I beg to move,
That this House
has considered coastal erosion.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. The future of Britain’s coastline, and of our coastal communities, is finally getting the political attention that it deserves—not a moment too soon. From the need to curb plastic waste to prevent environmental damage to our shores to the opportunities that Brexit presents for reviving our long-struggling fishing communities, Britain’s coasts are coming to the forefront of the political agenda. I am glad, because if our coastal communities are to benefit from this renewed focus on their future, we need to act now to ensure that they have a future.
Coastal erosion threatens large parts of Britain’s coasts and puts houses, businesses and entire communities at risk of flooding or, in some cases, total destruction. Many hon. Members will be familiar with this issue, as coastal erosion threatens about 17% of the UK’s coastline, specifically along the east coast. The Environment Agency estimates that more than 700 properties in England could be lost to coastal erosion by the 2030s, while in Scotland, erosion is believed to pose a risk to a fifth of the coastline and the erosion rate has doubled since the 1970s. In 2013 and 2014, storms and extreme tides caused erosion that experts believed would never happen, but it has happened, and even quicker than they thought as it occurred almost overnight. Businesses and individuals are increasingly concerned about the impact of the increasingly rapid degradation of our coastline.
Our coasts are vital areas and hubs of economic activity. As well as the obvious tourism draws, they are home to much of our crucial infrastructure. In Scotland, the soft coastline, which is about 19% of the total, and which is most at risk, includes roads, railways and Scotland’s water network. There are 30,000 buildings, 100 km of railway lines, 1,300 km of our roads and a large amount of cultural and natural heritage located near to potentially erodible stretches of the Scottish coast. They could come under threat if erosion rates continued to increase in the near future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. She will be aware that East Anglia suffered serious floods as the result of surge tides in 2013. The private sector has financed a lot of the recharging of the beaches through a community interest company in my constituency, but does she agree that that will not be enough in future and that there will have to be some form of ring-fenced funding?
I am sure my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear what I am calling for the Minister to provide for my community and his.
It is time that Government at all levels took the issue more seriously. In the past, they have been guilty of putting too much emphasis on study and not enough on preventive action. If ever there was a time for urgent action, my constituents would say that it is now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, which is important to communities in my constituency such as Pennan, Crovie, Gardenstown and Rosehearty, which to some extent have all suffered coastal erosion or flooding recently. In England, there is a dedicated scheme that local authorities can bid into for funding to combat coastal erosion. In Scotland, there is no such dedicated fund, and local authorities must decide how to fund such works from the overall funding they receive from the Scottish Government. Does she agree that it would be better if Scottish local authorities also had access to such dedicated funding?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Scottish Government have put such scathing cuts on all our local authorities—indeed, Angus has taken one of the biggest hits—that there is no way they can expect them to fund millions of pounds to secure our coastlines. I agree that they need to take further action.
Erosion is a pressing issue in my constituency, as in many other areas of the United Kingdom. Like most of Scotland’s east coast, Angus has experienced a large increase in erosion since the 1970s. Hon. Members know that they have a big rural issue when “Countryfile” pitches up in their constituency. The BBC recently covered the incredible acceleration of Montrose’s erosion in a piece that alarmed viewers across the United Kingdom.
Montrose is one of the largest towns in my constituency, with a population of about 13,000, and it is particularly threatened. The Montrose golf links, one of the oldest golf courses in the world, is literally being washed away hole by hole, green by green. That vital part of Montrose’s local economy—a piece of history that has survived for 456 years—is slipping away before our eyes.
The course loses 1.5 metres of land to sea every year. The second, third and sixth holes have already had to move since last summer. That cannot go on forever—it probably cannot even go on for another decade. At this rate, the links will run out of space at some point and will have to relocate entirely. Action is needed to save this historic and beautiful course, which is economically important and a valuable piece of Angus’ cultural and sporting history, for future generations. In 1999, GlaxoSmithKline invested in rock armour for a stretch of the coastline, for which the local area was incredibly grateful, but we cannot continue to lean on private businesses for that type of infrastructure, which costs millions of pounds.
In Montrose, we also have the booming port authority along the shoreline, which is already feeling the financial strain of coastal erosion. It was previously dredging 60,000 tonnes of sand per annum, which has now reached 150,000 tonnes—a marked change in five years.
The flooding aspect of erosion can often be overlooked, but it remains a real threat in Angus. We know the economic, cultural and personal damage that flooding can do to a community, if we think back to the flooding that we saw wreak havoc across Scotland in early 2016. The disruption, the clean-up operation, the rebuilding of infrastructure, the reconstruction of defences and the insurance claims all came at huge cost to the local and wider economies. Failure to act and invest in proper defences for coastal communities is not only wrong; it is a false economy.
I am glad that, since 2010, the UK Government have spent £3.2 billion on flood and coastal erosion risk management, as opposed to £2.7 billion in the five years before that, which is a real-terms increase of 8%. Those figures show that there is action from the Government, not just words. That is the sort of long-term, real-terms increase that we need if we are successfully to tackle coastal erosion. I hope that the UK Government will not only maintain but redouble their commitment in this area, and that the Minister will provide more clarity on that.
The Government also need to work with local authorities, the Environment Agency and others to ensure that the approach to erosion is well funded, proactive and, most importantly, ambitious. We need constantly to look 10, 20 or 30 years ahead with a long-term strategy, as opposed to short-term fixes that do not serve our communities.
Sadly, I have found the Scottish Government lacking in ambition in this area. Their enthusiasm for centralisation is renowned, but in this instance, it has left the local authority, Angus Council, with fewer resources and more responsibility. Unlike England, the funding model means that Scottish local authorities receive no dedicated funding, and coastal defences must come at local authorities’ expense. At a time when Angus Council has been forced to find budget savings of a staggering £40 million by 2021—one of the largest cuts to any local authority across Scotland—it simply cannot take any more financial strain from the Scottish Government, if we want to ensure that our frontline services remain in place.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate, but I have to take issue with some of what she says. The council in her constituency is Tory run and it has not used the full amount of money allocated to it for coastal erosion by the Scottish Government. Billions of pounds are being cut from the Scottish Government’s budget by her Tory colleagues. Perhaps she will address those issues.
The Scottish Government funding—I will come on to that in a little more detail later—goes nowhere near far enough towards trying to address the problem in Angus. In fact, there have been numerous letters to the Cabinet Secretary, who is the hon. Lady’s colleague, to suggest that we need more funding in Angus, but the responses have been filled with empty words.
The fund that the Cabinet Secretary announced was the same old Scottish National party announcement—an all-singing, all-dancing fund—but the Scottish Government have not detailed the amount of money in the fund, nor have they detailed how Angus can benefit from it. However, I will indeed go into that matter in more detail later.
Significant dedicated erosion funding must be put in place, such as the UK Government’s flood and coastal erosion risk management schemes in England. The issue is important and specific enough not to have been put under the umbrella of flood risk management. At a time when the Scottish Government should be looking at ways to boost Scotland’s poor economic growth rate—I say that on the basis of their appalling current record—they should be doing all they can to protect the economic potential of coastal Scotland from slipping beneath the waves.
