Mixed fortunes in the shifting sands of fund to tackle erosion

Eroding cliffs at Skipsea where the coastal road to Ulrome has now vanished completely.
Eroding cliffs at Skipsea where the coastal road to Ulrome has now vanished completely.
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THE Coastal Change Pathfinder programme was launched in 2009 and was intended to “road test new and innovative approaches” to managing and planning for coastal change.

Almost £11m was shared between 15 councils, with two Yorkshire authorities, East Riding and Scarborough, being among the five biggest beneficiaries which each received more than £1m.

But although the programme was supposed to run between December 2009 and March 2011, it is now well into its third year and only £6.76m has been spent, with the remainder accruing interest in council bank accounts and the real possibility that almost 20 per cent of the entire budget may never be spent on coastal erosion at all.

And with the North Sea making its inexorable progress inland – with often dramatic and perilous consequences, as this picture between Skipsea and Ulrome on the Holderness coast shows – there are calls for council chiefs to refocus minds on the task in hand, whatever other budgetry pressures they face.

In its own report on its delivery of the Pathfinder, East Riding Council said there is “a real risk to life associated with living close to the cliff edge”.

There has been mixed feedback on the impact of the programme so far.

Because of difficulties agreeing where the 15 households at the under-threat Knipe Point in Scarborough should go, the authority has spent just £16,900 of the £1.02m it received, with this going on “project management”. It also predicts a total underspend of about £250,000 should the project be completed, with the future of this money uncertain.

Beverley and Holderness Tory MP Graham Stuart the East Riding could make good use of any unspent money in Scarborough, but the governance of the Pathfinder made this unlikely.

“It seems the rules by which this money was given by the previous Government didn’t allow claw-back and frustrating though it is, on the face of it there are no mechanisms other than a pang of conscience at Scarborough Council that could lead to it being reallocated,” he said.

“I think hopes of getting it reallocated from Scarborough to the East Riding seem slim in the extreme unless there’s some aspect to the affair or the rules that we don’t know about.”

A review of the Scarborough Pathfinder on behalf of the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs, said it has succeeded in raising awareness of the risks associated with buying coastal properties, but the difficulties in finding and securing an alternative site have led to an “extremely strained” relationship between the council and residents.

East Riding Council, by contrast, despite having spent only 40 per cent so far, has allocated all its funds to coastal erosion projects and has helped 35 of its most at-risk households, with 11 moving into council accommodation, two possibly into private accommodation, and 17 receiving basic support for demolition and site restoration. A total of 43 structures, including temporary buildings and caravans, have been removed.

However, the East Riding’s review warns that residents’ expectations have been “significantly raised” by the project, and that more funding will be required to meet them.

The council is continuing to seek further funding and also wants to extend the scheme to help businesses at risk.

Coun Jane Evison, portfolio holder for economic development, tourism and rural issues, said: “Everybody that’s in imminent risk in the next 25 years has been approached and we continue to speak to them and those that wanted help in whatever way have been given it.

“What I would like to do now is think about extending the work we have done so far in using that model to think about what people in business need.

“We have spent it extremely well but we have businesses, and an awful lot of our economy in the tourism sector relies on businesses built up along the coast. This isn’t just about big business; there are an awful lot of small businesses that rely on tourism. There are caravan sites, cafés, fish and chip shops and we certainly don’t have any funding for that. Because we rely so heavily on tourism, we would like the process and model that we have used for homes to be used towards businesses.”

She added: “I think the most important thing was people and their homes, that had to be the first consideration, but now we’ve spoken to everybody at imminent risk I think there’s now room to think about the businesses that are at risk because they offer employment to so many people that live around here.”