Studland beach, Dorest, England, midsummer
Photo credit: Philralph

What are Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs)? Edit

Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs), in the UK, set policy at a local level for the strategic management of flood and erosion risk. They encompass four principal approaches:

  • Holding the existing line, by maintaining or changing the standard of protection
  • Advancing the existing line, by building new defences on the seaward side of original defences
  • Managed realignment, by allowing the shoreline to move backwards or forwards through controlled movement; and
  • No active intervention, where there is no investment in coastal defences or operations

Background to recent changes Edit

UK Government policy over recent years has recognised that the coast is a dynamic environment and that attempts to maintain the status quo in relation to defence may have a long-term detrimental effect on sustainability and exacerbate flood and coastal erosion risk in the future elsewhere. The UK government advocates working with natural processes where possible with long-term strategic and sustainable management at a coastal cell level, based on shoreline management planning.

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. 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.

In the last 10 years significant progress has been made 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.

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.

The first generation of SMPs Edit

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 subsequently commissioned the 'Futurecoast' study for the whole coast of England and Wales in order to provide second-round SMPs (SMP2s) with consistent information on predictions of geomorphological coastal evolution, see The study outputs are particularly relevant to the update of plans as they help determine a vision for the longer-term sustainable shoreline needs.

What's different in the new guidance? Edit

The new guidance represents a significant step forward towards more sustainable coastal management policy. It incorporates the lessons learnt from the first round of SMPs and three second-round ‘pilot' SMPs carried out as part of developing the guidance, and stresses the following important issues:

  • A clear focus on assessing and managing flooding risks and coastal erosion over a consistent timescale (100 years).
  • Recognition that the current SMP policy may no longer be practical, acceptable or affordable in the future. In these circumstances, the preferred policy should include a plan for moving from the current SMP to another policy.
  • Policy statements are required for 3 standard epochs, 0-20, 20-50 and 50-100 years.
  • Awareness of the longer-term implications (50 to 100 years) of coastal change, climate change and rises in sea levels.
  • Awareness of the uncertainties associated with predicting future requirements for managing the shoreline.
  • Mapping coastal risks, covering risks from flooding and erosion.
  • More efficient and focused consultation, with stakeholders invited to comment on preferred policies and their likely consequences. The adopted policies should take account of all the comments received, but if the adopted policies are different from the preferred policies, the reasons and consequences must be given.
  • The importance of guiding and supporting the planning system in discouraging inappropriate development in areas at risk from flooding or coastal erosion.
  • Considering estuaries within the SMP process and links with the catchment flood management plan process.
  • Identifying the consequences of adopting particular policies, in appropriate detail. This should involve, among other things, assessing the implications of policies on European sites, biodiversity objectives and other national targets and objectives relating to the natural and cultural environment.
  • Identifying the expected sources of funding for any coastal defence work or operations that might be needed to put the adopted policies into practice.
  • The value of a standard format for plans.
  • The value of providing the plan on CD-ROMs and the internet, although copyright issues may have to be dealt with.

Further information Edit

For information on SMPs and the revised guidance visit the Defra website at

Related Wikipdeia content Edit

External links


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