October 2008 Comments

As can be seen from the recent newspaper report in the Eastern Daily Press the Government (in the form of their quangos Environment Agency and Natural England) have changed their stance on DIY coast protection / defences.

This change has come about, I suspect, as a direct result of the case brought by one Easton Bavents (Suffolk) resident who was ordered by Natural England (NE) to cease defending the cliff in front of his home.

The resulting investigation found NE to be in breach of that homeowner's Human Rights under The Human Rights Act 1998 as they did not offer the homeowner compensation along side the order to cease defending. Presumably had they offered or paid him compensation they could then, and only then, enforce the order.

That case showed the Government a different way forward, they concluded they could wriggle out of their coast protection/defence responsibilities without falling foul of the Human Rights Act or paying compensation simply by telling people that whilst Government would no longer pay for coast defences people could do it themselves at their own expense if they wished. The possibility of anyone being able to do that is of course quite remote. So once again Government gets it's way at no cost to itself.

To me this latest approach by Government and it's quangos is a shifty, callous, irresponsible piece of sharp practice which is at odds with Government's bounden duty of care to ALL the people.

There is huge and mounting dissatisfaction amongst the public (taxpayers) with current and proposed governance of the coast.

As can be seen with the Blyth Estuary Strategy consultation is meaningless and the peoples wishes are ignored. WHY?

Have we forgotten that it is the people who pay for everything. It is the people who employ Government, it's quangos, Ministers and Civil Servants, they all work for us. Not us for them! Why then do they continue to pursue coastal policies and outcomes which are so at odds with the needs and wishes of the people ?

Only one conclusion can be drawn, that we are not managing the coast either in the interests of the people or for sound, effective, good coast management rationale. It is being done for purely fiscal reasons. Quite simply Government has decided, for it's own interests, it simply does not wish to spend our money on the coast. Funding has been reduced year on year and is now lower than it has been for a considerable time.

The governance and policies being rigorously pursued and applied on the coast is massively increasing risk to people and the built and natural environment. That is now undeniable.

As many will know I have attended quite a number of public gatherings and discussions about the management of our coast. The public finds the current approach from Government extremely difficult to understand, among the most frequently asked questions and statements are:

  1. How can they ( the Government) justify spending billions of pounds of our money on what many people believe was an illegal incursion into the Middle East and yet refuse to defend their own people from the sea? And more recently:
  2. How can they ( the Government) justify giving £75 million to a foreign country to help fund their adaptation to climate change, yet only allocate £30 million toward our own adaptation to climate change?
  3. How can they (the Government) justify spending Billions and Billions of pounds of our money bailing out Banks whose demise has been brought about by their own inept business decisions, greed and excess, compounded by paying themselves bonuses with money they never really had. Yet continue to abandon coastal communities through lack of funding?
  4. What good is a Human Rights Act which seemingly fails to protect many peoples rights to live without being discriminated against or enjoy the most basic Human Right of living in peace with the ability to enjoy, without interference, their possesions, home and family life?

These four FAQs are not necessarily the views of either myself or CCAG. However they are voiced (amongst others) by an increasing number of people.

There is no doubt that our coast has been evolving over millenia and will continue to do so, coastal change is not a new phenomena. There seems little doubt now that the combined effects of Global Warming, Sea Level Rise, Climate Change and Isostatic Rebound may have a profound effect on the coast as we move through this century. What will matter at least as much as those factors themselves is how we manage our way through.

If we continue as we are with current institutional structures and massive underfunding I fear there can only be one outcome for the coast and it's people. Chaos on an unprecedented scale with many coastal inhabitants and communities completely disenfranchised, maybe not by the combined efects of climate change etc., but by their own Government.

We who live on the coast understand very well we are an island nation and coast protection is expensive. We also understand the expense and cost of not protecting, whereas our Government refuses to countenance the cost of it's no active intervention or managed realignment policies.

Malcolm Kerby (21 October 2008)