The Dutch, DEFRA and the Dreaded Dredging

For years public meetings discussing the issues of coastal erosion, saline flooding and offshore aggregate dredging have attracted regular comments along the lines of “the Dutch would never do it like this”. But until this week few people have taken the time and effort to visit Holland, speak to the relevant experts and assess the realities.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who chairs the all party parliamentary group on coastal and marine issues, leading Norfolk coastal campaigner Malcolm Kerby and Graham Stuart, a Yorkshire MP who sits as Mr Lamb’s Conservative vice chairman on the same parliamentary group, did just that. The results of meetings with government and scientific experts were “illuminating and fascinating”, Mr Lamb said yesterday, and opened up a whole new side to the long running debate.

“It was so stark how different the mindset is,” he added. 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.”

The key differences were:

  • 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.
  • The standard of sea defences is much higher in Holland. While London is 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 rise to a one in 10,000 year event protection. And this latter figure could rise tenfold.
  • The attitude to rising sea levels is one of working out how to deal with the situation rather than backing away from it. Mr Lamb said: “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’.”
  • Compensation for the loss of Dutch homes to the sea or as a result of projects designed to improve defences is automatic and rests not on legislation but on an assumed responsibility to home and business owners.

“There is a compelling logic to applying the Dutch approach to the UK,” said Mr Lamb. Mr Kerby said it had been “mind blowing” to get the Dutch view first hand. “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.”

Gerry Tucker of the Scratby Coastal Erosion Group took this news item from the original that appeared in the pages of the Yarmouth Mercury on 1st December, 2008.

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