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this debate. Does she realise that I fully support her call for erosion funding and I will be seeking a meeting with the Minister on this issue? The most significant ground instability problem and the largest occupied landslip in the United Kingdom is the undercliff on the Isle of Wight. Part of the road there gave way, and it has done so many times, lastly in 2014. My problem is that the council is unwilling to invest in rebuilding that road unless we can understand better and at reasonable cost the water flows underneath that part of our coastline. Therefore, we need projects such as the coastal erosion fund to give us the funding to understand some of these more geologically sensitive parts of the United Kingdom.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I absolutely agree. There are huge studies going on in my constituency as well, because we need to do the groundwork, but we also need to have the funding ready for when those studies complete, so that we can go ahead with the work that needs to be done.
Of course, when it comes to coastal erosion, the waves do not respect local authority boundaries. Erosion affects areas up and down the coastline and different local authorities face common and related problems. This is not something that should be left to local authorities alone; there is space for a much more joined-up approach to erosion at all levels of Government. However, such action must also be timely. I do not want to see Montrose ending up as a cautionary tale for other parts of the coastline.
Unfortunately, the Scottish Government are risking that happening by leaving the implementation of further solutions to the 2022-28 six-year plan for flood risk management. Angus cannot wait until 2022, or until any time between 2022 and 2028. Even by 2022, swathes of the Angus coastline will have been lost. The risk of flooding and erosion to Montrose, Arbroath and other coastal communities in Angus will be even more serious than it is today, and existing defences are being put under increasing and unbearable strain.
It is the responsibility of local authorities, the devolved Administrations and the UK Government alike to start working together on the issue as a matter of urgency, so that we can quite literally hold back the tide that threatens so many of our coastal communities. The Government are due to publish their updated national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy next year, and within that I ask the Minister to consider ways to make that work happen, ensuring that everyone involved in protecting our coasts around the whole UK is working effectively together.
Will the Minister ensure that the dedicated funding is available from Montrose to Margate? If the Scottish Government cannot support my constituency, can Scotland’s other Government step in, once again, to help?
Coastal erosion and the associated issues warrant their own fund, and such a fund must not work as slowly as the flood risk management strategies. In Angus and across Scotland, erosion is happening fast and we need a scheme that operates more quickly than on a six-year cycle.
I hope that the Scottish Government will take these suggestions seriously and give communities fighting erosion the renewed and dedicated support that they need, but what about the individuals and businesses who cannot be helped, or who do not get the help they need in time? They deserve our support too, and I ask the Minister to consider a form of compensation scheme for those who lose their property or land to erosion. It is only right that those affected by erosion get help to rebuild or relocate, and such a scheme would help to cancel out the deterrent effect of the threat of erosion if people considering moving to or investing in a coastal community had that reassurance.
No such scheme exists anywhere in the United Kingdom and it is my hope that sooner rather than later we get such support in place—not only in Scotland, but in all parts of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is speaking passionately about this important issue. Is she aware of the economic impact that flooding can have? A number of businesses in my constituency have been affected by flooding and have then been unable to get insurance for their premises, so they now face relocating to another part of Scotland just to allow them to continue doing business—not because they have been directly affected by flooding, but because insurance companies are no longer able to provide them with insurance on competitive terms.
I am running out of time. I have just a little of my speech left and we have a huge number of Members who want to speak.
Our coastal communities are thriving areas and we must do everything we can to support them. To do that, we must act on erosion and act quickly to secure their future not only to protect our coastline from erosion, but to eliminate, as far as possible, the looming threat that erosion poses. So let this be a call for ambition, co-operation and urgency—from the Scottish Government in particular, but also from the UK Government, the other devolved Administrations and our local authorities. We should all be invested in the bright future of our coastal economy. Let us not allow erosion to spoil it.
Order. I intend to call the three Front-Bench speakers at 10.30, but a number of Members wish to speak, so, if Members keep their contributions to about four minutes, we will have a chance of getting everybody in.
Thank you for that, Sir David. Four minutes? What a challenge.
I thank Kirstene Hair for bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for consideration. I am very happy to support her, as she knows. I am glad to say that I come from what I believe to be one of the most beautiful constituencies in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—Strangford. I am privileged to live in the heart of the Ards peninsula, on the family farm. Every morning, I wake up and look over at Strangford lough, and I am very aware of the beauty of the area. I see the sun glinting off the water, I see the mountains of Mourne in the distance and I am always very conscious of the wonder of God’s creation.
At the same time, the sun glinting off the water alerts me to the issue of coastal erosion. The water may seem somewhat pretty at times, but the fact is that our coastline is crumbling away under our feet, under the foundations of our homes and under our coastal roads. Our foundation is crumbling and we must do something to address that. The issue is not a new one. I will give a Northern Ireland perspective, to show where I am on it. When I wore my former hat as an Assembly Member, I spoke about it in the Northern Ireland Assembly and things have naturally worsened since then.
Most recently, I read an article that referred to a report by the National Trust that had been commissioned on the issue of coastal erosion, which stated the shocking view that:
“Northern Ireland faces major risks from coastal erosion and marine flooding but ‘lacks basic information’”— those are the very things that the hon. Member for Angus referred to—
“to deal with them.”
The article went on to say that the National Trust
“manages 108 miles of coast in the north, reveals that 46,000 properties are at risk from river or marine flooding, while recent stormy winters have had ‘major impacts on coastal residents’.
Climate change and rising sea-levels are leading to flooding and coastal erosion, the report found. The charity has called for ‘a strategic approach to shoreline management’ to address the challenges of marine flooding and erosion…saying at present it is ‘reactive and poorly structured’”.
That is exactly the problem that our region, like other regions, faces and it is something we are concerned about.
The hon. Gentleman talked about shoreline management. Does he agree that there is a major role for the private sector to contribute, working in partnership with local authorities?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I totally agree with what he has said. Northern Ireland has a lack of information about how its coast works—the rates of change, the sources of coastal material, patterns of sand movement, the impact of storms and post-storm recovery—along most of the coastline. Those are the issues for us when it comes to coastal erosion.
Does my hon. Friend agree that some parts of our Northern Ireland coastline are not only very scenic and beautiful, as is the case in parts of Scotland, England and Wales, but are most majestic and historic? Does he agree that those parts of it that are at risk really need to be safeguarded and that we need both private sector and Government action to do that?
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his intervention, and I wholeheartedly support the things that he has put forward.
The National Trust’s report called for a “strategic approach” and it also
“predicts that rising sea-levels will re-shape the north’s coastline.”
It states that:
“These changes will affect existing and new infrastructure and will result in more frequent flooding and a general tendency for shorelines to move landwards that will be experienced as erosion.”
That was also made clear by the hon. Member for Angus. The report goes on to state that the length of the “strategic road network” that is at risk will increase by 28%—a significant figure.
The storms in Northern Ireland have meant that Transport NI has seen its costs rise by some £800,000. In my constituency, the road replacement at Whitechurch Road in Ballywalter cost £280,000, the damage to Shore Road in Ballyhalbert cost £36,000, and to Roddens Road £86,000, and there were road repairs at Portaferry Road in Ards, Greyabbey and Kircubbin. The total came to £800,000, which is almost the full budget of the local Transport NI section in Newtownards. What was a once-in-18-years or once-in-20-years occurrence is now a once-in-three-years occurrence. Frustration reigns when Transport NI, the Department of the Environment, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Rivers Agency and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs either cannot or will not accept responsibility for damage to property and take preventive measures to prevent flooding.
