Press Release - Coastal Flood Managmeent - Compensation at last for those who lose land?
Compensation for landowners who lose land for coastal flood management is among a raft of measures now to be considered by the government. Social justice, private finance and proposals that those who will benefit from coastal defences should pay for them, are also on the agenda.
"We have always understood that to achieve a sustainable coastline some land currently in agricultural production and in other rural areas occupied by only a few houses and businesses will need to be lost in the interests of the wider community," says Jane Burch, coast and flood adviser to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA). "Our argument has been that in such cases the losers must be properly compensated, in the way that those are who lose land to roads or other development.
"Up until now such compensation has been ruled out, but for the first time it appears that the government will at least consider it. We are delighted, it gives a glimmer of hope to coastal communities."
The good news came at a meeting of the All Party Coastal Group chaired by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb which was addressed by government minister for climate change and the environment, Ian Pearson. It followed a visit made by the minister to the north Norfolk coast in August which was organised by North Norfolk District Council.
At that time we were able to send briefing notes to Mr Ian Pearson highlighting landowners' concerns and we are delighted to say that he appears to have taken them on board. He is willing to consider these difficult issues and his visit certainly helped to focus his mind on the problems faced by our coastal communities."
The government has always stated that it will continue to defend areas of high population and economic value - but rural areas are unlikely to be defended to the same degree. The CLA has been arguing that there should be some consideration of public-private/hybrid funding schemes to help stretch the limited budget for flood and coastal defences. The minister has agreed to give this his consideration too.
"Mr Pearson has also asked for a further CLA briefing* on the funding and practicalities of managed realignment schemes, which we have sent to him," Mrs Burch reports. "Our main points are the need for suitable funding and a simplification of the processes involved. We suggest that the Higher Level Stewardship scheme could provide a suitable mechanism for compensating landowners who lose their land and livelihoods to protect the wider community from flooding and create additional habitats. Additional funds will be needed and the payments will need to be guaranteed over a longer time scale."
A copy of the letter sent to Ian Pearson is reproduced below
Mr Ian Pearson
Minister Of State
27 October 2006
MANAGED REALIGNMENT OF OUR COASTLINE – a practical approach
I was delighted to have the opportunity to listen to your views on coastal management at the recent All Party Coastal Group meeting hosted by Norman Lamb MP, and was very pleased to hear you express a willingness to consider difficult issues such as compensation, beneficiaries paying for defences, social justice and private finance. The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), looks forward to being able to engage fully in forthcoming discussions on these matters. As you know we represent farmers, landowners and land managers and a wide range of rural businesses throughout England and Wales.
You will recall that I asked you a question on the funding and practicalities of managed realignment schemes and you requested additional information on this matter. Further to your request I set out the CLA's thoughts which we would be happy to discuss with you or your officials.
Many organisations and individual landowners increasingly agree that it is not practical to expect all of our existing coastal defences to be maintained to the current standards of protection in the decades to come. There will always be limited funds, which will inevitably be used to defend (largely urban) areas of high population and economic activity – or areas with extremely valuable and immovable environmental assets. The result will be a reduction in the level of protection from the sea for many rural areas and significant tracts of agricultural land in coastal and estuarine flood plains.
There are two options that can be enacted to meet this scenario:
The first option will inevitably lead to uncontrolled flooding which can result in serious damage to environmentally valuable sites, homes, businesses or historical assets. Neither should the risk to human life be overlooked. Emergency planning to cope with these events is both expensive and complex coupled with the high environmental, economic and social costs. Sea inundation causes long-term damage – the damage to farmland viability and biodiversity at Horsey Mere, in Norfolk, resulting from the 1938 flood took 30 years to be fully reversed. Contrary to intuition, nature left to its own devices, does not always produce valuable habitats.
Abandonment of defences may seem socially unjust to those living in rural areas. They see their taxes being spent to defend urban populations whilst their assets continue to be at risk with the value blighted. It cannot be compatible with the current policy for sustainable communities.
The second option is realignment, where defences are moved inland or lengths of defence reduced or removed allowing the sea to meet natural land rise. In rare circumstances this realignment may result in reclaiming land and moving defences seaward – in order to allow the sea to gradually rise and move back landwards in the coming decades. If done in accordance with holistic plans such as Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) and Estuarine Management Plans (EMP), flooding and sea inundation can be controlled and kept where little serious damage will result and protection of valuable assets and communities afforded. It can and should also result in the creation of more valuable habitats, recreational opportunities and, hopefully, additional economic benefits. It will result in easier emergency planning. It should also be a more equitable solution – although this depends on 'compensating' those who give up their land and assets to allow realignment to take place for the greater good of the environment, economy or community.
