Shoreline Management Plans

Past development

In the past, development on the coast took place with less knowledge of natural processes and the risks associated with such development than we have available to us today.

The natural process of erosion and accretion was sometimes modified in a less than optimum way. This has left us with a complex and difficult legacy to manage in places, presenting challenges in terms of sustainability, especially in the light of potential future climate change and sea level rise.

Challenges we face

In the longer term climate change and sea level rise (PDF) pose significant challenges. The Government spends large sums each year managing the risk from coastal flooding and erosion. Given the tremendous diversity of coastal formations, there can be no uniform approach in all locations. Coastlines recede or advance with changes in current, wind and tide and it would be unrealistic to expect to maintain the coastline in all places as it is now.

The operating authorities responsible must look at the range of options and avoid burdening future generations with the cost of maintaining unsustainable defences. We have to develop responses that are appropriate to the area at risk and wherever possible achieve sustainability through working with, rather than against, coastal processes.

In 2004 the Office of Science and Technology published its Foresight Future Flooding report, which took a long-term view of national flooding and coastal erosion risks to 2100. Foresight estimated that there were £130 billion of assets (homes, businesses etc) at risk of coastal flooding and also at least £10 billion of assets at risk of coastal erosion.

The study predicted that future climate change could lead to potentially significant increases in future risk by the end of this century with annual losses due to flooding increasing to between 2 and 20 times current values and coastal erosion annual losses rising by 3-8 times. Of course, actual changes in risk will be highly dependent on patterns of growth and new development (which both affect the value of damages from flooding and erosion) and future flood and coastal erosion risk management activity.

Shoreline management plans (SMPs)

In the last 10 years we have made significant progress in understanding and mapping coastal processes through the first generation of SMPs which cover the 6000 kilometres of coast in England and Wales. SMPs provide a large-scale assessment of the risks associated with coastal processes and present a long term policy framework to reduce these risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment in a sustainable manner.

An SMP is a high level document that forms an important element of the strategy for flood and coastal erosion risk management. Coastal groups, made up primarily of coastal district authorities and other bodies with coastal defence responsibilities, provide a forum for discussion and co-operation and play an important part in the development of SMPs for their area.

Many operating authorities have adopted the recommendations of their SMP as a basis for production of individual strategic plans, monitoring programmes and studies for all or part of their coastline and, where proven by strategic plans, for investment in appropriate capital improvement projects.

The first generation SMPs were both innovative and a big step forward towards better understanding of our coast and the need for strategic planning. They are now due for review to ensure full account is taken of latest information and future challenges. A renewed effort is needed to identify sustainable and deliverable solutions to manage risk, working with natural processes wherever possible.

Government and lead authorities have a responsibility to ensure that investment of taxpayers' money is justified by the benefits delivered. SMPs attempt to use best science to achieve sustainable policies. For example, natural coastal processes might make it inadvisable to build defences at certain locations because of adverse knock-on effects elsewhere. At other locations, the likely cost of defences compared to the assets protected may make investment in defences uneconomic and again the SMP should reflect this. SMPs provide a long-term vision for a sustainable coast where future decisions can be taken with confidence using the best available evidence and effective engagement with local communities.

Outcome Measures

In order to improve management of the overall flood and coastal erosion risk management programme, a suite of Outcome Measures has been established which will enable Government to set the balance of the programme in a transparent and challengeable form. Targets set by Ministers will set priorities for a given period (eg for the three-year Spending Review period from 2008 to 2011).

SMPs and Catchment Flood Management Plans will be important in steering decisions at operational level through the identification of risk exposure and broad policy options for risk management. The current suite of Outcome Measures also includes a measure specifically to record the satisfactory preparation of SMPs and CFMPs, signified by approval of the plans by Environment Agency Regional Directors.

Defra guidance on preparing SMPs

Defra published policy guidance on SMPs in 1995. Following a review of the strengths and weaknesses of the first generation SMPs and full consultation with the industry, updated guidance was published in 2001. That guidance concluded that the first generation SMPs were excellent high-level strategic documents but that further research was needed into how the coast would evolve.

Defra's updated guidance recommends that options should be appraised over a 100-year horizon, rather than 50 years as previously, offering a really sustainable "vision" for the coast. SMPs will incorporate latest research such as Foresight and the futurecoast project promoted by Defra which has provided nationally consistent predictions of long-term coastal evolution specifically to help inform these SMP reviews.

Defra's guidance will help to ensure that stakeholders are engaged in an efficient and focused way so that future risk is communicated clearly and local views are fully considered in developing the plans, whilst also ensuring that the decision making processes that underlie the plans are transparent and auditable.

