Rob Goodliffe surveys coastal erosion in Norfolk. Credit: North Norfolk District Council

WEM Innovators: Rob Goodliffe

Coastal erosion impacts whole communities by threatening businesses, roads, footpaths, and utilities such as sewage, water and electricity. With additional concerns around wellbeing, beach access and threat to heritage assets, we find out what Coastwise are doing to tackle the problem.

At Flood & Coast 2024, held this June at the Telford International Centre, Rob Goodliffe joined Day 2’s session ‘The Coast is Clear: Strengthening Shoreline Management Planning’. Alongside Stewart Rowe, Chair of the Coastal Group Network from North Yorkshire Council, Vana Tsimopoulou, Associate Professor in Asset Management, HZ University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, and Ivan Haigh, Professor in Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton, Goodliffe joined the debate on stage in front of hundreds of sector professionals as they examined the recently refreshed Shoreline Management Plans and the work to update the new national coastal erosion risk map.

The panel also discuss the importance of planning and adapting to a changing coastline and innovative approaches being developed through the Coastal Transition Accelerator Programme, and this is where Goodliffe stepped in to share his experiences, highlighting the importance of straightforward, honest engagement with communities threatened with coastal erosion.

We sat down with Rob, Coastal Transition Manager at Coastwise, to ask him a few questions about this critically important project and learn just how far it may go.

What is the Coastal Transition Accelerator Programme?

Coastwise is part of the Coastal Transition Accelerator Programme (CTAP), funded by DEFRA and the Environment Agency. Rob Goodliffe has spent the past 20 years working for North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) – engaged in activities such as managing country parks through to delivering the UK-first Sandscaping Scheme, in preparation for climate-accelerated coastal erosion.

CTAP is a government initiative designed to explore innovative methods for adapting to the impacts of climate change on coastlines. Launched in 2022, the initiative focuses on working with communities in East Riding of Yorkshire and North Norfolk. CTAP aligns with the National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England, aiming to build a nation resilient to flooding and coastal changes throughout the 21st century.

Why is CTAP so important?

England's coastlines are eroding at some of the fastest rates in Europe. While erosion is a natural process, rising sea levels due to climate change are accelerating this phenomenon in certain areas.Traditional methods of coastal protection may no longer be a viable solution in these locations.

With these heightened risks, CTAP aims to explore proactive solutions. The program investigates how local authorities can collaborate with and support communities living, working, and utilising coastlines that are no longer sustainably defendable.

Why is it not always the best thing to build coastal risk management structures?

Coastal risk management structures are often a preferred and first choice for many, however it’s not always that straightforward. In some locations, it can be technically very challenging to prevent erosion, whether driven by coastal process or by geomorphological processes such as groundwater in cliffs.

If there are technical solutions, these also need to take into account environmental factors; for example - will they have negative impacts on nationally/internationally designated sites or will they exacerbate erosion elsewhere?

Finally, if risk management structures are technically possible whilst also being environmentally acceptable, can they be economically feasible? Funding for schemes can be sought from government, but they need to meet the funding criteria (which include aspects such as number of households at risk), and often further additional funds are required from elsewhere. This can be a significant challenge.

With this in mind, if risk management structures aren’t possible, there should and could be other options available to assist with managing an eroding coast, so that people’s wellbeing, and a community’s vibrancy, can continue.

How can this programme influence national policy approach?

At present there are very few options for anyone impacted by erosion or for Risk Management Authorities who have limited opportunities, or powers, to take action. This is where Coastwise is seeking to help.

As well as seeking to prepare communities through transition planning and practical actions, a key objective is to learn what does, and what does not work when seeking to adapt to our changing coast.

Through working with communities, those impacted by coastal change, and wider stakeholders, we will shine a light on what is possible, and, showcase opportunities where government could consider support through leadership, policy, legislation, and funding, to create a ‘Transition Space’ where Risk Management Authorities are able to facilitate coastal transition between erosion and infrastructure providers and communities and individuals so they better informed, and able to have choices which enable them to adapt.

Can you tell us more about the sister project in East Riding?

Changing Coasts East Riding is a sister project to Coastwise, but there are new younger siblings too in Cornwall and Dorset, and cousins in the Flood and Coast Resilience Innovation Programme!

We are all seeking to explore innovative approaches that can solve, or contribute to solving some of the tricky and emotive erosion and flood issues we face. East Riding and North Norfolk are completing separate programmes of work that fit with our respective organisations and seek to meet the local coastal change needs. That said, there are areas which do overlap.

In some case we are intentionally taking different approaches in order to learn different lessons; on others we are collaborating where we believe the greatest benefit for the programme and the nation can be gained. An example of collaboration is between us we are funding a role in the National Environment Agency Team to support our work on innovating long term sustainable funding and financing mechanisms for coastal transition, one of the underpinning needs if we are to ensure we can continue to transition in the future.

Author: Rob Goodliffe, Coastal Transition Manager, Coastwise.