Managing flood risk – Public Accounts Committee

“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Department) and the Agency have not done enough to determine whether all areas of England are getting a fair share of flood defence investment and that households are resilient to floods.”


Flooding puts people’s well-being and livelihoods at risk and can impact on food production and destroy natural habitats. More extreme weather, as a result of climate change, and increased housing development will increase flood risks. The impacts of climate change can already be seen through the increasing strain on existing flood defences. Only half of the defences damaged in the 2019–20 winter floods have had their standard of protection restored. Despite the obvious risks, the Environment Agency (the Agency) thinks there could still be a large increase in the number of houses built on flood plains over the next 50 years.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the Department) and the Agency have not done enough to determine whether all areas of England are getting a fair share of flood defence investment and that households are resilient to floods. There has been a significant decline in the proportion of flood investment going to deprived areas since 2014 and there is wide variation in the level of flood defence investment per property at risk across regions. Neither the Department nor the Agency understand enough about the reasons for these investment patterns. We are not convinced that the Department has yet done enough to address the difficulties those recently flooded have in getting affordable insurance, or to remove the obstacles for households to take up individual flood resilience measures. Reforms to the planning system need to ensure that the risks of building in areas liable to flooding are fully mitigated.

The Agency is set to achieve its target to better protect 300,000 homes through its capital investment programme on time and budget, which is a significant achievement. However, the department should recognise that with new build on the flood plain and increased vulnerability to existing properties from climate change the net figure of homes that are better protected is actually less than 300,000. With the level of investment due to increase significantly over the next six years, the Department needs to do more to scrutinise and challenge the Agency’s performance. It also needs to have a better understanding of whether funding to each local authority matches the level of flood risk it faces. We are also concerned to learn that the current indicators used to monitor national flood risk do not cover important elements such as risks to agricultural land and infrastructure.

Budleigh Salterton confirmed as living “Dinosaur” capital of Jurassic Coast

Four of the top five towns in England with the largest population of the elderley are in Devon, new ONS data reveals with Budleigh ahead of Seaton and Sidmouth.

Dominic Kureen [and Western Morning News]

2-2 minutes

New Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures have revealed the towns in England with the highest proportion of over-65 populations, with Freshwater featuring in the top ten.

The 65+ demographic numbers in England’s towns have risen by nearly a third in the last two decades, while in smaller, non-coastal towns the older population has increased by over 40%.

Experts at the Centre for Ageing Better say more needs to be done across society to respond to the population age shift and ensure local places are able to support their residents to age healthily and enjoy later life.

Natalie Turner, head of localities at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “There’s been a huge change in the population makeup of our towns in the last two decades when it comes to age.

“With many of us set to live years longer than our parents or grandparents, it’s crucial that the places we live are able to help us to stay healthy and independent as we age – from the homes we live in, to the streets and communities around us.”

Top-10 English towns with greatest % of people aged over 65

1. Budleigh Salterton, Devon — 45%

2. Hunstanton, Norfolk — 44%

3. Seaton, East Devon — 43%

4. Sidmouth, Devon — 43%

5. St Leonards, Devon — 42%

6. Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire — 42%

7. Sheringham, Norfolk — 40%

8. Freshwater, Isle of Wight — 40%

9. Ferndown, Dorset — 39%

10. Preesall, Lancashire — 38%

‘Eat Devon fish’ – councillor urges public to support fishermen after impact of Brexit and Covid

‘Eat Devon fish’ – councillor urges public to support fishermen after impact of Brexit and Covid

Daniel Clark, Local Democracy Reporter 

The impact of Brexit on Devon’s fishing industry won’t be fully seen until the restrictions associated with the response to the coronavirus pandemic are relaxed, according to a report to the county council.

But one councillor has said Brexit has been ‘a disaster’ for the industry, and said he wants the council to join local fishermen in calling on the Government to address the problems caused by new export rules, a lack of clarity over fishing quotas, and increased red tape.

The full council heard a report by Cllr Rufus Gilbert last Thursday, in which he said there were potential economic impacts and also opportunities for Devon as a result of the Brexit trade deal and changes to the fishing quota and catch regimes.

But Cllr Gilbert, the Conservative cabinet member for economy and skills, said it was too soon to ascertain the scale of the impact upon the sector and whether impacts are temporary, or likely to be longer lasting.

And he added that it was apparent that the fishing and fish processing sectors in the UK and EU have been seriously impacted by the effects of the Covid pandemic, and it was difficult to unpack the impacts upon the sector from post-Brexit trade friction and the very far-reaching drop-off in demand due to the pandemic.

Cllr Gilbert said that the easiest thing people could do now was to ‘eat Devon’s fish’, adding: “I urge everyone to help the fisherman by eating their fish.”

How has Brexit affected Devon’s fishermen?

In his report, he added: “In the immediate period after December 31, port operations seem to be working more smoothly at Channel ports after the Covid-19 disruption from December 23. There is however some initial disruption to some goods heading to Northern Ireland and the continent as a result of new paperwork and local reports of difficulties exporting some fish and shellfish due to delays in animal health regulations being implemented.

“UK fisheries products now face customs and SPS health checks upon EU entry. Post Brexit customs checks have since January 2021 been holding up seafood exports, as entire trailers need to be checked, rather than samples according to the Scottish Seafood Association. In addition, multiple technical issues such as bar codes not being recognised by border control as well as IT issues have prevented loads leaving French ports in teething troubles of the new system.

