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You are here: Coastal Home > SMP Homepage > About the SMP > What is an SMP?

What is a Shoreline Management Plan?


A Shoreline Management Plan provides a framework for dealing with coastal flooding and erosion over a large area which includes a number of communities and a series of sea defences which may have an impact on each other. It aims to understand the consequences of allowing natural change to take place along the shoreline, to set appropriate policies for reducing the impacts of erosion and flooding on coastal towns and villages. Policies must be sustainable when looking ahead for 100 years, based on an understanding of the value of assets at risk, the important features and environment of the area and the consequences of the policy chosen.


What is the difference between a Shoreline Management Plan,
a Strategy Study and a Scheme?

There are a number of stages that Coast Protection Authorities (such as the Isle of Wight Council) are required to follow to decide how and where coastal risks can be reduced, summarised in the table below. These enable the authority to seek funding for coastal defence works, where appropriate.

  • The large-scale plan is the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP). There is one SMP for the entire Isle of Wight coast. It sets the policies for managing coastal risks.
  • For each stretch of coast a Coastal Defence Strategy Study is produced. The Isle of Wight is divided into three Strategy Study areas. The Strategy identifies appropriate Schemes to put the policies into place, and suggests a co-ordinated programme22 July, 2010
  • At a local level a Scheme will then develop and implement a coastal defence proposal for a particular location.

Each stage needs an understanding of coastal processes, coastal defence needs, environmental considerations, planning issues and future land use, but in appropriate detail. Assessing risks is important at each stage to ensure decisions are based on an awareness of consequences and are appropriate.

To identify policies to manage risks.
To identify appropriate schemes to put the policies into practice.
To identify the type of work to put the preferred scheme into practice.
A wide ranging assessment of risks, opportunities, limits and areas of uncertainty.
Preferred approach, including economic and environmental decisions.
Compare different options for putting the preferred scheme into practice.
Type of scheme (such as a seawall).
Design of work.
Improved management for the coast over the long-term.
Management measures that will provide the best approach to managing floods and the coast for a specified area.
Reduced risks from floods and coastal erosion to people and assets (see Glossary).

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shoreline management plan guidance
© Crown copyright 2006.

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What is a Shoreline Management Plan?

A Shoreline Management Plan is a non-statutory document that provides a broad assessment of the long-term risks associated with coastal processes. It offers guidance to coastal engineers and managers to identify and recommend strategic and sustainable coastal defence policy options for particular lengths of coast to reduce these risks to people, the developed and natural environments. SMPs are an important part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) strategy for flood and coastal defence. They must take account of existing planning initiatives and legislative requirements and use the best present knowledge on the possible effects of climate change and sea level rise. The plan should inform, and be supported by, the statutory planning process. 

An SMP is a ‘living' document used by the operating authorities and other organisations (e.g. the Local Authority, Environment Agency, Natural England) to consider the planning and implementation of sea defences and other maritime works. It is also used by Defra when considering applications from the operating authorities to fund various coastal defence works.

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What Policies are set by the SMP?

The coastline is sub-divided into Policy Units, based on natural sediment movements and coastal processes, rather than administrative boundaries. For each policy unit four coastal defence options will be considered, which are:

Policy Comment
Hold the line Maintain or upgrade level of protection provided by defences
Advance the line Build new defences seaward of existing defences
Managed Realignment
Allowing retreat of shoreline with management to control or limit movement
No Active Intervention Not to invest in providing or maintaining defences

Policies will be set for three time epochs: 0-20 years, 20-50 years and 50-100 years.

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How are the Policies chosen?

Defra provide the following guidance on setting policies in the SMP (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shoreline management plan guidance © Crown copyright 2006):

"When choosing policies, you need to take account of technical, environmental, social and economic factors, in line with the Government's strategy for managing floods and coastal erosion. However, you also need to consider local factors when deciding how these policies are most appropriate to particular areas and circumstances. Despite this, it is essential that the policies in the SMP are realistic, using existing legislation and likely future funding. Although the plan should be flexible enough to adapt to changes in legislation, politics and social attitudes, you should develop the SMP policies based on current legislation.

To identify and take account of these factors, assessing and choosing policies should include the following steps.

  • Identifying a preferred plan (being the most sustainable – that is, avoiding tying future generations into inflexible or expensive options for defence). Appropriate policies for each policy unit will be based on an analysis of the available information, taking account of technical, environmental, social and economic factors.
  • Interested people examining these policies.
  • Adopting the SMP and associated policies after considering all comments and responses from people who were consulted, which may result in the adopted policy being different from the preferred policy.

You should not automatically adopt the policy of holding the existing defence line. You should thoroughly assess and compare other policies, including a broad assessment of the longer-term costs and the effects on natural processes. You should consider technical, environmental, social and economic requirements, including whether the policy is practical in the long term.

When assessing policies for particular policy units, you will need to take account of the relationship with other parts of the coast and give equal consideration to achieving requirements in those areas."

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