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The IMCORE project ran from 2008 to 2011 and was funded under the EU Interreg IVB programme.

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Practical tips for following the IMCORE approach to planning to adapt to coastal climate change 

The East of England coast comprises the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Settlements are a mix of seaside resort towns, other coastal towns built on traditional industries such as fishing and port activity, and inland settlements. The principle towns of the region are either inland or at the head of estuaries. Southend-on-Sea is an exception, being the largest settlement in the region and a seaside resort at the mouth of the Thames Estuary.

Study Area

The coastline of the whole region is comprised of soft sediments, making it vulnerable to erosion. In Norfolk and Suffolk there is a mix of cliffs and low-lying coastal habitats (open coast dune, shingle-ridge systems and estuary-based salt marshes). In Essex, the same applies but with fewer cliffs.

Sea level rise and increased storminess due to climate change threaten increased rates of cliff and foreshore (beaches, saltmarshes and mudflats) erosion, and increased risk of flooding in low-lying areas, which are extensive. The costs of protection are high and will rise over time as greater levels of protection are necessary. This puts the viability of some settlements into question, and limits options for development of key regeneration areas.

The principle coastal settlements of Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Clacton-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea all experience poorer than average economic performance and higher than average dependence on welfare state benefits. Smaller towns exhibit similar characteristics although there are a few notable exceptions (such as Southwold, Suffolk).

Suffolk

 

The coast is the location for critical economic infrastructure in the region:

• ports of Kings Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Felixtowe/Harwich, Port of London;

• gas terminal, Scroby and Gunfleet Sands nearshore wind turbines;

• high grade agricultural land, and

• the seaside towns which remain important for tourism in the region.

Much of the coast is protected for its landscape quality, wildlife habitats and species, or geological interest. This is both an asset for tourism and leisure but also a constraint on development and adaptation.

What this collection of characteristics highlights is that the coast faces a distinctive set of interrelated issues – environmental, social and economic. It also highlights the need for a multi-agency approach to the coast, and the importance of action at national, strategic and local levels

Drivers of climate change

The principle climate drivers for adaptation in the East of England are:

• increased storminess, and

• sea level rise.

More-intense rainfall events may also be of concern in coastal areas when coincident with high tides in which case the fluvial runoff has nowhere to which to drain.

More detailed information can be found here.

The East of England coast is an environment which is particularly vulnerable to flooding, erosion and long-term inundation from the sea, reflecting a mainly low-lying nature, soft sedimentary rocks and the gradual sinking of the land mass. These processes have been occurring for thousands of years - but threaten to accelerate as climate change leads to rising sea levels. The consequences need to be considered for the places potentially at risk – along both the built and undeveloped coast.

A significant number of coastal communities will have to adapt to physical change over the next 50 years - and some are having to do so already:

  • A range of places face erosion, inundation and coastal defence issues
  • Different types of community are at risk and responses need appropriate tailoring – from community engagement to emergency planning to adaptation measures to spatial planning
  • The nature of change is rapid & dramatic in some locations.

 

Impacts of climate change

The principle impacts are:

• Increasing costs of sea defences due to the higher standards necessary to mitigate increased risks from sea level rise and increased storminess

• Increasing risk to life and property from sea flooding events

• Constraints to economic growth (and consequent persistent social deprivation) through increased risks (flooding/erosion) to development areas

• Continued and increased rate of intertidal habitat loss through foreshore erosion.

Consequences

Threats: As well as settlements (and their defences) being at increasing risk, a number of important habitats are particularly vulnerable to change. Thus hundreds of hectares of salt-marsh have been lost to coastal squeeze over the last few decades on the East Anglian Coast and this loss of salt-marsh increases the cost of maintaining sea defences.

