The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) exists to promote good and prudent management of the coastline. It includes measures to sustain the future of coastal settlements and the environmental qualities of a coastline nationally recognised as being of great beauty and interest.

The SMP sets out preferred policies to safeguard the natural and human environments and to create community confidence in delivery of this important service. The operating authorities take very seriously their stewardship role for the coast.

What is a shoreline management plan?

An SMP is a living document used by the operating authorities and other organisations (e.g. Environment Agency, English Nature, North York Moors National Park and others) to consider the planning and implementation of sea defences and other maritime works.

It is also used by Defra when considering applications from the operating authorities to fund various sea defence works.In order to take into account local influences, the SMP subdivides the coastal cell into lengths called management units. Each management unit has its own distinct character and is assessed on which of the 4 basic policy options (see below) is preferred, taking into account and balancing the needs of the local community and the environment.

Why do we need a shoreline management plan?

In the past sea defences have been erected to protect property on sections of coastline without fully considering the impact on the environment or adjacent sites.New sea defences can lead to the failure of other sea defences and sometimes can have an adverse impact on the natural environment. The impact may be local, but in some instances can influence areas of the coast many miles away.

In order to assess the impact of new sea defences on the coastline, there needs to be an understanding of the coastal process, i.e. erosion and the distribution and movement of sand and other sediment material. Remember beaches and cliffs are natural defences, not just areas of enjoyment.The SMP pulls together research work undertaken on a national and regional basis to enable the operating authorities to gain a better understanding of our coastline.It would be difficult for each individual local maritime council to establish a full picture of the coastal processes.

Consequently, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), who have responsibility for national coastal policy, have encouraged and assisted maritime Councils to act in partnership to prepare SMP¡¯s to overcome the previous piece-meal approach to coastal management.

Each SMP covers a discrete area (a coastal cell) based on natural physical boundaries determined by the coastal environment.

Policy options

There are the four SMP policies available to shoreline managers.

Hold the line

Maintain or changing the standard of protection. This policy covers situations where work or operations are carried out in front of the existing defences (such as beach recharge, rebuilding the toe of a structure, building offshore breakwaters and so on) to improve or maintain the standard of protection provided by the existing defence line.

Advance the line

Build new defences on the seaward side of the original defences.

Managed realignment

Allow the shoreline to move backwards or forwards, with management to control or limit movement (such as reducing erosion or building new defences on the landward side of the original defences).

No active intervention

Where there is no investment in coastal defences or operations.

All the policies above will be supported by monitoring and must (when put into practice) take account of existing health and safety legislation.

In some cases, it is more appropriate to consider the defence line as a zone of defences protecting assets, particularly in those situations where there is a series of structures (such as seawalls) and landforms (such as beaches and dunes) which together provide coastal defence. Adding new components to this series of defences should generally be viewed as improving the defence, rather than moving the shoreline.

By working with natural processes (such as tides and the weather), risks can be reduced while allowing natural change. This may result from measures which try to slow down rather than stop coastal and cliff erosion, to measures that deal with public safety issues (such as promoting the build up of a beach in front of an unprotected cliff, preventing water from leaking onto coastal slopes, and flood warning systems).

The importance of existing natural defences needs to be highlighted (such as sand dunes, salt marshes and shingle beaches) in delivering effective policies to manage coastal and flood risks. If these are under threat due to fixed defence structures, we must consider measures to restore or recreate natural defences.

What happens next?

The operating authorities coastal engineers formally meet with Defra, the Environment Agency, North York Moors National Park and English Nature every 6 months to discuss coastal issues including the SMP. Any comments or observations received from individuals or interest groups are discussed at these meetings. All comments and feedback information is welcomed and will be used to help formulate and steer how we manage the coast.

This first review (SMP2) of the SMPs will not only re-examine the current policies and set out a revised plan but will also prepare a guide to the management of the coast for the next 100 years.

However, it is only by looking at the broader issues on the coast, including tourism, agriculture, industry, fishing, transportation and housing that a truly integrated approach can be developed.