Dredging, Defence, the Dutch and UK Dithering

The North Norfolk News of 5th December ’08 carries the following article telling of the lessons learned from a fact finding mission to The Netherlands comparing the Dutch restrictions on offshore aggregate dredging and protection from coastal erosion to those of Britain.

‘Go Dutch’ seen as coastal erosion answer

Coastal campaigners are urging officials to “go Dutch” and take a more positive attitude towards sea defences and compensation.
The call comes after a high-powered delegation went to the Netherlands to see how the low-lying neighbour across the North Sea tackles the problems shared with parts of the north Norfolk coast.

Local MP Norman Lamb, who chairs the all party parliamentary group on coastal and marine issues, said there was “a compelling logic” to applying the Dutch approach to the UK. And Coastal Concern Action Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby described the trip to Holland as “mind blowing”. After an “illuminating and fascinating” meeting with government officials and scientists, Mr Lamb said the key differences were:

  • The attitude to rising sea levels was one of working out how to deal with the situation rather than backing away from it. Mr Lamb added: “I asked them about a possible one metre rise in sea levels. They said ‘we think we can maintain our defences to deal with that’.”
  • The standard of sea defences was much higher in Holland. While London was theoretically protected to withstand a one-in-1,000-year event, Dutch rural areas have a one-in-1,250-year event protection, while the urban areas rose to one in 10,000 years.
  • Compensation for the loss of Dutch homes to the sea or as a result of projects designed to improve defences was automatic and rested not on an assumed responsibility to home and business owners rather than legislation.
  • The Dutch ban dredging in waters shallower than 20 metres and take a longer term view of the potential impact on erosion rates than the UK government does. The Dutch experts agreed the UK should create a more robust system of assessing dredging licences, as well as conducting more research into the impacts.

Mr Lamb said: “It was so stark how different the mindset is. One can understand how the approach has come to be different. A substantial amount of their population and economic engine is below sea level and their history has been dominated by the subject of land reclamation. But whatever the different culture and history, the overarching point is that the way they treat people in their communities is completely different and there are massive lessons to be learned from that.”

Campaigners are battling against emerging government-led policies to resist sea defence funding in favour of evolving a more natural coastline, a reluctance to value the loss of properties and community, and failure to provide “social justice” through compensation. They have been heartened recently by a more positive approach to both defence and compensation from Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency which controls the nation’s coastline.

But Mr Kerby said getting the Dutch view at first hand had been “mind blowing”. He added: “They looked at us quizzically when we asked about what legislation they base their compensation scheme on. It’s simply de rigueur, the right thing to do. There is no need to resort to law. There is a tangible feeling of positivity over there, it’s poles apart from this country. The difference is staggering.”

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