I accept that the matter is a devolved one, but I want to illustrate the problems, which the hon. Member for Angus put forward clearly. At Saltwater Brig in my constituency, many houses and businesses have been damaged by high tides, with insurance claims in excess of £100,000. As the regularity of flooding due to coastal erosion becomes commonplace, we can no longer use sticking plasters to address the issue. The impact on the local community includes accessibility to the road network, the effect on community life and the tourist potential that is yet to be realised—a potential that could deliver more jobs if the road structure and coastal erosion issue were addressed. The House must establish a strategy for the coastlines of the UK. The hon. Member for Angus knows that the matters are devolved, but she looks to the Minister for a response, as do I.
We have a duty to protect people’s homes and livelihoods, their connectivity to urban areas and, most importantly, our incredibly beautiful coastlines that are unparalleled anywhere in the world. We must work now to preserve them for the future. A joined-up approach is necessary. We look to the Minister, as always, to give us the help we need in Northern Ireland and, in particular, in my constituency.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I commend my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing this important debate. She is a tireless champion for Angus on a number of local issues and this morning she has again demonstrated what a strong voice she is for her constituents. In Berwickshire in my constituency, we do not have the same coastal erosion problems as in Montrose and other parts of Angus. However, the coastline remains vulnerable and I want briefly to mention some of the challenges we face.
I would argue that Berwickshire has some of the finest coastline in the United Kingdom. Anyone who has taken the east coast main line will have been impressed by the Berwickshire coastline north of the border. The communities of St Abbs, Coldingham and Eyemouth, and Cove all have spectacular views of sea cliffs, fantastic beaches and the wide-open North sea. The 28-mile-long Berwickshire coastal path from Cockburnspath in my constituency to Berwick-upon-Tweed has, at Tun Law, the second highest cliffs on Britain’s east coast and some internationally important habitats for sea birds, coastal flora and marine life. We also have one of the world’s most famous geological sites, that of Siccar point. It is an example of a Hutton’s unconformity, which led the founder of modern geology, James Hutton, to conclude that the Earth was much older than was widely believed in the 18th century. From the beautiful Pease bay to the spectacular St Abb’s Head and Coldingham bay, this stretch of coastline deserves to be looked after and cherished, in the same way as those in other parts of the United Kingdom.
We are lucky in Berwickshire that, because the cliffs are mainly of hard rock, they are more resistant to weathering. However, the softer cliffs at Lower Burnmouth and Cove are under threat. Local erosion through the use of the coastal paths, as well as residential and recreational development, may threaten maritime cliff and slope habitats as well as coastline stability. Parts of the coastline are also vulnerable to flooding, particularly around Eyemouth, where damage to properties has occurred four times since 2012—just last March, a flood warning was issued. The town is lucky to have an extremely well organised community group, the Eyemouth response team, who respond efficiently and professionally to emergencies such as flooding. They were in action at the beginning of the year and, astonishingly, were able to put up flood barriers at the end of the harbour in just 20 minutes.
The Scottish Borders Council manages the Berwickshire coastline well, including maintaining and protecting the coastal path and working alongside Edinburgh Council on the Forth estuary local flood risk management plan. However, I agree that the Scottish Government must step in. In recent years, the choice of the Scottish National party’s Administration in Holyrood has been to slash local authority budgets across Scotland. Since 2013, the Scottish Government’s revenue budget has fallen by 1.8%, but the SNP Administration have chosen to pass on a much larger cut of 7.1%—£744 million—to local councils, including those in my constituency in the Scottish borders and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Angus. Councils simply cannot be expected properly to protect their coastline without additional support from the Scottish Government, and I commend my hon. Friend for her efforts to put pressure on them. I hope that the UK Government will be able to assist too, in doing more to protect our beautiful coastlines.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David. I, too, congratulate Kirstene Hair on securing the debate.
I want briefly to talk about the serious issue of erosion on the island of Walney, which is just opposite Barrow-in-Furness. That strip of land is connected to the mainland by a bridge. We have wanted a second bridge for many generations, but Walney could need one in a way that we had never anticipated, because it is quite possible that unless action is taken, the island will be split in two by the serious erosion that is taking place—similarly to in other areas across the country—far faster than any study has predicted.
There are two main issues, one in the north of the island and one in the south. In the north, there is what is officially known as West Shore caravan park. The name might suggest that it is a transient part of the visitor economy, but people have bought static caravans there and live in a community. They have seen the erosion getting closer and closer to their homes, threatening several hundred properties. For many years, we have beseeched the Government and looked to the local authority, and potentially to private investment, but the issue remains critical. In the main, the park provides homes for low-income and often elderly, retired people. They are afraid of what nature is doing and fear for the homes they had always dreamed of having on the coast.
On the south of the island is South Walney nature reserve, which is home to Cumbria’s only grey seal colony and to the Walney geranium, which is unique to the island. There is a rare vegetated shingle patch, and the yellow horned poppy, which I am reliably told is hard to find, is grown there. The reserve is an invaluable resource for Barrow’s schoolchildren. Teachers in some of the schools tell me that many children have never seen the natural environment until they are taken to such places. The reserve is connected by a road that is in desperate need of rock armouring. Without such flood and coastal erosion protection, there is the potential for the island to be cut in two and for the nature reserve to be rendered impassable.
As if all that were not enough, it is not simply about saving the yellow horned poppy; the nation’s continuous at-sea deterrent may be at stake for the want of a single road that could be rock armoured for, the landowner tells me, only £200,000. We are in the process of spending about £30 billion on renewing the nation’s deterrent—I know everyone in this room will be thoroughly behind that; it is great value to protect the nation from the threat of nuclear destruction—but for the want of £200,000 and a few rocks, we could render the exit passage from Barrow shipyard impassable. At the moment, the boats come out of the dock and sail down Walney channel and away to start their sea trials. They then come back to Faslane. The amount of silt that flows into the channel from the erosion on Walney could make the narrow passage impassable. Often, submarines can pass through it only once a month.
The hon. Gentleman asks a very good question. The channel has been dredged in the past, and it could be in the future, but that would probably only be at the cost of many hundreds of millions of pounds—certainly if the nature of it were to change. A preventive measure would be simply to put in the rock-armoured road, which would protect the nature reserve and the caravan site to the south, and keep our nation safe from the potential for nuclear blackmail. That has to be good value. As a first step, I urge the Minister to consult his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence to see whether we can get an official study into the nature of the threat to the channel and the potential blocking of submarine access.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing this important debate and highlighting the risk to all our coastal communities.
Many of my constituents are lucky enough to live by the sea, with beautiful views and a vibrant tourism economy. The Chichester constituency is home to some of the UK’s most beautiful beaches and diverse marine ecosystems, but with those privileges comes a great deal of risk. Coastal erosion and flooding are a constant threat to many areas. Over the past century, we have observed a global mean sea level rise of 20 cm and that trend is set to continue over the coming years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To contextualise that, just a 50 cm rise in local sea levels would make 200 km of our current defences vulnerable to failure. Under the IPCC’s modelling, that is within the range of likely outcomes by the end of this century.
