HC Deb 02 December 1992 vol 215 cc226-7W
Mr. Bellingham

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the impact of his coastal defence policies on the loss of coastal wildlife habitats.

Mr. Gummer

The primary aim of both flood and coastal defence is to protect life and to reduce the risk of flooding or erosion causing damage to the natural and built environment. In pursuit of these objectives, MAFF gives financial support to capital schemes for flood and coastal defence which are cost-beneficial, technically sound and environmentally acceptable.

I share the concerns about the loss of coastal habitats and am determined to ensure that our policies for coastal defences help to tackle this problem. It is already well established that all coast and sea defences must take environmental considerations into account. The grant aid arrangements have been extended to facilitate the use of "soft" defence measures such as beach replenishment. However, in addition, in order to help stop the decline in the area of wildlife habitats around our coasts, I want the potential impact on coastal habitats to be a key consideration in examining proposed schemes; and there will be a clear presumption in considering applications for grant aid that, except where life or important natural or man-made assets are at risk, natural coastal processes should not be disrupted. I also want to see thorough consideration given in all appropriate cases to whether retreat from the existing line of defence could be managed in such a way as to bring environmental and/or engineering benefits.

This new approach will be reflected in the strategy for flood and coast defence which I am developing in consultation with the operating authorities and environmental interests, and I look forward to discussing this with them.