It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair on securing this important debate and highlighting the risk to all our coastal communities.
Many of my constituents are lucky enough to live by the sea, with beautiful views and a vibrant tourism economy. The Chichester constituency is home to some of the UK’s most beautiful beaches and diverse marine ecosystems, but with those privileges comes a great deal of risk. Coastal erosion and flooding are a constant threat to many areas. Over the past century, we have observed a global mean sea level rise of 20 cm and that trend is set to continue over the coming years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To contextualise that, just a 50 cm rise in local sea levels would make 200 km of our current defences vulnerable to failure. Under the IPCC’s modelling, that is within the range of likely outcomes by the end of this century.
In my area, Chichester District Council is doing well to tackle the symptoms, if not the cause. It maintains the majority of the populated open coastline that stretches from Emsworth to Pagham. The council has shoreline management plans in place for each stretch of its coastline. Its work is highly collaborative and transparent, and by working with local stakeholders and the Environment Agency, it ensures that its work benefits the area’s economy, community and ecosystems.
Henry Bellingham MP, North West Norfolk
My local council has similar policies in place, but there is a real problem coming down the track with the disappearance of the revenue support grant. When that goes, there will surely have to be some form of top-slicing or maybe a ring-fenced precept for local authorities such as my hon. Friend’s and mine.
I agree. My local authority is very concerned by negative RSG, not just the disappearance of RSG. Negative RSG would mean having to pay more to support other areas.
The council’s collaborative work has achieved high levels of third-party investment and led to better coastal protection. My hon. Friend is right that we need to properly fund our coastal areas. At East Head and at Pagham harbour, coastal advisory groups run the UK’s only two active management sites. Both sites have a highly dynamic coastline, so predicting erosive and flood patterns can be very challenging. Active management involves long-term monitoring and observation to ensure interventions are effective and in tune with the natural processes.
The regional coastal monitoring programme, based in Southampton, is key to that process, providing data on waves, tides and the changing nature of the coastline. Armed with that data, the group can make decisions on interventions such as replacing or removing failing structures or replenishing beach sediments. Such is the success of the programme that natural changes at Pagham since 2016 have removed the threat to residents in the short term and introduced an intertidal wetland habitat that is now a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve.
The council receives a grant of £250,000 a year. That funding allows it to protect people, business and habitats. Over recent years, the Environment Agency has invested a further £30 million as part of its flood and coastal erosion risk management at Medmerry, where the UK’s first managed realignment site is ongoing. West Wittering, where erosive processes are mitigated to maintain the beach, attracted around 800,000 visitors last year, driving the local economy and simultaneously helping protect the internationally important saltmarsh environment sheltered by East Head spit.
There is still significant concern in my area, however. In the long term, the council has warned that highly populated areas such as Selsey, Bracklesham and East Wittering will eventually require significant investment.
Bob Stewart, Beckenham
I know West Wittering; it is a fabulous beach. Knowing it quite well, I wonder how the heck it and the saltmarshes can be protected. The area is so big, and the whole of my hon. Friend’s constituency is quite low lying. With rising sea levels, I do not see how we can do much about it.
That is the point of the debate; we have to do something about it, because no one would want to see the disappearance of such an important stretch of coastline or the nature reserves we have in the area. My hon. Friend is right that we have to focus on low-lying areas, but protecting the Chichester constituency coastline and the south coast will be increasingly important.
As an area, we must continue to invest in our coastal infrastructure. We look forward to the larger investment that will be required alongside our innovative approaches, such as managed realignment and active management. It is true that we cannot do it alone. We require further investment from the Department.