In my area, Chichester District Council is doing well to tackle the symptoms, if not the cause. It maintains the majority of the populated open coastline that stretches from Emsworth to Pagham. The council has shoreline management plans in place for each stretch of its coastline. Its work is highly collaborative and transparent, and by working with local stakeholders and the Environment Agency, it ensures that its work benefits the area’s economy, community and ecosystems.
My local council has similar policies in place, but there is a real problem coming down the track with the disappearance of the revenue support grant. When that goes, there will surely have to be some form of top-slicing or maybe a ring-fenced precept for local authorities such as my hon. Friend’s and mine.
I agree. My local authority is very concerned by negative RSG, not just the disappearance of RSG. Negative RSG would mean having to pay more to support other areas.
The council’s collaborative work has achieved high levels of third-party investment and led to better coastal protection. My hon. Friend is right that we need to properly fund our coastal areas. At East Head and at Pagham harbour, coastal advisory groups run the UK’s only two active management sites. Both sites have a highly dynamic coastline, so predicting erosive and flood patterns can be very challenging. Active management involves long-term monitoring and observation to ensure interventions are effective and in tune with the natural processes.
The regional coastal monitoring programme, based in Southampton, is key to that process, providing data on waves, tides and the changing nature of the coastline. Armed with that data, the group can make decisions on interventions such as replacing or removing failing structures or replenishing beach sediments. Such is the success of the programme that natural changes at Pagham since 2016 have removed the threat to residents in the short term and introduced an intertidal wetland habitat that is now a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve.
The council receives a grant of £250,000 a year. That funding allows it to protect people, business and habitats. Over recent years, the Environment Agency has invested a further £30 million as part of its flood and coastal erosion risk management at Medmerry, where the UK’s first managed realignment site is ongoing. West Wittering, where erosive processes are mitigated to maintain the beach, attracted around 800,000 visitors last year, driving the local economy and simultaneously helping protect the internationally important saltmarsh environment sheltered by East Head spit.
There is still significant concern in my area, however. In the long term, the council has warned that highly populated areas such as Selsey, Bracklesham and East Wittering will eventually require significant investment.
That is the point of the debate; we have to do something about it, because no one would want to see the disappearance of such an important stretch of coastline or the nature reserves we have in the area. My hon. Friend is right that we have to focus on low-lying areas, but protecting the Chichester constituency coastline and the south coast will be increasingly important.
As an area, we must continue to invest in our coastal infrastructure. We look forward to the larger investment that will be required alongside our innovative approaches, such as managed realignment and active management. It is true that we cannot do it alone. We require further investment from the Department.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate Kirstene Hair on securing this debate, despite her tone at times and some of the substance, with which I did not agree.
Members may question why the Member for Livingston is taking part in a debate on coastal erosion. I do not have any coastline in my constituency, but I spent six years of my professional life in the north-east of Scotland in Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen, and I saw the impact of coastal erosion on that area. I worked for Alex Salmond, the former Member for Gordon and for Banff and Buchan. One of the first things I dealt with in my time as his office manager was the flooding in Pennan and the impact it had on that community. I spent most of the three years working for him in the community, working with the families there.
I will never forget the experience of going into the house of an elderly gentleman who lived there—many of the homes in Pennan are second homes; only a small number live in that very important community—and convincing him to leave because the back windows had dirt coming in and he was at risk of being crushed if he stayed in his own home. As the hon. Member for Angus mentioned, there are challenges in dealing with insurance companies.
There is no doubt that we have significant challenges in coastal erosion the length and breadth of Scotland and beyond, and it is vital that all the Governments of the UK work together. I want to set the record straight on what the Scottish Government have done. I hope the hon. Lady will be aware of the £42 million a year that the Scottish Government have made available via the capital settlement since 2008—that is, £420 million—to enable local authorities to invest in flood prevention and coastal erosion works. That is backed up by some of the things that my hon. Friend Kirsty Blackman will mention, such as the marine protection monitoring and Scotland’s “Dynamic Coast” national coastal change assessments, which are being taken forward with various academic institutes across Scotland. As the hon. Member for Angus rightly said, we have to ensure the academic community are included.
I am a surfer. I took it up when I spent time in the north-east of Scotland, and having surfed various coasts in Scotland and around the UK, I have seen the impact that coastal erosion has on those communities and the surfing environment. The mudslides that I saw in Pennan during my time working in the north-east of Scotland showed me how complex and difficult some of the issues are; in many cases, there are no simple fixes, or indeed fast fixes. The hon. Member for Angus talked about the speed at which some of these issues need to be dealt with. I agree with her in many respects, but, given the geography of her constituency and the impact that it has had, she will appreciate that sometimes the issues are not dealt with as quickly as we would like. They can be very complex. I remember various discussions with Aberdeenshire Council about whether it was going to put the rocks in casings or pin them back. A significant geological survey often needs to take place, and that can be complex and difficult.
The hon. Lady is a great champion of her own constituency, and I have no doubt she will take her case to the Scottish Government as well. I hope that we can work together and not get ourselves into an overtly party political, partisan debate. As we go through the Brexit process, environment policy and the funding that will be available for our Government and for the UK Government will be significantly impacted. We have yet to know the real impact.
I want to draw attention to the marine protected area monitoring strategy, which allows fishermen to support the monitoring and surveying of some of Scotland’s most vulnerable marine habitats and ensure that detailed information is collected from the MPA network to create a more accurate picture of the health of marine environments. The Scottish Government ensured that we engaged as broadly as we possibly could and that those at the forefront of the issues of coastal erosion are those who are monitoring it and reporting back.
Of the areas around Scotland that have been eroded, 40 metres to 60 metres of beach have eroded since the 1980s, and that rate will continue over the next 30 years. That is a significant challenge to a country that has one of the biggest coastal areas in Europe. Our SNP Government in Scotland are committed to taking on those challenges. I hope that the UK Government will work with our colleagues in Scotland and that, as we go through the process of Brexit, issues such as coastal erosion and protecting the environment will not be lost in the noise coming from that debate.
In following the hon. Lady’s speech just now, I am not certain as to which is eroding more quickly: the coastline of Scotland or support for the increasingly incompetent SNP Administration in Edinburgh.
I want to confine my remarks to a particular part of my constituency, one of the jewels in the crown of East Devon: Sidmouth, a regency seaside town well known to my hon. Friend the Minister. Sidmouth is at the gateway to the Jurassic coast world heritage site, and a large part of the town is in a conservation area. For years now, I have been working with various bodies and individuals in the town—not least the local councillors, Councillor Stuart Hughes and now Councillor Tom Wright—to try to resolve what has become an increasingly difficult problem, particularly for the residents of Cliff Road, overlooking Pennington Point, which has seen erosion year on year. Indeed, earlier in 2018 it was widely reported in the national press that Cliff Road was one of the most endangered roads in the UK, owing to coastal erosion.
We are very dependent on the south-west coastal path in Sidmouth. We have replaced the Alma bridge, but the various different schemes have gone on for too long. Over the years I have had Sir James Bevan, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, down to see the erosion. Andrew Sells, who is in charge of Natural England, has been down. I even had my right hon. Friend Mr Paterson, who was then the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, come and look at it.
