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Coastal Erosion

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 3rd October 2016.

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Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 3rd October 2016

3. Mr O'Dowd asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline the actions her Department has taken to address coastal erosion. (AQO 368/16-21)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I am acutely aware of the devastating effects that coastal erosion can have on people’s lives. It is one of the reasons why I established a coastal forum when I was the Minister for Regional Development. I could see that we needed to deal with coastal management in a more strategic way, particularly in relation to coastal erosion. Now that I am the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, my responsibilities have, of course, changed. My Department is responsible for marine licensing and nature conservation protection, but I am still very keen to be involved. I have met Chris Hazzard, Minister for Infrastructure, and we have agreed to co-chair meetings of the forum. The forum has already identified the key issues that need to be tackled. These include the completion of a robust scientific evidence base on coastal processes in Northern Ireland and allocation of the coastal erosion risk management function. I am confident that the forum will help to deliver on those issues.

I should say that coastal erosion is a natural process, so it is going to continue. The challenge that we face is to find the best way of managing coastal change, both erosion and flooding. It is about having a clear vision of how we want Northern Ireland’s coastline to be shaped, now and into the future. I assure Members that I will continue to play my part wherever possible.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her response. I acknowledge the good work that the forum carried out in the past and welcome the fact that the Minister intends to continue the forum going into the future. My supplementary question was going to be about whether the forum would go into the future, and the Minister has already answered it, so thank you.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his comments. I plan to have a good working relationship with DFI with regard to that. In the past, when I was in the Department for Regional Development, I had a good working relationship with the former Minister of the Environment and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. She allowed a representative from her Department — David Porter — to come forward, and he worked very well in that group. Establishing that was useful, and I hope to see it moving forward to have a meaningful outcome.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her work in this area. Has an assessment been undertaken to determine how many properties and how much land is affected by coastal erosion?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

One of the issues that we have is lack of data. That is one of the things that we need to look at when we do our scoping exercise, particularly around the terms of reference and how we move forward in order to achieve that. Various groups are collating their own information, and we have a lot of science work and research being carried out by universities. Individual councils are also carrying out work. DFI is doing work, particularly around the structural infrastructure side of things. It is about bringing that together so that we have a full view of the impact, and potential impact, that this will have as we go forward.

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

The Minister will be aware of coastal erosion around parts of the north Down coast, particularly the Cultra, Craigavad and Kinnegar areas of Holywood.

Recognising that, does she see the need for coordination between the various agencies and clear definitions of responsibility, particularly between the Department for Infrastructure, DAERA — her Department — and the local council?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Absolutely. In my previous role, I met the Member with regard to the issues at Kinnegar. He will also be aware that coastal flooding is the responsibility of the Department for Infrastructure. Kinnegar has been identified as at risk of flooding during extreme tidal events and is included in the coastal flood response plan. It is important that various agencies work together and are at a place where they can react quickly to flooding, particularly in areas such as Kinnegar.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I invite the Minister to join me in applauding the work of the Ards Peninsula Coastal Erosion Group. Can she update us on whether it is likely to secure two of its key objectives, namely a fit-for-purpose policy to replace the discredited Bateman formula and securing a lead Department for coastal management issues?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. As a fellow member of that group who attended a number of meetings, I absolutely want to acknowledge the work of Eric Rainey, Sandra Henderson and others involved. They really have brought this to the attention of the House. On the back of that, I was delighted that I could move that forward. That group was represented in the initial meeting that I had of the coastal forum. I want to use the template that they established with regard to community action. I have spoken to Members from other constituencies, and I think that it is very important that we get that from a grass-roots perspective. The community is our eyes and ears along the coastline.

With regards to Bateman and having a lead Department, you will understand that part of the terms of reference that we are establishing for the forum will address those concerns. I am not clear whether we need a lead Department at this stage. My Department working in partnership with DFI may in itself be adequate. Again, that is something that we can explore as we go. Obviously, by doing that, we have reduced the number of Departments that will naturally be involved anyway. It is something that we can explore. We are on a positive pathway to that.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you very much, Minister, for your information to date about coastal erosion. When the scoping exercise is being carried out, obviously there will be consideration of a budget going forward. Will rural proofing be brought in, so that the small number of businesses that suffered £1 million worth of damage along the coast can finally be included in some of the payments?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question — again, a fellow member of that group and a constituency colleague. Scoping is something that we will have to look at as we move forward. I am the Minister who is responsible for the Rural Needs Act, and rural proofing will be part of that. It is early days as regards what that will look like, particularly what funding will be required for coastal erosion. Some of that may fall under the Department for Infrastructure, particularly the coastal flooding aspect of things. Again, it is something that we will need to look at.