Environment plans ‘killing business’

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INVESTORS along the coastal strip say the Environment Agency’s cautious planning guidelines are blighting their businesses, restricting growth and will result in a dearth of seaside ghost towns.

But in the age of global warming and rising sea levels, climate change experts claim it is a necessary precaution against potential flood risks.

Now, with the gloomy economic situation and a greater than ever need for sustainable growth, a prospective developer of a £5million social housing project in Winthorpe is calling for a more balanced approach to planning policy in coastal areas.

Ken Brown said: “We need to strike a balance between flood risk mitigation and economic growth.

“Enterprise and economic development are needed like we’ve never before - it’s absolutely vital for the community to get back on its feet but how can we do this if we are confined by these regulations?”

Current planning guidelines laid out by the Environment Agency are based on forecasted flood risks assuming a 1.13 metre rise in sea levels over the next 100 years.

Areas along the coast identified as particularly susceptible to flooding under these assumptions are severely hampered in terms of the types of development deemed to be appropriate.

Consequentially there is a recommendation that virtually no residential developments including caravan parks are given the go ahead.

Despite these restrictions, planning authorities insist the East Coast is still ‘open for business’ - a claim that many developers find hard to swallow when they are being directed toward areas they feel to be inappropriate for their line of business.

Speaking at a workshop held by the Environment Agency at the Northshore Hotel last Wednesday, a caravan park developer said: “People who come to a seaside resort don’t want to be staying 20 miles inland - you cannot ask someone to develop their business where there is no business, so realistically you are strangling our development.”

While developers such as Mr Brown recognise the vital role the Environment Agency play in defending the coastline and mitigating against worst case scenarios, they feel it is inappropriate to use these predictions to dictate where they can invest, particularly as other investigations into sea level rises are far more conservative.

“The big problem is that these projections are being referred to as a statement of fact and these guesses about 100 years in to the future are being applied to the here and now,” he said.

“The end result is that you have a cure for a possible scenario that is demonstrably worse than the illness.”

In the light of the catastrophic floods of 1953 when 41 people lost their lives Mr Brown acknowledges the need to be cautious of the sea’s destructive power.

However with advancements in sea defences and better early warning communications he feels that developing along the coast, though a risk, is still a risk worth taking.

“If I tell you that there is a one in 200 chance of you being involved in a road accident every day you leave your house, what would you do?

“To leave your job and stay at home every day for the rest of your life would be complete madness - but that is what the government is telling us to do with coastal development.”

He has attributed this risk taking reticence to a cultural phenomenon where people feel obliged to cover their own backs for fear of being held accountable for any potential mishaps.

Mr Brown’s plans to create 86 social housing plots on land at Garden City, Winthorpe, was refused by East Lindsey District Council on Thursday.

Speaking after the planning hearing he said “I came here with a willingness to engage but no one will ever convince me Skegness is open for business ever again.”

A spokesperson for ELDC explained that although they are aware of the problems facing caravan site operators and housing developers, with regard to the safety aspect they rarely override recommendations from the Environment Agency.

The owness is on the developer to demonstrate a wider community benefit to outweigh the flood risk and this is often where the problems arise.

However ELDC is looking at ways of helping prospective developers identify issues of wider community benefit and hope to have some policy in place by the autumn.