In the North West of England (as in the rest of England and Wales) Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) are the key documents for setting out local policies for coastal defence. They take into account economic, social and environmental issues as well as looking at scenarios up to one hundred years in the future; and they include recommendations for future works, studies and monitoring.
The policies that SMPs set are broad and can include:
- advance the line
- hold the line
- managed realignment
- do nothing
These policies not only inform the management of coastal defence but have a strong linkage into the land-use planning system so as to avoid inappropriate development.
For SMP purposes the coast is divided into littoral cells i.e. lengths of coast within which the sediment transport can be considered to be self-contained. In the North West coastal Cell 11 stretches from the coast of North Wales, along the English coast and up to the Scottish border, approximately 700km. Within this cell there are 5 sub-cells that are again based on coastal processes, and 16 coast protection authorities, i.e. local government administrations with coastline within their geographic remit. The boundary of the SMP within Estuaries tends to be related to the tidal limit but is co-ordinated with estuary management plans to ensure that there are no gaps and that the policies within each of the plans are co-ordinated.
Plans for the sub-cells are developed by Coastal Groups which are mulit-sector partnerships representing those stakeholders with a role or interest in coastal defence i.e. the coast protection authorities, agencies with an interest in nature conservation and other interested bodies such as ports operators, academics and archeologists. These partnerships provide a good example of partnership working across adminstrative, and in some cases, national boundaries.
In the North West there are three Coastal Groups: The Tidal Dee Users Group covering the Dee Estuary, the Liverpool Bay Coastal Group covering the area from the Ribble Estuary to Great Ormes Head in North Wales and the North Western Coastal Group. covering the area from the Solway Firth to the Ribble Estuary.
These groups have the following aims:
- Improving understanding of shoreline management
- Ensuring implementation of Shoreline Management Plan policies
- Promotion of harmonious policies of coastal management
- Promotion of research & development on the coast
- Promotion of best practice working
- Effecting consultation, co-operation and co-ordinated working between members
- Exchange of information and experience
- Generation of links
A lead authority on behalf of the Coastal Groups applies to DEFRA (the government body who grant aid coastal defence works) for funding, having set out a programme, a procurement strategy and a management framework for the Plans. A Consultant is then commissioned to develop the Plans with the management being undertaken by members of the Coastal Group. It is often the Coastal Group members who will undertake the lead with respect to the consultation role as they already have the previous experience with stakeholders and will be responsible for taking the plans forward in the future.
During the development of the plan there is a strong emphasis upon consulting with stakeholders and resolving conflicting objectives or opinions. In order to develop sustainable policies there is a strong emphasis on interpretation of the evidence available, this also makes the process more credible with stakeholders.
Once completed the Plans should set out a clear direction for the future development of coastal defence for an area and form the basis of the justification for any future works. There can be problems getting them adopted by the Local Authorities as some of the policies may mean the abandonment of infrastructure (ie houses may fall into the sea); this type of policy can be difficult for politicians to accept although it may be the only sustainable response to the circumstances.
The general public can access the SMPs through public libraries, and at some local government offices. Some local government authorities also put details on their own websites; for example the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton ‘s website has a detailed coast protection area at http://www.sefton.gov.uk/page&4600 which includes the full plans (see documents below)
Overview of England and Wales Coastal Defence System:
The UK Government department DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - http://www.defra.gov.uk/environ/fcd/default.htm) and the Welsh Assembly Government are responsible for coastal defence policy and administration in England and Wales. Coast Protection Authorities, i.e. local government administrations with coastline within their geographic remit, have responsibility for developing coastal defence policy statements outlining their priorites for coastal protection, and also have operational powers relating to coast protection works although any works must be carried out under the supervision of the Environment Agency and are subject to funding constraints and DEFRA guidance requirements. If coastal defences are on private land, the landowner becomes responsible for their maintenance.