Lord Smith of Finsbury, the new head of the UK's Environment Agency, talked to The Independent about a wide range of issues, but this is what he said about coastal erosion, the government's defense plans, and why those plans may involve abandoning parts of the British coastline to the sea.
“We know the sea is eating away at the coast in quite a number of places, primarily – but not totally exclusively – on the east and south coasts. It's a particularly huge issue in East Anglia, but in quite a number of other areas as well.”
Lord Smith, a former culture secretary, promised to do his “level best to try to defend communities where there are significant numbers of properties under threat and where it's possible to find engineering solutions”.
But he said the agency, working with ministers, would have to identify “priority areas” and warned: “We are almost certainly not going to be able to defend absolutely every bit of coast – it would simply be an impossible task both in financial terms and engineering terms.” Suggesting that parts of north-east Norfolk and Suffolk faced the most immediate danger, Lord Smith promised to work closely with the communities involved to achieve as much “consensus” as possible over which coastal stretches to protect.
He said: “We will publish next year details of the work that's been done, where we think the particular threats are, where we think there is current defence in place. We will begin to talk with communities where we think defence is not a viable option.”
He also said ministers could no longer rely on insurance companies to cover families who lost their homes, suggesting they would have to be rehoused at taxpayers' expense. He said: “We need to start having a serious discussion with government about what options can be put in place.”
It would seem that though the British coast managed to keep the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Hitler away from its sands, it will not be able to stop the rising sea.
In any case, it's not really earth-shattering news and, as it is another instance of politicians giving sound bites rather than actual specifics, nothing new as well, but given the opportunity afforded by a related and current bit of news to post photos of the armored beaches of Happisburgh under assault by the North Sea, we'll take it.
All photographs are by Andrew Stacey.
Meanwhile, we are reminded of an article published in the The Guardian nearly two years ago. It's about two coastal villages — Kilnsea in Yorkshire and Happisburgh in Norfolk — whose coastal defenses were crumbling, becoming infrastructural ruins in a Picturesque water garden, as it were. Both villages were told by the government that their groynes and revetments were not going to be maintained, essentially putting their community at risk and turning their homes into worthless real estates.
However, Kilnsea managed to secure funds for flood protection, because it has businesses to protect and “a fair share of forceful and articulate inhabitants” who, supposedly, know “how to play the system.” No money is to go to Happisburgh, because it has “poor houses” and the “cost-benefit ratio is too high”.
One must wonder here whether Lord Smith's “priority areas” will similarly be a function of political influence. Will the baron's plans be another case of money going where money is?
And only because the Olympics are in the news everywhere, one also has to wonder if those plans will be affected by the dramatic increase in construction cost of the London Olympics. It's interesting to imagine quaint hamlets by the sea turned to flooded ghost towns, because the money that could have saved them had been redirected to pay for Zaha Hadid's natatorium.
As East London gets “regenerated,” a village somewhere on the British coastline undergoes its version of cultural cleansing. While one locale gleams with “civilizing” architecture, its antipode becomes a wasteland, whose history gets obliterated and whose inhabitants gets displaced and stuffed into imported FEMA trailers, refugees not of wars but of misallocations of infrastructural funds. The eyes of the world will be directed on the jewel, and because they are weak, because they are too easily mesmerized, their gaze will not be straying too far to notice the new climate change ghettos.
Here are some more photos of “multiple lines of defence” turned into “multiple lines of disarray.”
There are other sorts of defensive armaments decaying on the beach, such as this wartime pillbox.
After having tumbled from above some time ago, it now quietly lies on the sand below, sinking, totally in submission to the slow erosional forces of the waves. Fortress England under attack not by aerial bombardment but by geology and oceanography.
This may be the fate of all of Happisburgh: a city reduced to Suprematist abstraction. All concrete slabs, mere foundations that can't even support itself against erasure.
To repeat: all photographs are by Andrew Stacey and were downloaded from his website. For his Happisburgh photos, start here.
The Retreating Village
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