There are two issues at stake. One is the complexity of trying to get a satisfactory solution. It is a complicated engineering issue. Many different bodies are involved in the steering group: East Devon District Council, Sidmouth Town Council, local fishermen, the Environment Agency, Devon County Council, the National Trust and the Cliff Road Action Group. All of those groups have a rightful interest, but that has delayed the implementation of a scheme that can arrest the erosion that we see year on year.
The new scheme, the preferred scheme, for the Sidmouth beach management plan would see a new groyne wall installed on East Beach and a plan to raise the splash wall along the promenade. I am extremely nervous about the prospect of raising the wall along the promenade because we have seen what happened in the neighbouring constituency of Tiverton and Honiton: one can drive down the esplanade in Seaton and not actually see the sea. We would not want that replicated in Sidmouth. This part of the £9 million project would last around 100 years.
We now have a funding issue. East Devon District Council needs to raise £3.3 million, with the rest hopefully being secured from the Environment Agency. Work would begin in 2019 and be completed in 2020. When we look at the areas we can raise the money from, we see that we are left with either a local levy, the district council, Sidmouth Town Council, South West Water, local charities, visitors, East Devon housing, and residents. I humbly submit to the Minister that it is not satisfactory to try to leave a small local authority with a funding gap that will prevent the scheme from being realised.
My hon. Friend is being incredibly generous in giving way. My local authority has similar problems, but it faces a structural funding deficit. The Minister’s Department and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government must consider making some form of ring-fenced precept available to local councils, and perhaps there should be more contributions from town and parish councils inland.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is almost impossible to ask local authorities for large amounts of money to fill the gap because they all operate under very strict financial constraints now. Such schemes should not be held back by relying on the local authority to make up the difference, so I ask the Minister whether Bellwin can be extended. Can my residents of Cliff Road, who have found it impossible to get mortgages and increasingly difficult to get insurance as they see their gardens disappear, get a compensation package?
I hope that the whole area can be dealt with quickly. We need a masterplan for the whole Port Royal area along the esplanade, but there is no point in doing that until we have secured the Pennington Point and rock revetment scheme, because that would threaten the sewage works in the area, which could in due course flood the entire town.
I do not want to delay the debate unduly. The Minister is welcome to come to Sidmouth at any time to see the situation for himself. We are almost there now. This has gone on for so long. The scheme must be implemented. We cannot wait any longer. We have got people onside. We have got everything lined up now. I pay tribute to all those who have got this far, but we have a funding deficit and I ask the Minister to be creative in looking at the compensation issue for the residents of Cliff Road and also in helping with the funding that we need to get the scheme under way.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.
I am honoured to represent one of only three constituencies in the country that has two separate coasts: the beautiful, rugged north coast of Cornwall with its surf beaches and the south coast with its coves and ports. The Minister’s constituency also has that type of coastline.
I want to address the issue of planning. We are seeing more frequent and more severe cliff falls in Cornwall as a result of the weather. People’s gardens are being eroded and houses built on the cliff tops are threatened. There is an increasing trend in Cornwall for people to buy old properties and then apply for planning permission to build larger properties that invariably encroach nearer to the cliff edge. That is causing great concern, particularly in Newquay in my constituency. I pay tribute to Protect Newquay Clifftops, which has been campaigning for some time to try to stop that trend, which is not only spoiling the view of our clifftops, but putting those properties, I believe, at future risk as the erosion continues.
The national planning policy framework provides protection for coastal areas and clifftops, saying that plans should
“reduce risk from coastal change by avoiding inappropriate development”.
I am delighted that our local authority, Cornwall Council, often refuses planning applications where properties would encroach on the cliff edge. However, all too often those applications go to appeal, and the planning inspector, who does not seem to have any local knowledge or appreciation of the situation that we face in Cornwall, allows the building to go ahead.
I know this does not come under the Minister’s portfolio, but I am aware that the Marine Management Organisation plays a particular role in, and is often consulted on, such planning issues. Perhaps there could be an increased role for the MMO in the planning process to ensure that cliff erosion and cliff falls, which take place much more frequently in Cornwall, are a significant factor in policy when planning applications are considered for construction on clifftops, particularly in such places as Cornwall. I am concerned that we are storing up trouble for future generations by allowing such developments to take place. If the cliff continues to erode, properties will be put at risk. I ask the Minister to look into whether there could be an increased role for the MMO in the planning process in our coastal regions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing the debate. I welcome the Minister to his place, though I highlight the sterling work done by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey, on the protection of the coast, both locally and nationally. I wish her well, and hope to see her back in her place very shortly.
It is vital that we have an effective coastal and flood erosion policy in place, as the challenge that we face is going to increase over the coming years as sea levels rise. The management of the coast takes place within a legislative framework that was set down in 1949. Although it has been adapted, that framework has drawbacks. Local authorities are fragmented and coastal defence is only one of a multitude of demands that they face. At a national level, there is a need for a more cross-Government approach. The Environment Agency’s focus is very much on the short term, but we need to look at the longer-term needs of coastal communities as well.
There is good news. Many innovative schemes are taking place around the coast. In East Anglia, in recognition of the impact of coastal change, all six coastal planning authorities in Suffolk and Norfolk are drafting a statement of common ground, and are taking a common approach to managing the coast in revising their local plans. Three schemes are taking place in my constituency. The Lowestoft flood risk management project is at its detailed planning stage and will be completed in 2020-21 at Corton and Kessingland.
To promote more cost-effective long-term strategic coastal management the Government need to address three specific issues. First, there needs to be better reporting on schemes from around the country, so we can learn from those projects. Secondly, we need to promote long-term adaptation of vulnerable coastlines, and make the planning system simpler to do that. Thirdly, as we have heard, the Bellwin scheme needs to be looked at more fully. If we do that, we can move away from a crisis management approach to more of a long-term, strategic, collaborative approach.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing today’s debate. Coastal erosion is an important issue, threatening livelihoods, homes, environments and economies. In north Cornwall, we have a great number of assets along our Cornish coastline that make up our heritage and our economy. The coast itself is the reason people visit Cornwall and the wider south-west. They come for our beaches, fishing villages and fantastic food, and, importantly, our coast paths. It is important that we include in that the south-west coast path. That huge asset is a big economic driver for the south-west tourism industry as a whole, as well as north Cornwall’s. It is great to see the fantastic “Poldark” back on our TV screens regularly on Sunday evenings, showcasing the great south-west, with Poldark parading around on our beaches and our coastal footpaths.
The south-west coast path is 630 miles long. It is the longest national trail in the country, stretching from Minehead across the north coasts of Somerset, Cornwall and Devon, and heading back along the south coast all the way to Poole in Dorset. With breath-taking views and leisurely walks, the coast path is popular with locals, tourists, hikers and charity walkers alike. If coastal erosion progresses in Cornwall, the south-west coast path will be one of the first things to fall into the sea, threatening numerous local economies.
In 2012, the South West Coast Path Association and Visit Cornwall released figures showing that walkers who used the path spent £436 million in the local economy. That was an increase of 15% on the previous three years, and I have no doubt that those figures will have increased since 2012. It is therefore essential that we protect the coast path and this beautiful asset for generations to come.
