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How is flooding and coastal erosion risk managed across the North West?

Coastlines are constantly changing through natural processes, and while this can create picturesque places to visit, it also presents challenges to protect the communities who live and work there. Climate change also means that the threats from erosion, flood risk and sea level rise will continue to increase into the future.

In the not too distant past, coastal flood defences were built where the need for them arose and could be limited by administrative boundaries, and there used to be over 90 different authorities managing the coast in England. Defences could be built where funding was available, rather than where there was the greatest risk. A scheme in one area may not have taken the neighbouring coastal conditions into consideration, which could have had negative impacts for the area adjacent to the scheme, such as limiting longshore drift in some areas or increasing erosion in others.

The incoherent and disconnected management of the coast gave way to the introduction of Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) in 1995 when the Government (DEFRA) encouraged a more joined up approach to coastal defence. As a result of this there are now 22 SMPs in England and Wales which are managed by 7 coastal groups. SMPs are non-statutory policy documents which set the direction of strategic coastal defence policy and identify the most sustainable approaches to managing the shoreline.

In the North West, the SMP covers the area between the Great Orme in North Wales to the Scottish Border, taking in Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire, Flintshire, Denbighshire and Conwy, approximately 330 miles of coast. This area is one of the 11 sediment cells into which the England and Wales coastline is divided, and is itself divided into 5 smaller cells. Sediment cells are often referred to as ‘self-contained’ stretches of coastline bordered by large headlands or estuaries, which act as natural barriers and stop the movement of sediment from one cell to another. The Environment Agency (EA) is responsible for managing, reviewing and approving SMPs.

The EA is the lead body for coastal flood risk management and oversees the risk management of coastal erosion by local authorities. Most of the funding for coastal management schemes is provided by DEFRA and administered by the EA in the form of Grant in Aid, but the EA may raise additional funding through levies, beneficiary contributions or charges. In the past, only the highest priority schemes were likely to receive investment, but changes have meant that worthwhile schemes which provide additional benefits are now potentially eligible for at least some funding. Additional benefits include number of households protected, cost of damages prevented and the environmental, social and economic benefits provided by the scheme.

Managing the North West SMP is the responsibility of the North West and North Wales Coastal Group (NWNWCG) who are made up of Local Authorities, the Environment Agency, risk management authorities and partner organisations. The NWNWCG offer coastal knowledge and apprise on flood and coastal erosion risk management investment programmes considering social, economic and environmental issues. This allows the most sustainable management policy to be adopted for the:

  • short-term (0-20 years)
  • medium-term (20-50 years)
  • long-term (50-100 years)

from one of the 4 management policies:

  • Hold the line – Maintaining or improving current defences to keep shoreline in place.
  • Advance the line – Building new defences on the seaward side of the original defence.
  • Managed realignment – Altering the location of existing defences or withdrawing them to allow the shoreline to move inland naturally.
  • No active intervention – No investment in coastal defences.

The NWNWCG must work with and report to, the North West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee (NWRFCC), who are one of 12 RFCCs in England.

RFCCs were established by the Environment Agency under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 and bring together elected members of Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) and independent members with relevant experience. The Environment Agency must also consult with the NWRFCC about Flood and Coastal Risk Management (FCRM) work in their region and take their comments into consideration. The role of the RFCCs is to:

  • Promote investment and encourage innovation which is good value for money and benefits local communities.
  • Deliver targeted, risk-based investment.
  • Balance local and national priorities to identify and manage flood and coastal erosion risk issues at the local level.


So, what are some of the schemes in the North West and what are the benefits they are providing?


Lancashire has many sandy beaches and a large coastal tourism industry. As a result of this there are large ‘hold the line’ coastal management schemes in place in several locations on the Lancashire coast.

The Fylde Peninsula Coastal Programme (FPCP) (a partnership between Wyre Council, Blackpool Council, Fylde Council and the Environment Agency), have implemented the SMP for the area with some of the largest coastal management schemes in the country. Schemes at Rossall and Anchorsholme have been built to manage the long-term risks from flooding and erosion and defend these important tourist attractions against sea level rise, erosion and flooding for the next 100 years.

The two schemes, costing a combined £90m, use rock armour, concrete revetments and curved wave walls to dissipate the force of large waves and storms, protecting the homes, businesses and infrastructure behind. Benefits of the schemes include:

  • Safeguarding vital infrastructure, including a major pumping station.
  • Protecting Blackpool’s famous tramway.
  • Reducing flood risk to 12,500 properties.
  • Creating a new promenade.
  • Creation of public spaces linking Cleveleys and Fleetwood.
  • 100 years protection.

Also in Lancashire is the Hesketh Out Marsh East Managed Realignment Scheme, which aims to reduce the risk of flooding to over 140 properties and farmland on the Ribble Estuary without increasing flood risk elsewhere. 2km of flood embankments were strengthened and refurbished to reinstate a salt marsh isolated from the estuary in 1980 by a flood embankment which was constructed to make land available for growing crops. With the threat of rising sea levels, it was necessary to create more sustainable sea defences. The managed realignment scheme has let seawater back in to flood the land, re-creating salt marsh and allowing space for nature.

Silverdale is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and there is a no active intervention policy in place for the current or future management of the area. There is no infrastructure or assets currently at risk from coastal flooding and erosion, and the coastline is to be left to function naturally and sustainably.



Managed realignment is also the management policy for one area at Formby in Sefton where large sand dunes provide a natural sea defence. The dunes are being left to roll back naturally, which can be as much as 4m per year. This Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is managed by the National Trust and contains many important and rare species.

In 2019 a public consultation for the Crosby Coastal Park was undertaken which included plans for a major coastal protection and flood alleviation project, improvements to the existing habitat for fauna and flora, improved accessibility for walkers and cyclists, boosted opportunities to increase health and wellbeing, and improved visitor facilities.

In West Kirby there has been a public consultation held for the proposed flood alleviation scheme which would see a new 1.1km long, 1.2m high pre-cast concrete flood wall built at a cost of £6m, to mitigate the risk of flooding in the area into the next century.



Recognising the success of coastal strategies in the North West, the NWRFCC prompted the Cumbria Coastal Strategy. From 2017 Cumbria County Council worked collaboratively with District Councils, the EA, Natural England and other stakeholder organisations on its development to form a more sustainable, integrated approach to managing the coast. This contrasts with the more disjointed, reactive approach of the past. The strategy sets out how the risks from coastal flooding and erosion will be managed form Arnside to the Scottish border and provides evidence to secure funding for Cumbria’s future coastal management. The Cumbria Coastal Strategy was approved by the Environment Agency in October 2020 and DEFRA funding has already been secured for some schemes.


So, here in the North West there are the policies and strategies in place which will see coastal homes, businesses, infrastructure and natural habitat managed in an integrated and sustainable way, considering local priorities to delivering national flood and coastal erosion risk management policy into the next century.

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