Survey exposes potential scale of coastal landfill time bomb

Please find below a press release on the Coastal Landfill Survey Report

We all recognise the devastating impacts of coastal erosion, flooding and pollution across our coastline, however, there has been little acknowledgement of the “hidden silent ticking time bombs” that coastal landfill sites present.

For 2 years the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group (LGA Coastal SIG), in partnership with the Coastal Group Network (CGN) have been working together under a “call to arms” to better understand the challenge of coastal landfill and its impact on the coast. This summer they circulated a survey around their membership to try and better understand the scale of this issue – the results are ringing alarm bells with findings from 26 coastal councils highlighting that some sites are already spilling large amounts of waste onto cliffs and beaches, 75% of coastal landfill sites are next to at least one environmentally designated site and there are significant gaps in understanding of what waste is present within these sites.

Cllr Laws, Member Champion for Coastal Landfill at LGA Coastal SIG and Torridge District Councillor lives less than a mile away from a coastal landfill site and told us of the difficulty in “digesting the enormity of the problem facing us, vast areas of rubbish deposited on low lying coastal and  estuary sites, not suitable to be built on, so an easy target for the disposal of vast quantiles of toxic rubbish, buried, hidden away, laying fallow for years, now with global warming and rising sea levels these are now hidden silent ticking time bombs.”

The issue of coastal landfill, and funding to find solutions, is not a new one.  From the mid 1990’s and the early days of shoreline management planning the problems with coastal landfill sites and the risk to them from either flooding or erosion have been widely acknowledged.Mark Stratton, Coastal Manager at Coastal Partners and Officer Lead for Coastal Landfill at the LGA Coastal SIG and the CGN “call to arms” theme lead says “There are hundreds of coastal landfill sites at risk of tidal flooding and erosion. During visits to sites, I have been overwhelmed by the scale of the problem especially the threat of waste eroding or leaching out onto the often-designated natural coastal environment. I truly hope that this matter gets the attention from government that it deserves to avoid environmental catastrophe’. Cllr Laws also echoed Mark’s hope for recognition by telling us “My hope is that this very detailed report, will at last trigger action to alleviate a national disaster.”

The Report further supports recent work by Queen Mary University of London. Professor Kate Spencer, who led the research said “Our work has shown that legacy landfills contain a variety of waste materials and pollutants that could have a significant impact on the coastal environment if the sites are flooded by sea water or erode. For many coastal landfills the best approach may be to maintain coastal defences, but we also need to develop sustainable approaches to remediate, relocate or recycle landfilled waste. This will all require significant funding”. The Report found that some respondents estimated that the life costs of work needed would be over £30 million at each of their sites. 

Whilst the survey and it’s Report has reignited discussions with Defra around the issue and the LGA Coastal SIG and CGN welcome collaborative opportunities to work together to find long-term solutions Cllr Ernest Gibson, Chair of the LGA Coastal SIG highlighted that “Pollution events are happening today and so we, the LGA Coastal SIG, are seeking to explore with councils and government where potential relaxation to funding rules might allow for any identified underspend to be redirected to allow councils to deal with the problems we are facing now. Therefore we invite government to contact us on this as a matter of urgency”.

Change is needed today, not tomorrow.

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