Tintagel castle in my constituency is another asset that could be vulnerable to coastal erosion, and which contributes hugely to the north Cornwall economy. Situated on Tintagel Island, the castle dates back to the 13th century and is linked to the legend of King Arthur. According to recent statistics, the castle was visited by a quarter of a million people in 2017—up by 70,000 over the past 10 years. That obviously creates huge tourism benefits for Tintagel and surrounding communities, and is an example of why we should take coastal erosion seriously.
Research shows that sea levels are rising, creating all sorts of challenges in coastal communities that we need to address robustly. That is why today’s debate is vital not only for Cornwall, but for other parts of the UK. I know mine has been only a small contribution, but the coast paths are vital to our economy. I know that the Minister cares about the issue because he has some beautiful coastline in his constituency. I hope that he will do all that he can to ensure that we protect this heritage asset for the future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing this extremely important debate. Moray has suffered from significant flooding over several decades. Millions of pounds have been invested in flood alleviation schemes in Forres, Elgin, Dallas, Newmill, Keith, Rothes and Lhanbryde, but none of those is a coastal community. Coastal communities, which suffer just as much as inland communities, feel neglected in our area. Portknockie, for example, suffered landslips just last year, and although I welcome yesterday’s announcement from Sustrans and Moray Council—in response to my correspondence— that work is being done to reopen a path between Portknokie and Cullen, I still have constituents living in homes at the top of a landslip, precariously close to the edge, who fear every day for their properties.
For 10 years before being elected to Parliament, I was a councillor on Moray Council. Part of my Fochabers Lhanbryde ward was the communities of Garmouth and Kingston. They have suffered more than most. Ross House, which 10 years ago was 150 yards from the River Spey, now has the river lapping against its walls. That shows how much coastal erosion there has been. Garmouth and Kingston golf course, like Montrose golf links in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, has suffered considerably. We have had a par 5 go to a par 4, and it is now a par 3 because so much of it has been washed away.
I welcome the fact that Garmouth and Kingston could be designated as potentially vulnerable areas under the new Scottish Environment Protection Agency scheme, but I was struck by the words of my hon. Friend, who said that too much time is spent on studies and not enough on action. I endorse that wholeheartedly.
Many studies, at my request, have looked at dredging, for example. Every time that I, as an elected representative, and communities say we should dredge the River Spey, people come back to us to say, “Well, no—you’ve got to worry about the flora and the fauna.” I am sorry, but I do not worry about the flora and the fauna; I worry about my constituents, who are living in fear every day that their house might be flooded, that they might be moved away or that they could lose property altogether. Some of the studies have to look at the real personal impacts of flooding and coastal erosion in their area.
I would finish with a quote from a lady from Garmouth who said, “We want action, not sympathy.” They are fed up with warm words from politicians of all Governments. What they want now is action from their Governments, whether that be the Scottish Government, the UK Government or local authorities, because they are living in fear of coastal erosion. It is only right that we as politicians stand up for them to get the changes they need and deserve.
Thank you, Sir David. I will do my best not to take too long. I am grateful to you for chairing the debate, and I thank Kirstene Hair for securing it and the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling it.
This is a useful debate; it is clear that this is a serious and worrying issue with the potential for long-lasting devastating effects. The other point made clear today is that the issue is not the same in all areas. Just like the varied coastline throughout Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales, the issues that each part of that coastline faces are different.
As my hon. Friend Hannah Bardell mentioned, the Scottish Government fund such issues on a recurring basis, with £42 million of capital funding per year since 2008. That is really important in relation to flood prevention and coastal erosion, which are linked.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s point, but the figure from the Scottish Government that she cites pales into insignificance when we take into consideration that the Elgin flood alleviation scheme alone cost £86 million. The funding coming from her Government in a year does not even fund half of that scheme.
The Scottish Government would have more money to spend on issues such as flood prevention and coastal erosion—
The Scottish Government would have more money if Scotland was an independent country and we had the ability to raise our own taxes and, for example, support immigration and grow our population in the way that we would like it to grow. Immigration is important for coastal communities, particularly because of the people who have moved out of those communities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston mentioned, many of the houses in Pennan are owned by second-home owners, not people who live there. We need to grow Scotland’s population so that people are living there and standing up for and protecting those areas.
Douglas Ross was very clear about how important it is that his constituents are protected, which I completely agree with, but I was concerned about his disregard for the flora and fauna that we also need to protect. A huge number of people have raised concerns about the effect of plastics in our oceans, for example, and I think many of our constituents would be hugely concerned about the impact on marine wildlife of any changes that are sought. That is why it is important that any decisions on protecting areas from coastal erosion are made with the best information, and why the Scottish Government have funded the national coastal change assessment. Phase 1 is completed and they are on to phase 2. Given the dramatic effects of climate change, and that coastal erosion is speeding up, it is incredibly important that any decisions are taken while looking at the current effects of climate change. It is an ever-moving feast and we need to have the best possible information before taking any decisions.
It was interesting to hear some of the issues hon. Members have with studies taking place. Angus Council’s study will not be finished until July 2019; the hon. Member for Angus is pushing for action right now, when the council has not completed its study. The other point that bugs me about what that council is doing is that it has not committed to use the full funding it has been given for the purpose of protecting against coastal erosion. It takes a special kind of hypocrisy for a council to say, “We are not spending all of the money we have been given for this purpose, but we would like some more.” I do not think that is a sensible position to take. The case made by the hon. Member for Angus would be much stronger if the local authority could evidence that it had spent all the money it had been allocated in the correct way to protect against coastal erosion.
Further on funding, the Scottish Government have committed to putting their Crown Estates money towards the betterment of coastal communities, which will be a recurring amount of money provided to councils such as Angus. It would be useful if that council would commit to using the money for preventing coastal erosion, particularly in relation to the concerns around the golf links that the hon. Lady mentioned and the erosion that is happening at some speed in that area.
I represent Aberdeen, with its beautiful beach that was immortalised in the mid-20th century railway posters as “the Silver City with the Golden Sands”. In 2006, action was taken in Aberdeen to protect our coastline from erosion and we now have what are called T-groins—large defences that ensure our beach is not washed away. It was good that that action was taken, but it did not receive universal buy-in when it was first put forward. People, not least the surfing community, raised a number of concerns. It has taken time for that to bed in and for us to be able to prove that it has not had the negative effects suggested.
One of the important things going forward with action on coastal erosion is to ensure that communities buy into it and that we are doing whatever we can to protect housing, properties and tourism, but also marine life. In Scotland, the marine litter strategy was introduced a number of years ago—it is not a new thing. It is about tackling the issues that damage the most vulnerable marine wildlife.
It is very important that we come together. We absolutely must look at making sure that studies are done so that the best possible, futureproofed, action can be taken, but we must get the communities on board, including those in the wider community—perhaps those who do not live near the coast but are particularly concerned about the impact on wildlife. As I have said in Westminster Hall a number of times, we need to work together and we can all learn from each other. Action taken in some places in Scotland could be replicated in some places in England, and vice versa. We need to make sure that with any action we take to protect any of our coastlines, we are learning from the experiences of others and ensuring that those coastlines are protected for future generations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I join colleagues in paying tribute to Kirstene Hair on securing this debate and I thank her for a detailed and engaging speech, in which she outlined that 17% of our coastline is at risk of erosion, along with the infrastructure that is inseparable from those seaside communities. She told us that the second, third and sixth holes have already been relocated on the iconic golf course in her Angus constituency and she has done her constituents proud in making sure that their voices are heard in this debate today.