Opportunities: But coastal change also offers opportunities:

  • Allowing coastal change reduces pressures from coastal squeeze and allows space for coastal habitats to be re-created
  • Freshwater habitats are threatened by coastal change causing flooding, erosion or saline intrusion from tidal waters. Such habitats can be recreated in less threatened areas, eg in fluvial floodplains, as a way of managing our response to coastal change.
  • And these new habitats can provide new ecosystem services.

 

New funding mechanisms for sea defences: Significant investment has been made in coastal defences in recent years; however this would need to double over the next 25 years to keep pace with the anticipated effects of climate change. The pressure on public finances means that this may not be affordable from the public purse– and will also limit the money available for publicly-funded regeneration. Thus:
  • Government is adopting an approach in which beneficiaries contribute to costs
  • This underlines the need for innovative approaches to managing and funding coast infrastructure, drawing on local initiative and ideas
  • Planning and consenting processes designed for large projects will need to be streamlined and tailored for smaller local projects
  • The need to recognise and respond to the challenges facing the coast – including the requirement for physical adaptation – and the possibilities opened up by local approaches means that local communities need to be actively involved in considering and shaping their futures.

 

Stakeholder perceptions

Government and its agencies have been working for some years to improve awareness regarding the need to 'work with natural processes' in managing sedimentary coastlines. Thus there is a high level of awareness regarding sea level rise, and it is broadly accepted as a trend, whether or not it can be attributed to climate change.

Against this background the climate change message and the need to adapt has been relatively easy to put across. Whilst there are some vocal doubters, most of the controversy has been with regard to the adaptation responses rather than the reality or otherwise of climate change.

 

ICZM

Many organizations have coastal responsibilities of one sort or another. At the strategic level the principle bodies at the time of this work, and their relevant roles, were:

• Government Office in the region, taking a strategic coordinating role for many strands of policy

• East of England Regional Assembly: Setting regional spatial policy

• East of England Regional Development Agency: Setting regional economic policy

Environment Agency: Strategic overview of fluvial and coastal flood defences and erosion protection works, operating authority for coastal flood protection (maintenance and capital works)

Natural England: statutory advisor on nature conservation, including site designation for nature conservation and landscape protection.

The first three of these institutions have now been disbanded, by the new coalition government in the UK. Thus, in the last year of the project attention turned to the search for a 'legacy institution' to take forward this work.

New institutions have also been introduced in response to new legislation, principally the Regional Flood and Coastal Committees.

The East Anglian Coastal Group is a voluntary forum of representatives from coastal local authorities, established to support and coordinate implementation of shoreline management plans (SMPs) in the region.

At the local level are a range of additional authorities:

• County Councils and Unitary Authorities: being responsible for highways and public rights of way

• District Councils and Unitary Authorities: Setting local planning policy and issuing development permissions; construction and maintenance of erosion prevention works

• Port Authorities: roles vary, but generally have certain development powers and powers to maintain and extend navigation channels.

Additionally some central government departments and agencies have specific roles:

• Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC): powers to regulate energy installations on land and at sea

• Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS): powers to allow telecommunications works (eg undersea cables)

• Department for Transport (DfT): Powers to issue consents for certain port and highway developments, e.g large dredging operations, significant road and rail bridges

Highways Agency: budgets and powers for major road schemes

Marine Management Organisation: powers to consent works at sea

• Homes and Communities Agency (HCA): investing in regeneration through the provision of homes

The case study has focused on spatial policy, implemented through the Regional Spatial Strategy and Local Development Frameworks. Given the scale of the case study area, the diversity of issues and the complexity of institutional arrangements there are a great many relevant background documents:

• New reports have been commissioned that have reconfirmed the need for some policy change. Click the link here to view them.

• This has led to new policy initiatives from central government to support adaptation.

• However, conflicts still remain – the need to make difficult decisions is recognized but whilst there are some new policy tools to help it remains the case that the adaptation process is not well elaborated and is under-resourced.

This learning portal brings together the results and lessons learned from the IMCORE project. This project was funded under the Interreg IVB programme from 2008 to 2011.

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