Coastal com­mu­ni­ties face big chal­lenges from cli­mate change

Fu­ture-proof­ing re­quires ac­tion now, write Gerd Mas­selink and Tom Spencer

Western Morning News - - News - Gerd Mas­selink is Pro­fes­sor of Coastal Geo­mor­phol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth, and Tom Spencer is Pro­fes­sor of Coastal Dy­nam­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge

Last month, a stark re­port sug­gested that cur­rent meth­ods used to pro­tect Eng­land’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties are ‘not fit for pur­pose’.

The Com­mit­tee on Cli­mate Change’s Man­ag­ing the Coast in a Chang­ing Cli­mate re­port showed that be­tween 2005 and 2014, over 15,000 new build­ings were built in coastal ar­eas at sig­nif­i­cant risk of coastal flood­ing and/or ero­sion.

How­ever, if the govern­ment meets its am­bi­tious tar­gets, up to 90,000 homes built in the next five years might be in ar­eas of sig­nif­i­cant an­nual flood risk from all sources, in­clud­ing coastal flood­ing.

Prac­ti­cally ev­ery win­ter we are re­minded of how dy­namic our coast­line is. And many of us see at very close quar­ters how vul­ner­a­ble many com­mu­ni­ties in the UK are to coastal flood­ing and ero­sion.

But by the time sum­mer ar­rives, the need for a wide and deep de­bate as to how we deal with ris­ing sea lev­els and po­ten­tial fu­ture in­creases in mar­i­time stormi­ness around the UK coast­line evap­o­rates.

Our ap­proach to coastal man­age­ment is­sues is to re­act to fail­ures of coastal de­fences, ei­ther nat­u­ral or man-made, rather than proac­tively work­ing to­wards fu­ture­proof­ing our coast­line.

Much of the UK coast­line is al­ready erod­ing, as tes­ti­fied by the dom­i­nance of coastal cliff scenery. But coastal ero­sion and flood­ing, and con­se­quent dam­age to in­fra­struc­ture, dis­rup­tion of ser­vices and mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the coastal land­scape will be­come more com­mon over the next cen­tury due to cli­mate change.

Specif­i­cally, ris­ing sea lev­els will in­crease the prob­a­bil­ity of ex­treme coastal wa­ter lev­els and this could be ex­ac­er­bated by po­ten­tially larger and more fre­quent ex­treme waves due to changes to the wave cli­mate.

At the same time, our coastal zone is far from nat­u­ral with nu­mer­ous cliff top prop­er­ties and ex­ten­sive de­vel­op­ment at the back of beaches, on top of dunes and in low-ly­ing coastal val­leys. Coastal com­mu­ni­ties are fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant fu­ture chal­lenges.

Much ex­ist­ing coastal de­vel­op­ment took place when our un­der­stand­ing of coastal dy­nam­ics was lim­ited and when cli­mate change, and its con­se­quences for the coast, was not yet a re­al­ity.

That de­vel­op­ment is al­ready un­der threat, and the scale of the threat will only in­crease. Deal­ing with this is­sue re­quires a bal­anced con­sid­er­a­tion of the var­i­ous adap­ta­tion strate­gies, rang­ing from ‘hard’ coastal pro­tec­tion such as sea walls, to more sus­tain­able so­lu­tions such as sup­ple­ment­ing the amount of sand and gravel on our beaches, and man­aged re­align­ment.

There will al­ways be lo­ca­tions where only hard coastal de­fences will do.

But if we wish to avoid pil­ing ever-in­creas­ing costs – fi­nan­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal – on fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, we need a more so­phis­ti­cated, in­te­grated dis­cus­sion of zon­ing (to avoid build­ing in high-risk zones).

It may be stat­ing the ob­vi­ous, but a rel­a­tively easy win is to avoid more de­vel­op­ment in the dy­namic coastal zone, un­less it is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial.

The con­cept of Coastal Change Man­age­ment Ar­eas (CCMAs) can play a key role here. The Na­tional Plan­ning Pol­icy Frame­work (NPPF) re­quires coun­cils to iden­tify CCMAs where rates of shore­line change are ex­pected to be sig­nif­i­cant over the next 100 years, tak­ing ac­count of cli­mate change.

The first lo­cal plan to make use of CCMAs to in­form coastal plan­ning is in Corn­wall, where the Newquay Neigh­bour­hood Plan (NNP) is cur­rently un­der con­sul­ta­tion. The NNP rec­om­mends that pro­pos­als for de­vel­op­ment in CCMAs should only be sup­ported where they are for “small, tem­po­rary struc­tures that will not add to the ero­sion risk”, and rules out res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment.

Pro­pos­als for re­de­vel­op­ment, en­large­ment or ex­ten­sion of ex­ist­ing build­ings that fall within the ex­clu­sion zone, and pro­pos­als to change the use of ex­ist­ing build­ings into res­i­den­tial us­age, will not be sup­ported.

In the NNP, the land­ward limit of CCMAs rep­re­sents the es­ti­mated 100-year ero­sion line with an ad­di­tional buf­fer of 10 me­tres. An­other 2m buf­fer zone is added if the coastal path is lo­cated within the CCMA.

Con­tin­ued in­vest­ment into the coastal zone will re­duce the nat­u­ral ca­pa­bil­ity of the coast to re­spond to haz­ards, while pass­ing the fi­nan­cial bur­den of pro­tect­ing such coastal de­vel­op­ment onto fu­ture gen­er­a­tion.

In or­der to fu­ture proof our dy­namic coast, we need to im­ple­ment an ap­pro­pri­ate buf­fer zone to in­form coastal plan­ning de­ci­sions, and th­ese buf­fer zones will need to be site-spe­cific and sci­ence­based.

They would also re­quire reg­u­lar up­dat­ing in light of new data, un­der­stand­ing and pre­dic­tions of cli­mate change and its con­se­quences.

The Com­mit­tee on Cli­mate Change’s re­port has demon­strated the scale of fu­ture po­ten­tial prob­lems, and our own re­search heav­ily sup­ports their find­ings.

By im­ple­ment­ing a CCMAin­formed pol­icy that is con­sis­tent on a na­tional scale, po­ten­tially with the pol­icy out­lined in the NNP as a blue­print, we can bet­ter pro­tect our coast­lines now and for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.