As the shadow Minister with responsibility for coastal communities, I agree that this debate is incredibly important. With rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather, our coastlines are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Hon. Members will be aware that my own constituency, while entirely land-locked, experienced devastating flooding in 2015, and so I am all too aware of how increasingly extreme weather can impact on all of our lives.
We have heard some compelling speeches. John Lamont made a very important point about Flood Re and the Government’s failure to really get to grips with an insurance offer for flood-affected businesses. While Flood Re is working very well for domestic properties, we really do not have an offer together for flood-affected businesses. I hope the Minister will be able to offer some help to businesses and that this is not a problem put on the “too difficult to solve” pile.
My hon. Friend John Woodcock told us of the risks to Walney island in his area and talked of the risk of the unique biodiversity on the island being lost to the elements forever without intervention to protect it. Gillian Keegan made a similar point about the nature reserves in her constituency. Scott Mann spoke with passion about the coastline in his area, which has been showcased by the BBC drama “Poldark”—I confess, I am not sure everybody watches “Poldark” to admire the scenery in the background. We have heard about the challenges in Scotland, and we have heard from hon. Members representing coastlines all over the country.
It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in his place, but I join Peter Aldous in wishing the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Coffey, a speedy recovery. She has a great deal of experience in this area, and will no doubt be watching this debate with great interest.
For a country of our size, the UK has an exceptional length of coastline, totalling more than 17,000 km. In contrast, the Netherlands has about 500 km. Although historically it has created opportunities for fishing, tourism and a variety of other economic interests, a significant proportion of our coastal landscapes are at risk of coastal erosion. About one third of the English coastline, and more than half of the coastline in my home region of Yorkshire and the Humber, is subject to erosion. Across the country, incredibly tough decisions are being taken about whether to hold the line or surrender it.
There is nothing new about coastal erosion; it has been taking place for millions of years. Waves and winds erode some areas, but can deposit matter elsewhere. The haunting story of what happened at Hallsands in Devon in 1917—the entire village of 29 homes was lost to the sea within 48 hours—is a reminder of the power of the sea, and coastal erosion can be accelerated by storms.
Although coastal erosion is not a new problem, changing weather patterns and rising sea levels are creating new challenges. It is increasingly clear that what was once termed “exceptional weather” is occurring with worrying regularity. Although it is difficult to link any particular extreme weather event directly to climate change, the trend is clear. Last month’s unusually warm weather was officially classified as the hottest May since records began, and December 2015—just over two years ago—was the wettest month on record, and there was extensive flooding. Speaking after those floods, Professor Myles Allen, of the University of Oxford, summed up the new reality well:
“Normal weather, unchanged over generations, is a thing of the past. You are not meant to beat records by those margins and if you do so, just like in athletics, it is a sign something has changed.”
Current UK annual damages from coastal flooding are estimated to be £540 million per year, which will almost certainly increases with future sea level rises. According to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the global mean sea level has already risen 20 cm since the 1900s. POST also notes that the rate of the rise was 1.5 mm per year between 1901 and 1990. However, from 1993 to 2014, it rose an average of 3.2 mm per year.
It often feels as if we are only reluctantly facing up to the devastation that could result from sea level rises. The Committee on Climate Change warned that
“for levels of sea level rise beyond one metre, which could occur this century, 200 km of coastal defences in England are projected to become vulnerable to failure in storm conditions”.
It is clear that we are facing a challenge of the most serious kind, which requires big thinking and effective action. We know that there is a very human cost for those in affected areas. It is hard to imagine how difficult it must be for a person to give up their family home because it has simply become too dangerous to live there.
We also know about the threat to our sporting heritage. As we have heard, the Montrose Golf Links faces many problems. It is estimated that one sixth of Scotland’s golf courses are vulnerable, due to their coastal location. Ironically, Donald Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf course is also at risk of severe flooding, according to Ordinance Survey research, which predicts that the coastline next to the Trump International Golf Links resort will recede by tens of metres over the next 20 to 30 years. We look forward to seeing him still refuse to take action on climate change when his own golf course is underwater.
I hope the Minister can address a number of concerns shared by those living in coastal areas. I will be interested to hear his response to the Committee on Climate Change’s adaptation sub-committee report, published last June, which said:
“Sea level rise of more than one metre by the end of this century cannot be ruled out, and this would mean some communities in the UK would no longer be viable…Shoreline Management Plans identify areas where existing defences will become unsustainable or not cost-effective to maintain by the 2030s and beyond. This will have significant implications for some stretches of coastline, but the affected communities have not yet been seriously engaged in adaptation planning and need to, long before coastal defences become unsustainable.”
Given that the committee’s advice is so clear, what steps are the Government taking to ensure people living in those areas are aware of the risks and are planning for the future? Such conversations will always be difficult, but given the severity of the predictions and the actions set out in the management plans, people need to be clear about what is likely to happen.
Further to the point made by Steve Double, according to the national planning policy framework, it is not appropriate to allocate permanent new residential development within an area susceptible to coastal change. Local plans identify that coastal change management areas as likely to be affected by erosion. The Minister may be aware that a National Trust survey found that in 2015, only 29 of England’s 94 coastal planning authorities had defined coastal change management areas. One third of the coastal planning authorities did not have such policies. Can the Minister update the House about the situation? Has he been assured that all planning authorities in coastal areas are incorporating long-terms coastal erosion projections into their planning policies?
Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Angus, I am keen to see the next national flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy. Although flooding is the most common consequence of coastal erosion, the Minister will appreciate the very different challenges in addressing coastal erosion and inland flooding. I hope that is reflected in the funding and resources dedicated to those different but not unconnected challenges.
More broadly, we cannot ignore the relationship between extreme weather, climate change and coastal erosion, so I must probe the Government further on what they are doing to tackle carbon emissions. In recent years, the Government have sold off the Green Investment Bank and scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and new low-carbon investment is now lower than it was when they took office. It is therefore not surprising that the UK is now on course to miss its carbon reduction targets and its legally binding 15% renewable target by 2020.
I appreciate that energy policy is not directly within the Minister’s remit, but I am afraid to say that, since the demise of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, it look like climate change has not been mainstreamed across Government, but has fallen through the cracks. I hope the Minister will urge others in Government to treat this issue with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.
Coastal erosion is a huge concern along significant lengths of our coastline. With rising sea levels, significant parts of our coastline face being literally swept off the map. I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Angus that now is the time for long-term, joined-up thinking. I hope the Minister will respond to the points raised in this debate and assure us that the Government are serious about tackling climate change, defending our coastlines and, crucially, taking communities with them in facing up to these challenges.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Like a number of other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing the debate. She articulated the problems facing her constituents in Montrose with passion, and was characteristically robust in the points she made. I am conscious that this issue affects many parts of the country, including my own, as my hon. Friends from various Cornish constituencies pointed out. It is good that so many Members turned up at 9.30 am to raise this important issue in the first debate of the morning when we might face a lateish night in this place.
