7-Who actually determines how coastal environments such as Porlock Bay should be managed in the future?

Whatever the differing views of local stakeholders are any decision as to how the risks of flooding and coastal erosion such as those at Porlock Bay are managed and funded if considered necessary, is determined nationally by the UK government through its Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  Through its policies and legislation the UK government provides a framework for those managing the coast to follow.  Currently how the coastal environment should be managed in England is set out in the government’s National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy 2011 This document provides a clear national framework through which the seriousness of all potential sources of flooding and erosion around the coast of England are assessed using a risk-based approach that balances the needs of communities, the economy and the environment.  

DEFRA does not do this work itself.  Instead it provides over £500 million of Treasury funds (i.e. money derived from taxation) a year to a non-departmental public body called The Environment Agency to take the lead operational role on its behalf in England in undertaking flood and coastal erosion risk management (FCERM) and then making appropriate recommendations.

In turn and to ensure an integrated and ‘joined up’ approach to FCERM the Environment Agency collaborates with other risk management authorities, especially coastal elected local authorities such as County Councils, District Councils, City Councils and Unitary Authorities.  In particular District Councils have a key role to play in planning coastal erosion risk management and in making decisions on development in their area as a local planning authority. In developing land-use plans, planning authorities must take flood risk and coastal erosion into account and ensure that the risks are managed and new residential and commercial properties are insurable over their lifetime. Coastal local authorities undertake works to tackle the risk of sea flooding and coastal erosion where they are best placed to do so. Coastal authorities also have powers to protect land against coastal erosion and to control third party activities on the coast. This includes the construction of private defences or the removal of beach material as well as having to assess very carefully what the implications could be of any housing or other developments such as business projects or the provision of new leisure, retail or public services, it may be proposing through Local Plans.

A key strategy document drawn up by members representing mainly local councils and the Environment Agency is the Shoreline Management Plan.  It identifies the most sustainable approach to managing the flood and coastal erosion risks to the coastline in the short term (0-20 years), medium term (20-50 years) and long term (50 to 100 years). A total of twenty two shoreline management plans cover the complete coastline of England, Scotland and Wales Porlock Bay is covered by the Hartland Point to Anchor Bay shoreline plan and North Devon District Council is the lead agency for its co-ordination and drafting

There are many other public bodies that play an important role in supporting the Environment Agency and local authorities in FCERM. For example Natural England and Historic England are the Government’s advisors on the natural environment and cultural heritage and The Met Office British Waterways together with transport and utilities providers all have important expertise and/or infrastructure that may impact on FCERM.

Exmoor National Park Authority is the planning authority for the area and has policies regarding development along the coast and helping communities to adapt to flood risk and coastal change in its Local Plan (p95-106)’.

Consolidate Your Thinking

In England it is estimated that 250 000 homes will be at risk due to coastal erosion in the next twenty years and it is possible that this could rise to 700 000 by 2065 as a result of the impacts of climate change i.e. average sea level rises approaching two metres at some locations, combined with increasingly severe and more frequent windstorms and accompanying storm surges.  Nevertheless in its National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy the government says this:

Flooding and coastal erosion cannot be entirely prevented and the relevant legislation is largely permissive. This means that there is no general right to be protected from flooding and coastal erosion, and no right to be protected to any particular standard where risk management action is taken.

Why do you think the government has stressed this?  Consider the implications of climate change and the estimated numbers of homes likely to be vulnerable to coastal erosion in the next 50 years or so.  Why is the government do you think not making a commitment to protect everyone and everything at potential risk?

As highlighted earlier the UK government, through national taxation, is the primary funder of coastal flooding and erosion risk management activity, with the majority of funds provided by DEFRA directly to the Environment Agency as Flood Defence Grant-in-Aid – currently over £500 million a year.    As a public body (agency spending public tax revenue) the Environment Agency has to ensure that the very best results are achieved with the money made available. Its work is constantly under scrutiny by parliamentary committees to ensure that this happens.

The Environment Agency cannot fund everything. As you have seen, the government has made it clear that people and their property including land do not have a ‘right’ to be protected from coastal flooding and erosion.  Because funding is scarce decisions on the investment of money in management schemes has to be prioritised.  This means that when the Environment Agency is asked to consider allocating funds for coastal management programmes – either maintaining existing coastal flooding or erosion defences or constructing new schemes – applications have to be prioritised.  Intervention always has to be economically and/or environmentally justified.  This means that in most cases either:

  • A strong economic case has to be made for investment to prevent the risk of coastal flooding and erosion to people and property.  Every £1 of capital investment made by the Environment Agency on behalf of the UK government must provide an average long term benefit in reduced damage of at least £8 for a scheme to be considered for approval;


  • A strong environmental legal case is made for investment to ensure that the UK government complies with European and international law to protect internationally designated environmental habitats from the damaging effect of flooding and/or coastal erosion.

In Resource 49 is a Project Appraisal Report for a proposed £30 million construction project to replace and improve coastal defences at Clacton and Holland-on-Sea in Essex.  Tendring District Council used this report in an application to obtain the funding required from the Environment Agency. In your view did their proposal justify funding on the grounds of either of the two criteria above?  Explain and justify the decision you would have made if you were part of the project appraisal panel at the Environment Agency.

Go to Question 8 -  Why was a policy of limited intervention adopted following the ridge failure?