Shoreline management planning in Northern Ireland
Prof J. Andrew G Cooper (Ulster)
Recent storms on the Northern Ireland coast have caused widespread flooding and coastal erosion. Erosion threatens buildings, roads, railways and other infrastructure, but is also a vital natural process that sustains beaches, and is essential to maintenance of a healthy coastal ecosystem. Societal responses to erosion include: (a) hard and soft protection works; (b) realignment or removal of infrastructure; or, (c) do nothing. Each has implications for the built and natural environment. Unusual among western European countries, Northern Ireland has no strategic approach to shoreline management. This means that there is much uncertainty regarding who holds responsibility, what powers they have and what constraints affect them. As a consequence, decisions are made individually, without any regional guidance, or understanding of the local or cumulative effects of such decisions. The default decision is to armour the coast; and a large amount of the coastline has been armoured already. This protects property, but requires continual maintenance, and ultimately damages coastal assets (beaches, landscape quality, ecosystem health) that are used by the whole population. This presentation looks at the need for a strategic approach in Northern Ireland, based on examples from research undertaken on a global scale.