Maintenance of Uneconomic Sea Flood Defences: A Way Forward

On 1 April 2004 Sarah Nason, sometime head of flood management at DEFRA, issued a letter and paper with the title Maintenance of Uneconomic Sea Flood Defences: A Way Forward.

Basically the way forward was not to maintain the flood defences!

Sarah’s policy paper was agreed with EA (Environment Agency) and incorporated into EA’s Shoreline Management Plan2 (SMP2) which details how EA plans to defend the coast for the next 100 years. Curiously EA plans to defend the coastline by knocking down sea walls, which they call “managed realignment” presumably as the earlier name “managed retreat” sounded a bit negative.

Sarah’s paper focuses particularly upon Essex where

the combination of rising sea levels and foreshore erosion threatens the sustainability of defences and gives rise to to loss of intertidal habitat, together with many uneconomic seawalls mean that action is urgently required”

9 years after Sarah’s paper things look a little different.

EA have published a saltmarsh survey which shows saltmarsh has been growing back (or more likely there was never as much lost as previously claimed – most likely due to inaccurate measurements).

DEFRA issued guidelines for future sea level rise in 2006, only to revise these rates downwards in 2009 by nearly 50%.  Even the 2009 rates are higher than observations as I have discussed at length here.

EA have repeatedly stated rates of sea level rise increased to 3mm/year since 1993 (curiously when satellites that measured sea level were launched).  If this was ever true it has not been true since 2002 as I discuss here.

Sarah’s paper is remarkable for many reasons some of which are

  • There are no numbers in it, no costs
  • There is no discussion or justification of what is uneconomic, we are not told the criteria for deciding.  Apparently the decision as at the sole discretion of DEFRA/EA.
  • According to para 20 there is no legal requirement to provide flood defences.  Mighty convenient for EA whose role is, errrr, flood defence!

Tendring is the northeastern part of Essex and has a significant amount of the total Essex coastline.

Since 2001 DEFRA/EA have refused to fund renewal of the groynes and sea wall at Clacton and Holland-on-Sea.  As a result it is generally agreed if nothing is done within a few years the seawall, and then the cliffs and then the road and houses at the top of the cliffs will fall into the sea.  This is explicitly set out in March 2013 TDC report.

Despite refusing to fund renewal of sea wall and groynes at Clacton and Holland, EA/DEFRA have spent the best part of £10million on emergency repairs to the sea wall. This repesents about 1/2 the amount needed for a proper repair.  In addition EA spent the best part of £1million on a scheme to knock a hole in sea wall in Kirby-le-Soken only to abandon the scheme due to local opposition.

Apparently this scheme was to create saltmarsh, that’s the stuff EA’s own survey had found was growing back anyway.

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you EA are spending taxpayers money, your money.

There have been several reports in local press over TDC’s plan to renew groynes and seawall so they last for the next 100 years.

And the money, or most of it, will come from EA.


It is hard not to draw the conclusion EA/DEFRA have decided that the seawall at Clacton and Holland is “uneconomic” and so should not be repaired.

Perhaps all the sea walls around the UK are uneconomic which means no money need be spent on maintaining sea walls ever again. Especially once all UK has sunk beneath the waves.


So Sarah, how did you decided that many of the sea defences in Essex were uneconomic?

Oh by the way, the foreshore erosion you mentioned, that’s the result of not having properly designed, constructed and maintained groynes.  In other words, the erosion of the beaches are due to deliberate neglect by those agencies responsible for preventing it.

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