A number of realignment schemes have been completed such as Abbots Hall and Wallasea Island in Essex and Alkborough Flats in the Humber estuary. Most have been done primarily for the purposes of habitat creation – to compensate for loss of wetland or saltmarsh habitats elsewhere – but also have a secondary, flood defence function. These sites are frequently managed by conservation bodies such as RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and Wildfowling groups, who recognise the environmental value of such schemes and have received funding to undertake this work. In addition, they have the manpower and resources to undertake the incredibly long, complicated and costly process of gaining permission to alter the coastline and change the perception of a generally sceptical local population.
If managed realignment is to be a serious proposition on a much wider scale, achieving multiple benefits of flood protection, habitat creation and alternative economic activities, three issues will have to be addressed. These are funding, administrative processes and land ownership.
Funding: Those whose land is being inundated need to be properly rewarded for their contribution to protecting other communities, assets or developing new habitats. No landowner is willingly going to give away valuable farmland on which the business depends, without some form of recompense.
The CLA suggests that the Higher Level Stewardship scheme (HLS) provides one possible mechanism for funding. Landowners are familiar with the scheme and have a reasonable level of confidence in it. However, payments will need to be adequate (in the region of £500-700/ha/annum), guaranteed over a long time scale (a minimum of 20 years is recommended) and be assessed on both the merits of flood defence and biodiversity enhancement criteria. There should also be a minimum of 75% funding for the capital works required. The issue of when land in such schemes ceases to be eligible for Single Farm Payment is one that will also need to be addressed.
However, if HLS is to perform this function, the funds need to be substantially increased from alternative funding sources such as habitat creation, flood defence, regeneration funds, or if leisure activities are included, health budgets. The present HLS budget is struggling to achieve the current PSA targets for farmland birds and SSSI enhancements which is why few coastal schemes are currently accepted into HLS.
An alternative to using HLS to fund realignment schemes is Compulsory Purchase. In the same way that when land is purchased for road schemes which benefit the wider population, land could be purchased for flood protection and habitat creation. By way of comparison, discussions are taking place with English Heritage (EH) whereby a landowner agrees a 20 year plan with EH for future maintenance of all listed properties and ancient monuments in his ownership that, once agreed, can proceed in the future without the need for further applications or consents.
Administrative processes: Before any realignment scheme takes place there needs to be a process of achieving a holistic estuary or shoreline management plan in order to identify suitable sites. This is vital to achieve the combined goals of protecting and/or enhancing people, places and business as well as gaining local acceptance.
Having completed this part of the process, the stage of gaining the consents and planning permission to actually realign defences is long, complicated and costly. Current sites of managed realignment have taken typically a minimum of 3 to 5 years to achieve.
To illustrate the process the following is a list (though not an exhaustive one) of studies that generally need to be undertaken and consents received:
· Hydrological studies to determine tidal dynamics and sedimentation to ensure the realignment will not have a negative impact elsewhere in the estuary or along the coast
· Environmental Impact Assessments to judge the effect on biodiversity, archaeology and fishing interests
· Birds/Habitats Directive consents for designated sites (many areas on coast/estuaries will fall into this category)
· Planning permission
· Moving of public rights of way
· Searching for funds
· Local consultation
Currently this is not a process that the ordinary landowner has any incentive to undertake – he is likely to be losing his assets and even with reasonable funding is unlikely to gain much in economic terms.
The CLA urges that the whole process be greatly simplified. A planning process that has a presumption in favour of realignment and a more pragmatic approach to enforcing the Habitats/Birds Directives that considers the whole coastal cell or estuary rather than individual sites which is how it is currently carried out Holland and Germany, would be a positive step to achieving this.
Ownership: To enable landowners to maximise the potential economic benefits post realignment they need to be reassured that the land, despite now being below the mean high water mark, remains in their possession. There is a presumption that land below mean high water mark generally belongs to the Crown. A discussion on how ownership is dealt following either deliberate breach or abandonment of defences would be helpful.
The CLA will continue to work alongside Defra, the Environment Agency, Natural England and other bodies to encourage landowners to become fully engaged in the debate on the future of our coasts and estuaries and to explore the practical aspects of achieving a sustainable coastline. As an example, CLA is hoping to carry out a practical project on the Essex estuaries working with landowners and farmers to further explore the practical and perceived barriers to realignment and to look for alternative economic activity in such areas. We are currently awaiting a decision on funding for this project through the EA Innovation Fund.
CLA Flood & Coastal Adviser
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