Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group Lead Officer and Head of Coastal Management – Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils
The Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) is a group of more than 60 English Coastal Local Authorities working together representing a population of over 13 million people. The SIG is dedicated to helping Local authorities to practically manage the demands made on them and maintain a seat at the top table when decisions are made.
For nearly 2 decades the SIG has pooled expertise and developed a common vision for the coast of England:
- A sustainable and thriving coast – within a healthy functioning natural environment where cultural heritage and economic activity is enhanced
- A vibrant coast – for viable and healthy communities, where social exclusion and poverty are tackled and citizens have freedom of choice in the way they live
- A dynamic coast – where human activity and development work in harmony with natural processes; risks are managed by planning
- A democratic and informed coast – where local people understand the issues and have a strong voice
Local authorities are in a unique position as the principal organisation involved in coastal management with a true democratic mandate. Around our coast there are different structures of local authority. They are unitary i.e. one local authority (such as Cornwall) have all functions or 2 tier such as Norfolk where the County Council is the Lead Local Flood Authority and has responsibilities under the Water Management Act 2010, and in addition the Unitary, District or Borough Councils have responsibilities under the 1949 Coast Protection Act. In addition there are also 6 National Parks with a coastal edge. Add to this the fragmented nature of coastline responsibilities in particular Environment Agency and private ownership, it isn’t difficult to be confused as to who has responsibility for what in Flood and Coast Erosion Risk Management (FCERM). Unitary Authorities / Districts and Boroughs have lead responsibility for disaster recovery many of the SIG members found particularly challenging last winter.
The perfect storm of reducing local authority budgets and resources including local expertise, impacts from climate change, existing defences built in the Victorian era or even after the 1953 surge reaching the end of their practical life, competitive and incomplete funding together with rapidly aging coastal population and rising public expectations are challenging the local authority coastal management teams around the country.
So how are local authorities tackling this?
- Raise the profile of coastal communities and the issues they face
- We have to simplify what we do and focus where we bring real value
- Build resilient teams, develop processes and policies
- Realise wider benefits not just coast defence – make the case
- Become experts in funding
- Intelligent client
- Work in Partnership and take an integrated approach
- Retain focus on delivery and contact with our communities and demonstrate value for money
In short local authorities have to be diplomats, leaders, supporters, approvers, fixers …..
The LGA Coastal SIG aims to:
- Support coastal councils in delivering sustainable development for England’s coast
- Strengthen capacity of coastal councils to deliver coastal management
- Promote awareness of the role of local government on the coast
The SIG has updated its agenda for England’s coast in the revised ‘On the Edge – a coastal strategy’ for local authorities
In addition the SIG has produced 13 position statements ranging from Marine Protected Areas, Minerals and Dredging and Coastal Adaptation highlighting area of specific concern / interest.
Local government is most efficient, transparent and trusted part of the public sector when it comes to decisions over local services, 79% of people trust local councils to make decisions about the future of local services. Public trust in central government to take decisions over local services is just 11% (IpsosMORI 2013)
The importance of this work is demonstrable with a few statistics:
- Total length of England’s coastline is 10,077km (6,260 miles)
- 44% of England (and Wales) coast is defended
- Coastal erosion is an issue on 30% of coastline
- 75% (by value) of all imports and exports are handled by ports directly employing 700,000 people
- 3,000 registered fishing vessels
- Seaside tourism values at £17bn p.a.
- 31% all tourism is at the seaside inc 11% p.a. for overseas visitors
- Over 50% of grade 1 agricultural land is within the coastal plain
- 40% manufacturing industry is on near the coast
- 31% of coast is occupied by buildings / infrastructure
- >33% of England’s coastline is designated for scenic or natural beauty
- Saltmarsh sequestrates CO2 valued at £11.93m/year
- All but one local authority with the largest % of over-65’s is located on the coast
When thinking about how we manage our highly valuable coast the 114 local authorities are clearly a central player with a democratic mandate. Whilst each authority may take a different local approach they do have statutory powers and responsibilities. They are however under severe financial pressure but are adapting to a new environment. This demands innovation and provides opportunities for other organisations who want to be part of the future of coastal management.
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