The Ministry invests more than £1.5 million annually on strategic research aimed at ensuring a better understanding of coastal processes and stimulating the use of new techniques in the design of flood and coastal defences. We also issue guidance to operating authorities.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. May I also thank him for taking the trouble to come to my constituency to see the experiment in managed setback that is taking place at Tollesbury? He will be aware from his visit that there is concern in the farming community about the possible adoption of managed setback as a widespread method of sea defence. Will he assure me that no decision will be taken until there has been a full and proper evaluation of the costs and benefits of such a policy?
I very much enjoyed visiting my hon. Friend's constituency and looking at the fascinating managed setback experiment at Tollesbury creek. However, as my hon. Friend says, it is an experiment. It is part of our effort to inform ourselves on the various options available which will be considered as part of the Essex shoreline management plan. As a native of that county, I am conscious of the fact that, with 250 miles of sea walls, it will not be the automatic expectation or recourse to retreat and avoid our responsibilities. We shall consider the appropriate solutions, having regard to various criteria and informed by research. There is no hidden agenda.
The hon. Gentleman is on to a good point in respect of particular parts of our coastline. I have seen some fascinating activity designed to build up sand dunes and reinforce natural defences. We all now know much more about various options that allow the nap to work with the grain of nature rather than fight against it. Clearly, sand dunes represent an important opportunity in Tollesbury, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) referred, where there is the possibility of recreating a salt marsh as part of the natural defences.