions that will accelerate progress to 2027 and beyond to better protect and prepare the country against flooding and coastal erosion in the face of more frequent and extreme weather events, as right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned. That is why we continue to invest public money in this important area.

As part of our commitment to ensuring that the country is resilient to climate change, including flooding and coastal erosion, we are now two years into a significant package of investment—£5.2 billion has been specifically allocated to flood and coastal erosion for a six-year investment programme. In that time, we have already invested £1.5 billion to better protect more than 67,000 homes and businesses in England alone. That takes the total number of properties protected to more than 380,000 since 2015, and more than 600,000 since 2010. That £5.2 billion of investment is double the £2.6 billion investment from the previous funding round, which ran from 2015 to 2021.

With double the investment, we will continue to build on past achievements and experiences, and improve resilience, specifically on coastal erosion. We recognise that there are still specific challenges ahead for some of our communities. Coastal erosion is a long-standing process, which is a natural event. From my experience on the Holderness coast, we see coastal erosion happening constantly. As we have heard, that also occurs along the coastal communities of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Coastal erosion is the natural way that coasts evolve over time. That is why it is right to have specific conversations about better protecting particular communities. Local shoreline management plans have a vital role in managing our coastline. Importantly, they are locally developed by coastal protection authorities and coastal groups, which agree on the approach to managing each section of the coastline in their areas. Based on evidence, they decide whether we hold the line or manage realignment of the coastline, where it is appropriate to do so.

The Environment Agency supports those authorities to update and strengthen the plans by early 2024 through technical refresh projects to ensure that they are up to date, use the best evidence in their recommendations and focus attention on priority areas for investment and adaptation. More than £2 million will be used for that project, which includes the development of new digital, online tools to assess access, understanding and use of the plans, which will launch early next year.

The SMPs will be supported by the most up-to-date evidence on coastal erosion, through the Environment Agency-led national coastal erosion risk map, which provides a consistent assessment of coastal erosion risk around England. The Environment Agency is working with coastal authorities on updating that risk mapping, which will be published by mid-2024, to inform coastal erosion management planning and investment decisions.

We are supporting local communities who wish to test and trial new approaches to manage the impact of coastal erosion around the country, through our £200 million flood and coastal innovation programme. Through that programme, DEFRA has provided £8.4 million of funding to East Suffolk Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council for the resilient coasts project.

My hon. Friend has some specific challenges in his constituency, as he mentioned, which is why the rapid deployment plan for Lowestoft has recently been scoped out, as he will be aware. Not only has he secured this debate, but he has caught me in the House, since I have taken on this role, specifically to talk to me about the projects that are being rolled out in Lowestoft and the other communities he mentioned. The resilient coasts project will offer a complete suite of planning, engagement, technical and financial tools to support coastal transition for communities. The learning will be shared with other coastal authorities and could also be applied to the rest of the UK. DEFRA has allocated £38 million from the £200 million flood and coastal innovation programme to the coastal transition accelerator programme to trial opportunities in a small number of areas significant to coastal erosion.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) specifically picked up on that point because, as the first Conservative Member for a significant period to hold that constituency, he has successfully managed to secure his constituency shoreline as one of the two places where the project is now under way. I commend his efforts in doing that, because as he mentioned, Coastwise offers a unique opportunity to support adaptation and the transition from a reactive, unplanned approach to coastal management challenges. Importantly, these approaches involve trials that will provide new evidence of how coastal adaptation can be achieved, in order to truly inform national coastal management policy.

Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to Mr Goodliffe and Councillor Angie Fitch-Tillett for the work they have been doing on this issue. The aim of the programme is to act as a catalyst for strategic long-term planning and to test out innovative practical actions to support the coastal communities at risk from coastal erosion. I expect coastal authorities to use this opportunity to plan for and enable co-ordinated transition activities that take a proactive approach to meeting their immediate and future needs, in advance of coastal change.

Let me pick up on some of the other points that my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made. I want to reassure him that some parts of the Lowestoft project are already under way, as he will know. Of course, there is further work to do, and further discussions are taking place in the Department about that project. I know that he has written and raised this not only with me, but with the Secretary of State. Further discussions will take place about this issue, and I will be happy to meet with him on it.

My hon. Friend made the point that green finance, flooding and climate change are split between portfolios. However, I want to reassure him that all Ministers in the Department work closely together. There is no silo mentality in DEFRA.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk rightly referred to a letter that I wrote to Councillor Terry Parish recently. If he wishes, I would be happy to pick that up with him. I also want to reassure him that the Environment Agency is working with me and the Department to ensure that these schemes are rolled out in the right way.

Let me be clear: we will continue to improve the resilience of our villages, towns and cities to ensure that future flooding and coastal erosion is addressed, which will be helped by the outputs of our flood and coastal innovation programme. I commend the work of Coastal Partnership East, which hon. Members have mentioned, and also the good work of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney in securing this debate, because this is an incredibly important issue that needs to be raised. I look forward to working with him to address it further, not only in his constituency but across Norfolk and Suffolk.

I will be brief; we have had a comprehensive debate. Coastal Partnership East is adopting the strategic approach that we need, and it is important that Government and DEFRA support it in all that it does. We can predict what is going to happen; it is the speed at which it is happening that is catching us all unawares. From that perspective, Coastal Partnership East needs an emergency package to get it through this really challenging period. We must then get away from crisis management and move to the more strategic, scientific, qualitative approach that the Tyndall centre is proposing.

My final point is that, as we have heard, we in the east are very important for the tourism and leisure industries, for food production and processing, and, increasingly, for providing nationally and strategically important infrastructure, whether that means wind farms, the Bacton gas terminal or Sizewell C. The Government need to have that in mind.

Just before I end the session, I wish everybody a very happy Christmas and a safe journey home.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered coastal erosion in Suffolk and Norfolk.

Sitting adjourned.