Ministers face Labour grilling over delays to erosion timetable

MINISTERS are to be questioned over their failure to establish a national policy on coastal erosion, nearly three years after consultations ended.

Councils, academics, businesses, and community groups submitted more than 100 responses to a 2009 survey on a draft coastal change policy, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that it has still not set a timetable for the formation of a national policy.

The vacuum, which has left vulnerable communities exposed and local authorities unable to make long-term plans to manage the threat, is now glaring after the Yorkshire Post revealed a Government-funded scheme to protect some of the most vulnerable was in disarray, with millions of pounds unspent and a risk that up to 20 per cent of the £11m budget could be lost.

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Now frontbench Labour MPs are to table a series questions on the issue when Parliament returns to work next Monday.

A Party source said: “The Labour Defra team will be asking a series of Parliamentary questions designed to hold Ministers to account and get some clarity for communities on what the plans are to manage coastal erosion.”

Shadow Environment Secretary and Wakefield Labour MP Mary Creagh added: “Labour gave 15 coastal communities £11m in 2009 to carry out a Pathfinder programme and issued guidance for local authorities on adapting to coastal change. Those pathfinders are now complete and the lessons learned need to be shared. The threat of coastal erosion in Yorkshire is ongoing, and communities need certainty from Government to manage the challenge with fairness and transparency.”

East Riding Council, which was given £1.2m under the Coastal Change Pathfinder programme, has said it will continue to lobby Ministers for an ongoing national coastal change fund.

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The council’s own review of the programme highlighted a “lack of legislation” to support coastal erosion work, and said: “The council will continue to lobby Defra and the Government to highlight the issues that the evaluation process has identified and also to address the wider issues of coastal erosion risk management in severely affected areas, and also the long-term funding of such work.”

Councillor Jane Evison, portfolio holder for economic development, tourism and rural issues, said: “A national policy would obviously help our efforts in the East Riding and I’ll be talking to both Greg Knight and Graham Stuart as our local MPs who represent the affected coastal communities.

“Each area affected by erosion is probably planning in slightly different ways and what would certainly help us would be a process whereby we can apply for funding and put forward a case for consideration under a national scheme.”

However, Coun Evison acknowledged that policy formation in the area was difficult, saying that a “one size fits all” approach would not be the right one.

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The view is shared by colleagues at Scarborough Council, which has only spent a fraction of the £1.02m Pathfinder grant it received after failing to agree a new location for 15 under-threat residents at Knipe Point.

Stewart Rowe, principal coastal officer at Scarborough, said: “This Pathfinder project continues to be a unique attempt at assisting homeowners at risk of total loss of property adapt to coastal change. As a blueprint for national policy, it must be said that all homeowners are individual and reaching agreements based on personal preference and in what are understandably very difficult circumstances is always going to be a highly emotional and difficult process. The council and Defra have learnt lessons, both positive and negative, from this Pathfinder project.”