Ministers have been urged to step in to help families whose homes are at imminent risk of collapsing into the sea on the fastest-eroding coastline in northern Europe.
Residents in the Yorkshire village of Skipsea were told this week that more than 20 homes were at risk of falling into the North Sea in the next 12 months, with hundreds vulnerable in the coming decades.
Parts of the 52-mile east Yorkshire coast are disappearing much faster than forecast. Rising sea levels and more frequent storms brought on by the global climate emergency have accelerated the erosion.
Councillors will this week urge ministers to treat coastal erosion as a natural catastrophe like flooding, saying that there is a lack of national guidance and funding to help tackle the issue.
Jane Evison, a councillor on East Riding council, said families whose homes were at imminent risk of sliding into the sea were liable to pay the full cost of demolishing their property and for their relocation.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) provides up to £6,000 in retrospective funding towards the cost of demolishing each property, but Evison said the total bill was at least double that.
“The’ve lost their home and the legal responsibility is on them – they don’t have that sort of money,” she said. “At the moment the only funding we have available to us is from Defra [but] it doesn’t cover the cost at all, and then the council is making up the remainder of what it costs.”
Evison said ministers should treat coastal erosion like flooding, where significantly larger pots of funding are made available to local authorities, homeowners and businesses to cover the bill for damage. She said: “We know sea levels are rising. It’s going to accelerate. It’s an act of nature we have no control over. We think it isn’t a special case – it’s the same as flooding – so we should be able to bid for genuine costs to help keep people safe.”
A council report, due to be discussed on Wednesday, found that some parts of the picturesque Yorkshire coastline were disappearing at more than double the average speed. On one two-mile stretch south of Withernsea, near Hull, 10 metres were lost in nine months last year, compared with a yearly average of four metres.
The report states: “This erosion rate is expected to increase in future due to sea level rise and more frequent storm events linked to climate change, which will put even greater pressure on both the coast and council resources.
“Despite this, there remains a lack of national policy guidance and funding mechanisms for adaptive management in locations where defences cannot be constructed or maintained.”
Prof Mike Hill, who co-authored an academic report on coastal erosion, said the government was wary of “opening the floodgates” to potentially thousands of compensation claims for people living on the eroding east coast, which stretches from Bridlington to the white cliffs of Dover.
A Defra spokesman said it was investing £1.2bn in coastal defences to protect 170,000 properties by 2021 and that it was working with local authorities on a £23m five-year scheme to monitor the erosion.