Is spending £1m a year on Dungeness sea defences a good use of public funds?

Contributed by editor on Aug 26, 2010 - 08:25 AM

Common's Man.... a weekly column from the Rt. Hon. Damian Collins MP.

26 August 2010

Some might say that the last Government behaved like it had money to burn; the problem was it was our money. Locally we certainly have an example, not of funds going up in smoke, but being dumped into the sea. And not just a few pounds here or there, but hundreds of thousands a year.

For the last three years the Environment Agency, at the insistence of Natural England, have been maintaining the shingle banks at Dungeness to keep the sea out, not by recycling the stones that are there, but importing more from a quarry.

As a result the cost of this work has nearly trebled, from £350,000 a year to over £1 million. The reason for this expensive change of policy is to facilitate an experiment that Natural England has been conducting so that it can study the movement of shingle as a result of coast erosion at Dungeness.


In these difficult times for government spending we would have to seriously question whether or not this is a good use of public funds. Yes, moving a relatively small amount of shingle around Dungeness to maintain the banks and keep the sea out, is a human intervention on a natural landscape, but man has been working to hold back the sea in this part of Kent for a thousand years. Without this work, much of the Marsh would ultimately return to it.

As many readers will be well aware we live in one of the most at risk flooding areas in the country. The risk of flooding from the sea along the Romney Marsh coast has made necessary substantial investment in new coastal defences. Much of this work has been completed at Dymchurch, but whilst this is impressive, such defences are only as strong as their weakest point, so it is important that the work is completed along the coast to Rye and Jury’s Gap.

I have recently met with the Defend Our Coast group, along with my colleague Amber Rudd, the new MP for Hastings and Rye. For a number of years their excellent work has highlighted the importance of the sea defences and both Amber and I were pleased to give them our full and continued support.

At a recent exchange in the House of Commons I was able to raise the issue of investment in our coastal defences with Caroline Spellman, the new Secretary of State for the Environment. Caroline was happy to commit to maintaining proper defences, saying that ‘I perfectly understand the importance of defending that part of the Kent coast with effective coastal defences’. We are fortunate that Caroline also knows this area well as her grandparents lived in Saltwood and she spent many holidays as a child down here on Romney Marsh.

The sea defences are vital not just to defend our homes and farm land, but also the nuclear power stations at Dungeness. This site needs to be defended whether or not we have a new power station there. I believe though that we can and should have that new power station and the sea defences we need to protect Dungeness and the whole of the Marsh coast.