“It has emerged since the UK fully left the EU and the Brexit transition period that third countries, such as the UK, have to purify their shellfish catch domestically before it is sanctioned for export, despite no change to UK standards, or water quality subsequent to 31st December 2020. The process adds significant costs and delays, with some British businesses impacted warning that this will cause issues of viability.”

Cllr Gilbert added: “During 2020 and in 2021 to date, demand for fish has fluctuated significantly and is generally down due to the pandemic impacts on closed fish and chip shops and restaurants, both in the UK and in other countries. As and when full re-openings take place demand is likely to change and potentially increase, and the fishing industry is operating at approximately 15 per cent of normal because of weather, time of year, Covid and the obvious hurdles of additional excess paperwork not being fully understood.

“There are potential economic impacts and also opportunities for Devon from the current trade friction and changes to the fishing quota and catch regimes. We are as yet unable to ascertain the scale of impact upon the sector and whether impacts are temporary, or likely to be longer lasting, including any potential future uptick in UK demand and changes in trends towards the consumption of different species.

“Most importantly it is, however, apparent that the fishing and fish processing sectors in the UK and EU have been seriously impacted by the effects of the Covid pandemic and associated lockdowns upon the restaurant, hotel and catering trade and knock-on demand for fish. It is as yet difficult to unpack the impacts upon the sector from post-Brexit trade friction and the very far-reaching drop-off in demand due to the pandemic.”

‘A lot of fishing boats aren’t going out’

Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, had asked for the report on the effects of the new EU trade deal on Devon’s fishing industry.

He said: “It was a question that we needed to ask, but I am taken aback by the deal and how affected the fishing industry has been by the export rules and quotas and red tape.

“I hope it can be resolved quickly as lots of fishing boats aren’t going out at the moment, and unless we get the exports done correctly, once we are out of the pandemic, we won’t be able to take advantage of them.”

He added: “The poor deal Brexit has been a disaster for our fishing industry, and all the people, businesses, and communities that rely upon it. I want Devon County Council to join with local fishing industry leaders in calling on the government to address the growing crisis in the fishing sector due to complicated new export rules, a lack of clarity about fishing quotas, and an increase in red tape.

“Post-Brexit export arrangements have meant a dramatic increase in the amount of paperwork needed before Devon seafood can be exported into the EU. Fishing industry leaders say that these new regulations are costing more money and causing shipments to be delayed or even cancelled, putting significant pressure on an already struggling sector.

“These changes are affecting all aspects of Devon’s fishing industry but are being felt most acutely by our award winning shellfish producers. That’s why we are calling on the government to step in now and provide more additional support. The fishing industry plays a vital role in our economy in Devon and immediate action is needed to secure its long-term future.”


Potential boost for Sidmouth sea defences after change to funding eligibility

A ‘bigger and better’ Sidmouth sea defence scheme is back on the table after changes to the eligibility for funding from various bodies including the Environment Agency.

Philippa Davies

East Devon District Council revealed the news in a public meeting with the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group on Thursday, February 25.

It means Sidmouth could get the vital coastal defences it needs, better protecting the town from major storms and the East Beach cliffs from further erosion.

The advisory group voted overwhelmingly in favour of pausing the current working draft option to look again at alternatives that were previously felt to be unaffordable.

An urgent report is now set to go before the district council’s Cabinet asking for councillors to decide whether they want to investigate options previously dismissed because of insufficient funding, including but not limited to offshore rock islands.

What happens now?

The current preferred option at Sidmouth is to invest around £9million in a coastal defence scheme which would involve beach replenishment, periodic beach recycling, a new rock groyne on East Beach and modifications to the River Sid training wall.

It would also include raising the height of the splash wall along the seafront slightly and topping it up with temporary storm barriers or strong glass panels when needed.

If the council’s Cabinet agrees to investigate and test the feasibility of other options, it will take up to six months for engineers and specialist consultants to review and assess the alternatives.

Following the studies and investigations, a report would then be presented to the Sidmouth and East Beach Management Plan Project Advisory Group. Its members would be asked to recommend what the town would prefer to do – whether that would be to go ahead with the original preferred option or use the additional funding on a different option which may be more beneficial to Sidmouth’s coastal defences.

The council’s Cabinet will make the final decision on which option goes ahead.

What would the timescale be?

Time is an important factor. If the current preferred option gets the green light, construction could start within two years. There would also be a potential for the new extra funding to be used for future maintenance, ensuring the beach can be recycled/recharged.

However if a different and more expensive option is chosen, construction could take around four years to start.

The Cabinet will be recommended to agree that, if the chosen option incurs further delays to the project, a temporary structure could be placed at the base of the cliffs, to help protect the River Sid wall, low-lying properties in the town and the properties above Sidmouth’s eroding cliffs.

Councillor Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for the coast, country and environment, said: “As the East Devon councillor responsible for coastal protection, I would like to thank the advisory group for their contributions and assistance in providing the guidance and help on how we are to proceed with the scheme to protect Sidmouth seafront and East Beach.

“The scheme that was originally underfunded and unpopular has now been provided with extra funding. This will enable an improved design that may overcome the more controversial elements of scheme.

“Although the beach and the cliffs are protected as a World Heritage site of the Jurassic Coast, it is hoped temporary time-limited permission will be able to satisfy the regulations and conditions of the designated site, so we are able to progress work not otherwise possible with a permanent scheme.

“Once the final scheme is finally approved the stone used in the temporary revetment could then be used elsewhere within the scheme.”