This latest updated guidance aims to help coastal groups review first generation SMPs to produce SMP2s. It is the first specific policy guidance document Defra has released under the new Making space for water strategy. The guidance aims to ensure that the SMP reviews take advantage of the best aspects of the first generation of SMPs and are developed consistently with other policy objectives. SMPs produced following this guidance will outline the strategic direction for each coastal unit, following an in-depth and robust assessment of economic, environmental and social factors.

Defra's guidance consists of two volumes, a CD of appendices and a note clarifying points raised during the 3 pilots. All are published here in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

SMP Guidance, Volume 1
  • Volume 1 (file size = 0.7mb) defines an SMP and what it should include.
SMP Guidance, Volume 2

Volume 2 provides guidance on how to produce an SMP in line with the requirements in Volume 1:

  • Appendix A (0.4mb) Stakeholder engagement strategies
  • Appendix B (0.1mb) Data access and management
  • Appendix C (0.4mb) Socio-economic appraisal & sensitivity testing
  • Appendix D (0.4mb) Shoreline interactions and response
  • Appendix E (1.0mb) Open coast SMP management boundaries
  • Appendix F (2.3mb) Integration of estuaries
  • Appendix G (0.3mb) Definition of issues and objectives
  • Appendix H (0.2mb) Policy appraisal methodology
  • Appendix I (0.5mb) SMP standard output formats
Clarification note

A separate note was published in December 2007 to clarify points raised during the three pilot SMP reviews (see below for details of these) on SMP purpose, long term investment programme, plan adoption, stakeholder engagement, guidance on economic appraisal, and Appropriate Assessment.

For cost reasons, hard printed copies and the CD of appendices will not be made generally available other than to those directly involved in revising an SMP.

Volume 1 updates and supersedes the 2001 guide for coastal defence authorities. It takes account of Futurecoast and the findings of the guidance project carried out between 2002 and 2004 (including the three 'pilot' shoreline management plans).

Following publication of this updated guidance, the way is now clear for the second generation of SMPs to be developed for the English coastline, providing much needed clarity for operating authorities and the public. The intention is that funding will be provided so they can all be completed by December 2010. More detailed implementation strategies will be developed from the SMPs to clearly outline the work required to deliver the vision set out in the SMPs.

Pilot SMP2s

The updated guidance was trialled on three very different areas of coast. Links to the resulting SMP2s on the relevant coastal group websites are given below and these can be referred to for additional guidance:

Timetable for production of Second Round SMPs

The coastal groups have provided an indicative timetable (PDF) for the review of SMP2s. To meet Government targets, all SMP2s should be completed by March 2010.

Mapping the risk from coastal erosion

To coincide with this work, another Making space for water project is also progressing to give more clarity to the public on our changing coastline. The Environment Agency will be extending the coverage of their web based flood risk identification tool to coastal erosion, allowing the public to identify the level of risk they are exposed to. This work should be complete in 2010.

Development planning

Key to minimising future risk will be ensuring that we fully engage operating and planning authorities to ensure that the SMPs link to and inform Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks. This will help to ensure inappropriate development does not take place in areas that are at risk of flooding or erosion either now or in the future. To support this further, under policy guidance for planning authorities from the Department for Communities and Local Government - Planning Policy Statement 25 - SMPs are a material consideration when considering future development plans on the coast.

Adapting to change

In adopting a sustainable policy for the longer-term, we are aware that there are locations where the current SMP policy to defend might no longer be practical, affordable or acceptable in future. Where this occurs authorities might have to take decisions that some will understandably find difficult to accept. Considerable concern was expressed in the responses to the Government's consultation on Making space for water about social justice issues associated with this, ie where some communities are defended by the general taxpayer and others are not.

In response to these concerns Defra has set up the Adaptation Framework Project to assess the scale and effect of these concerns and to consider a broader portfolio of options for addressing them. We are currently gathering evidence for any possible new policy options to help communities adapt and so help achieve sustainability. However, work on adaptation should not prevent operating authorities getting on with SMP reviews to meet our 2010 target, to ensure as much clarity as possible for the public and in assessment of the scale of challenge we face in managing coastal risks in the future.

National Collation of SMP Data

Data from second round SMPs will be collected on the National Flood and Coastal Defence Database. The facility for this is yet to be developed but is likely to be considered as part of the Environment Agency’s strategic overview for the coast. A template for the data that is required to be submitted by operating authorities is being developed and will be made available on this website in due course.

Page last modified: 01 December 2009
Page published: 25 April 2003