As the shadow Minister pointed out, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Dr Coffey, would normally lead on this part of the portfolio. I am covering this debate because, as a number of hon. Members know, she is recuperating from a recent illness. However, she will be following the debate closely, as coastal erosion is an ongoing challenge for her constituency of Suffolk Coastal. I very much look forward to receiving a text from her later this morning, as often happens after such debates, giving me an update on how I did.
As everybody is aware, responsibility for the management of coastal erosion is devolved to the Governments of the four nations of the UK. I will return later to some of what they are doing.
Coastal erosion is a natural process that always has and always will change the shape of our coastline, but change can be distressing for those living nearby. In March this year, we all saw the dramatic pictures from Hemsby when the “beast from the east” struck the coast of Norfolk. That county has a dynamic coastline, which has been retreating progressively over past centuries, but on that occasion the concentrated power of wind and sea eroded nearly 5 metres of shore along a 700-metre frontage, leaving 13 homes balanced precariously above the sea. Proactive management by the Environment Agency and the local council led to residents being evacuated by Great Yarmouth Borough Council. After the storm, 11 properties were demolished and, of the remainder, one property was saved by the owner rolling it back, and another needed only part of it to be demolished as it too was rolled back.
The key difference between fluvial flooding and coastal erosion is that, while still distressing, the impact of fluvial—river—and surface flooding tends to be temporary, while the impact of coastal flooding is terminal and carries much greater risk to human life. Of the £2.5 billion to be invested in flood defences between 2015 and 2021, nearly £1 billion is dedicated to coastal areas, reflecting how seriously we take that challenge.
Given my constituency, I understand people’s concerns. Cornwall has the longest coastline in England, at more than 1,000 kilometres, and the occurrence of coastal flooding is likely to increase threefold over the next 100 years. My constituency has both a north-facing and a south-facing coastline, and some of the exposed cliffs along the north coast have historical rates of coastal erosion of up to 40 metres in the past 100 years. They are likely to experience at least a further 40 metres of erosion in the next 100 years.
Sustainable coastal management needs to embrace change. I recognise that this debate was called on the back of a particular Scottish concern, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, but this is a UK-wide matter and I feel that I should consider how we approach things in each nation, starting of course with England, where the Government set the overall policy and local councils lead on management of coastal erosion risk in their areas.
Earlier this decade, a significant decision was taken by the Government to recognise formally that we would not defend every part of our coastline from erosion. We devolved decision making to a local level, confirming what had already been happening in practice. That made the process for councils designing a shoreline management plan more meaningful. Such plans set out at a high level the policy framework to manage the risk of change.
Covering three time horizons—20, 50 and 100 years—the plans recommend four approaches to management: first, advancing the line, or moving defences out beyond the coast, which is used in some circumstances; secondly, holding the line, which means using either soft or hard defences to reduce or eliminate erosion; thirdly, managed realignment, where we accept the inevitable but manage the process, taking account of local geology and wildlife; and, finally, an approach of no active intervention, which allows nature to take its course.
Much of the debate has focused on whether the devolved Administrations are doing enough to support their councils. I shall say a little about what we do in England. To support our councils, the Environment Agency provides a national picture of what is happening on the coast. It has established national coastal erosion risk maps that provide a consistent assessment of coastal erosion risk around the country and set out a best-practice method for calculating that risk. The agency is also supporting a national refresh of shoreline management plans to ensure that they remain based on accurate information. There is also investment, which, inevitably, was a big feature of this debate.
We put significant investment into coastal erosion prevention. In England, between 2015 and 2021, our plans will see £885 million invested in projects to manage coastal erosion and better to protect communities against flooding from the sea. At the same time as the Government made the decision specifically not to defend the entire coastline, they also made the important decision that any scheme with a positive benefit-cost ratio could still receive some Government funding to support partnership funding locally. We also established corporation tax relief for businesses to contribute to such projects.
Our partnership approach means that schemes that would not have progressed in the past can go ahead if local funding can be found through the partnership model. Our £2.6 billion capital investment programme is expected to attract more than £600 million in partnership funding contributions on top of that.
In Norfolk, an innovative public-private project will provide protection for nationally important gas infra- structure and enhance protection for local communities.
I hear what the Minister says about local businesses helping, but in a town such as Sidmouth, where the average local business is a small retailer already suffering under business rates and with lack of footfall on the high street, is it realistic to expect such smaller companies to contribute?
There will always be challenges in raising funding, but we are committed to the partnership model and projects that would not have been able to take place before we introduced those measures can now do so. I visited Sidmouth last year, so I am familiar with what my right hon. Friend highlights—his constituency has a beautiful, albeit quite hilly, footpath along the coastal road—but I am happy to visit his constituency again to look at those issues at first hand.
To complete my point about the innovative approach in Norfolk, we are seeing a technique called sandscaping, whereby 1.8 million tonnes of sand and gravel are deposited near the shore. That provides direct protection from storms and acts as a source for material to nourish beaches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Angus highlighted a comparison between the approaches to funding taken in Scotland and in England. The difference is that every year, despite budgetary pressures, we have increased funding on flooding, which is up from £399 million in 2010-11 to £502 million now. We have ring-fenced money specifically for coastal erosion, as she acknowledged.
This issue is devolved, so it is for each part of the UK to decide how to operate such matters, but it is complex and difficult, as hon. Members have pointed out, and we can all learn from each other, from the success or failure of the different approaches that we take. I am sure that the point she has made today will be heard by those in her constituency and, indeed, by the Scottish Government.
In those areas where defence from coastal erosion is neither practical nor economic, it is important that affected communities are supported and helped to adapt. That means anticipating the changes. Local authorities need sustainable approaches that reduce future burdens on communities, encourage a more positive approach and promote economic growth in a viable manner.
Finally, I want to touch briefly on the approach taken by the devolved Administrations. My hon. Friend raised the specific issue of Montrose, where up to 80 metres of coast could wear away in the next 50 years. In Scotland, the Scottish Government have concluded a piece of evidence called “Dynamic Coast: Scotland’s Coastal Change Assessment”, which was launched in August 2017 and identified some of the challenges ahead. I understand that Scotland has allocated a budget of £42 million a year to help local authorities with flooding and coastal erosion. In Northern Ireland, a gap has been recognised. The approach taken has been on the principles of the Bateman report, but, in the last Assembly, Ministers recognised the need for a more strategic approach to coastal management. They committed to work together on a baseline study, which is now under way. Last but by no means least, in Wales, I am aware that the Welsh Government have also made significant investments to improve coastal defence infrastructure over the past few years through new schemes.
To conclude, we have had a comprehensive debate covering many different issues and areas, with hon. Members raising issues relating to particular constituencies. It has been a pleasure to respond to the debate.
I thank the Minister and all Members who have participated in the debate. I am delighted to have cross-party support on an important issue for our constituents and for our beautiful coastlines throughout the United Kingdom. Clearly, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations are called on to do more.
I want to clear up one point about Angus. The studies finish next year, so we need the funding to be ready and, indeed, we need enough funding—the funding promised has a question mark over it and is not enough to put my constituents out of fear. I shall continue to campaign for the Scottish Government to confirm and release the funding sooner, and I shall continue to campaign for the UK Government to see whether we can implement a compensation scheme, so that our constituents need not continue to live in fear if they live in a coastal community.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered coastal erosion.