An estimated 520,000 properties are currently located in areas with a 0.5% or greater annual risk of coastal flooding, with 8,900 exposed to coastal erosion; however, this is projected to increase to 1.5 million properties and 100,000 properties respectively, by the 2080s under future climate scenarios (CCC, 2018). Indeed, there is a strong scientific consensus that the UK will need to adapt to at least 1m of sea-level rise at some point in the future, with sea levels projected to rise under all future scenarios up to 2300 (EA/Met Office, 2019). Thus, flooding and coastal change risks to communities, business and infrastructure continue to be identified as a top priority in the National Adaptation Programme (Defra, 2018).
Governance is notably complex in England, with responsibilities distributed across a range of actors operating at national, sub-national and local scales and spanning multiple policy areas. Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) is pivotal. Policy direction is set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and delivered through the Environment Agency’s National FCERM Strategy for England (EA, 2020). Operational responsibilities are distributed across Risk Management Authorities (RMAs) and Coast Protection Authorities. Crucially, because there are no statutory rights to protection from coastal hazards in the UK, these authorities generally exercise permissive powers. Preferred management policies for the coast are outlined in non-statutory Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) for different timescales (0-20 years, 20-50 years, 50 -100 years) to take account of projected sea-level rise; these policies include No Active Intervention, Managed Realignment, Hold The Line or Advance The Line (i.e. of existing defence assets). The SMPs are overseen by Coastal Groups, comprised of representatives from the Local Authority, Environment Agency, Natural England, as well as other bodies with coastal responsibilities or a vested interest.
There is a strong commitment to adapting to climate change, which is underscored in the National FCERM Strategy – ‘A national ready for, and resilient to, flooding and coastal change – today, tomorrow and to the year 2100’ (EA, 2020). However, despite strong policy assertions and aspirations, adaptation continues to be constrained in certain areas of the problem domain, leading to the damming conclusion from the Committee on Climate Change that ‘the current approach to coastal management in England is unsustainable in the face of climate change’ (CCC, 2018: 9).