This was 10 days before major east coast floods and 1 month before Somerset Levels floods - and included a photograph showing the silted up River Parrett in Somerset which later flooded.
- Coastal erosion – sometimes ‘required’ by the Environment Agency
– Landowners are being prevented from funding their own sea defences.
– This is despite scientific research that less than 5% of eroded material ends up on nearby beaches:
In fact coastal erosion is responsible for an almost insignificant proportion of the total input of marine sediments. Inman (1960), for instance, suggested that even in the temperate zone where wave energy is highest, less than 5% of beach sediments directly result from cliff erosion. This is a conclusion supported by Valentin (1954) who shows that, despite rapid erosion of the Holderness coast in Eastern England, amounting to over 1.5m/year, less than 3% of the resultant material was contributed to adjacent beaches. (J Pethick: An Introduction to Coastal Geomorphology London:Arnold,1984:68).
Example: Benacre and Covehithe, Wrentham ward, North Suffolk
– Losing 26 acres of farmland to erosion/year.
– Landowner prepared to spend £200,000 funding own sea defences
– BUT Environment Agency have to give permission and have indicated they will refuse as the erosion is ‘needed’ to provide sediment for Southwold beach to the south.
Future defence of Covehithe…would risk potential significant loss of sediment to Southwold … Concerns have been raised over the loss of agricultural land…The frontage provides sediment from the cliffs to the beaches to the south. Preventing sediment movement, either by preventing the supply or by protecting the frontage or by restricting the movement of sediment along the shoreline would have a serious consequence for Southwold. (Lowestoft to Landguard Point Shoreline Management Plan 2 Sub Cell 3c, 2009:27).
– The Environment Agency privately accept that probably less than 5% of sediment eroded from Benacre and Covehithe end up on local beaches such as Southwold – but still insist that nonetheless the erosion MUST be allowed to continue as even this small amount of sediment is regarded as important for such beaches…
The ethical issue
– The landowner is required to allow his land to erode and in practice is not allowed to spend his own money protecting it.
– Land below the low water mark normally belongs to the Crown Estate – so every year the ownership of land is in effect transferred from the landowner to the Crown Estate (in the case of Benacre-Covehithe this is 26 acres of farmland valued over £200,000/year).
– In effect this amounts to a compulsory purchase order with no compensation.
– Private land is being treated as a ‘public good’.
2. Coastal flooding – sometimes deliberate created by the Environment Agency
4 categories of ‘management’ in Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) :
– Advance the line – never used in UK (although is still used in the Netherlands).
– Hold the line i.e. maintain existing defences.
– No active intervention.
– Managed retreat – move the defences back few hundred metres or kilometres.
Managed retreat is being used to implement the EU Habitats Directive
The main aim of the Habitats Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity by requiring Member States to take measures to maintain or restore natural habitats (http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-1374)
– In practice this often means ‘managed retreat’ – moving back sea defences, flooding farmland to create new saltmarsh:
- Where development destroys a habitat – it should be replaced (not a problem if land is freely brought on the open market, but clearly is a problem where the policy is imposed on unwilling farmers without their consent ).
- Where a habitat e.g. saltmarsh is lost to erosion – the Habitats Directive is interpreted to mean it should be ‘replaced’ .
– 1. Farmland that may have been in the same family for many generations is sacrificed to create ‘compensatory habitats’.
– 2. Plant and animal habitats given a higher value than human habitats.
From a Conservative perspective:
– 1. Land is a trust – we inherit from previous generations and should ensure we can pass on to future generations.
– 2. The right to own private property is one of the most fundamental rights.
3. Lack of democratic accountability – decisions taken by civil servants rather than elected representatives
The 2010 Flood and Water Management Act
– Rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny in the ‘wash up period ‘ just before 2010 election.
– Gives wide ranging powers to Environment Agency to actually create coastal erosion and/or flooding:
Section 38 Incidental flooding or coastal erosion: Environment Agency
(1) If Conditions 1, 2 and 3 are satisfied the Environment Agency may carry out work of a kind listed in section 3(3)(a) to (e) in a way that will or may cause --
(b) an increase in the amount of water below the ground, or
(c) coastal erosion.
The conditions are that this would enhance either :
– Nature Conservation.
– Preservation of cultural heritage.
– People’s enjoyment of the environment.
– Any other situation where the Environment Agency “considers the benefits of the work will outweigh the harmful consequences”.
– District councils, landowners and tenant farmers only have to be ‘consulted’.
The Democratic deficit
– Decisions to deprive people of their land, often without any compensation, are being taken by unelected officials of a QANGO that is not even directly accountable to ministers.
– Although SMPs have a superficial veneer of local accountability and have to be approved by district councils, in reality the power very much lies with the Environment Agency. In practice it is very hard to challenge the assumptions of the technical experts that private land must be surrendered to the sea.
– Primarily, it is not the people at the Environment Agency who are the problem – it is the structure of decision making that needs to change.
Recommendations for ministers to consider
- Create a presumption in favour of landowners having the right to defend their own land from coastal flooding and erosion – provided those defences do not interfere with the movement of existing sediment along the coast.
3. Address the democratic deficit: Review the structure of who gives consent for sea defences – should it be for example, the local council planning committee with Environment Agency having a statutory right to object? (NB this would be a logical extension of the newly announced concordat on coastal infrastructure development).
4. Include the Habitats Directive in list of competencies we are seeking to take back from EU.
Paper presented to Conservative Rural Affairs Group Meeting, Portcullis House, Westminster, 28th November 2013.