SMP background information

What is a Shoreline Management Plan?

Coastal floodingShoreline Management Plans (SMPs) are being produced around the whole coastline of England and Wales to enable operating authorities to identify long term, sustainable policies for the coastal defence of our shorelines.

A 'sustainable' policy is based on harmony between society, the environment and the economy. It is a policy aimed at maintaining or improving today's quality of life, without placing a burden on future generations or the natural world.

'Coastal Defence' means protecting the coastline from erosion by the sea and defending low lying ground from flooding by the sea.

SMPs are based on the study of coastal processes, that is how nature drives the waves, tides and sediments, and how the shoreline responds to these natural influences.

SMPs involve several stages of public consultation. They are reviewed and updated regularly to take account of new ideas and information. SMPs are living plans for a living coast.

Why do we need SMPs?

It is now recognised by those responsible for defending the coast from flooding and erosion, and by people who live and work there, that our coast is a living and moving shoreline. Weather, wind and tide are continually changing its shape.

The coastal zone supports farming, fishing, recreation, tourism and commerce. It is rich in heritage and natural beauty and it is a haven for wildlife. Its varied character and choice of attractions hold special appeal for those who visit for the day or on holiday.

The SMP approach to coastal defence that builds on our knowledge of the coastal environment and takes account of the wide range of public interests, is vital to avoid piecemeal attempts to protect one area at the expense of another.

How will the SMPs be used?

The objectives of SMPs are to:

  • improve our understanding of coastal processes;
  • work in partnership with all interested organisations and the public;
  • prepare a setting for the long term planning of coastal defences and associated land use.

SMPs help coastal defence managers to determine the directions that their efforts will have to take for the foreseeable future. SMPs inform the public on the background and future direction for the management of coastal defence in their local area. They also indicate areas on the coast that are inappropriate for various types of development. When the SMPs are complete they will be adopted by their various partners 'signing a pledge' to put their recommendations into practice. The SMPs will then be included in the new regional and local development guidance.

The coastline from Great Orme's Head to the Solway Firth

This coastline forms the eastern shore of the northern Irish Sea. Many parts of it are liable to flooding and coastal erosion. Its estuaries and bays are internationally recognised and protected conservation areas because of their wide variety of habitats and range of wildlife. It is rich in archaeological and historic heritage. It has a wide base of commerce, ports, sea fishing, agriculture and tourism.

How many SMPs are being produced for this coastline?

Work is well advanced on the production of five SMPs between Great Orme's Head and the Solway Firth. The extent of each SMP is on the map shown. The divisions are based on the limits of natural sediment movements, rather than administrative boundaries. All five SMPs should be complete before the end of 1999. We would like to widen public interest in the SMPs. Anyone who would like more information, or to take part in their development, should contact

What does the SMP include?

The first stage of the SMP identifies the people and organisations with an interest in the coast and their particular concerns. Information and data used as a basis for the SMPs is then collected and published in the Stage Report. Comments are invited from everyone who has expressed interest. The second stage builds on all the information and views gathered. Objectives, or targets, for good coastal defence practice are set out. A range of policy options are measured against these objectives for every management unit, or section, of the shoreline, leading to recommendations for each unit. In other units the recommended option may be hold the line, which means to maintain, improve or re-build existing defences. Other options recommended in rare cases are to advance the existing line or to manage a retreat from the existing line. The SMP also sets out any further study of the coast or the coastal processes needed to fill gaps in our understanding. It includes a programme for monitoring the behaviour of the coastline and sets out a timetable for future reviews of the SMP at approximately 5 year intervals.

What information is collected?

Collecting information and checking its accuracy is an important part of the SMP process. This takes place at the first stage of producing the SMP and continues through consultation and coastline monitoring. It includes data on:

  • Coastal Processes - how nature drives the waves tides and sediment;
  • Coastal Defences - where they are and how effective they are in
    protecting people, land and property;
  • Land Use -the type of use such as residential, agricultural, industrial, or recreation and its economic value;
  • Natural Environment -the kinds of environment, landscape and habitat and their relative importance.

Will SMPs protect me and my property?

Almost everyone whose land or property is flooded or threatened by the sea wants to be protected. However, coastal defences are costly to build and maintain and they sometimes have damaging effects on the natural environment or an adjoining length of coastline. SMPs identify the places that are affected or threatened by flooding or erosion. They state the likely cost of protection work for such areas and test this against the economic value of the land or property. Where there is a threat, and some form of coastal defence is economically and environmentally sustainable, then an option which allows protection (hold the line, advance the line, or even a managed retreat of the line) is likely to be preferred. Where the provision of any form of defence would be detrimental, uneconomic or unsustainable, "do nothing" would normally be preferred. There may be situations where it is economic and sustainable to hold the line in the short term but with "do nothing" providing the longer term option. This would indicate that there should be no further long term development and existing property would not be protected beyond a specified term. That time, which is likely to be tens of years, would allow affected property owners to make alternative arrangements.

Will SMPs help to prevent damage to wildlife?

Many past decisions affecting the coastline were made without consideration of their effects on the wider environment. The SMPs show wildlife site locations and explain the reasons for their importance. Future coastal defence works will comply with the findings and recommendations of the SMPs and will only go ahead after careful consideration of their effects on the natural environment. Further detailed assessments are required by law before any major scheme for future work is approved.

What about global warming and sea level rise?

The SMP takes account of the best present knowledge on the possible effects of global warming, climate change and sea level rise. Climate study and monitoring are being given high national priority so that experience and improved knowledge are fed into the SMP reviews.

How do SMPs fit in with coastal flooding and erosion responsibilities?

The Environment Agency and maritime local authorities work together on the flood protection of low lying ground and defending the coastline from erosion by the sea. The Environment Agency has a duty to exercise a general supervision over all matters relating to flood defence. Both the Agency and the maritime local authorities have powers to carry out sea defence works to protect low lying land against flooding by the sea. Maritime local authorities also have additional powers to carry out coast protection works to prevent erosion of the land by the sea. The Agency and local authorities are prime partners to the SMP production, so that the policies and decisions resulting from SMPs are fed into each organisation's plans for its coastal frontage.

How do SMPs fit in with planning legislation?

SMPs have been adopted as national good practice by operating authorities around the whole coastline of England and Wales, even though they are not backed by any legal or statutory requirement. They draw on and take account of current local and structure plans produced by District and Borough Councils and the County Councils, and provide essential feedback at the review stages of such plans. SMP partners are participating in the development of new planning guidance for the Regions of England and Wales.

How can I see or comment on the SMPs or get further information?

In preparing SMPs we have already consulted widely through letters to organisations and press notices.

Consultation is an open process that continues throughout SMP production and beyond, into the review stage. We would welcome your views and comments at any time.

Most of the SMP for the Allerdale area has been placed on our Shoreline Management Plan page. You can also view documents, obtain more information or comment on a specific SMP by contacting the project manager at

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Contact us

0303 123 1702

Allerdale Borough Council
Allerdale House, Workington, Cumbria,
CA14 3YJ