Coast protection intro

Information on the responsibilities we have towards coast protection. 

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Coast protection

Northumberland County Council is defined as a coast protection authority under the Coast Protection Act 1949.

We have responsibility for controlling erosion and managing the coastline by regulating the protection work of others (e.g. landowners) and promoting our own coast protection work. 

Northumberland County Council does not have a legal obligation to protect any of its coastline from erosion. 

Our coastline & the shoreline management plan (SMP) 

Northumberland has a coastline of approximately 132km (82 miles), stretching from the Scottish Border in the north to Seaton Sluice in the south. The coast has a rich diversity in its physical form and natural environment.    This includes dramatic cliff lines, complex river estuaries, extensive and beautiful beaches, large urban and industrial areas and valuable agricultural land, all of which fringe our unique coastline.   

Northumberland coastal area is largely designated and protected for its natural beauty, its wildlife, habitats, geology and its historical importance. This combination of assets creates a coastline of great value, with a tourism economy of regional importance.   

Much of our coastline is natural, and only has man-made defences at the coastal towns, villages and communities. It isn’t practical or desirable to defend against all erosion risk and this is taken into account within the Northumberland and North Tyneside shoreline management plan (SMP).    

The SMP was adopted in 2009 and sets out the plans and strategies for managing our coastline. The overall aim of the SMP is to set out a plan for a 100-year period, indicating how our coastline should be managed and taking account of the wider implications on the neighbouring coastline and environment.   

It provides a large-scale assessment of the risks associated with coastal processes and presents a policy framework to reduce the risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment in a sustainable manner into the 22 century. 

Coastal protection schemes

Lynemouth Bay Waste Management Scheme After decades of colliery spoil tipping, the erosion of Lynemouth Bay has accelerated in recent years, revealing sites of historic waste previously buried within the cliffs.

Over the last year, the council has been working to investigate the extent and makeup of this waste material, which has included detailed site investigation, sampling and laboratory testing. During this time, it’s also been monitoring the release of waste material onto the beach, and removing it as necessary. The feasibility study has been published online, please see the link below. 

Feasibility Study Generic Quantitative Risk Assessment

The council is committed to finding a cost effective and environmentally acceptable solution to the issues at Lynemouth Bay. To follow the progression, please see the link above.  To find out more about our flood and coastal risk management schemes click on the interactive map.

Coastal monitoring

Scarborough Borough Council undertakes coastal monitoring on behalf of authorities from the Scottish Borders down to Flamborough Head. The current monitoring project is designed to run until 2021. It involves a variety of surveys at different locations along the coastline. This survey data and inspection reports are collated. It can be downloaded from the North East Coastal Observatory website.  

For Northumberland, the surveys include:

  • cliff stability surveys
  • visual defence condition inspections
  • beach profile/topographic surveys.

Historic and current monitoring reports can be downloaded from the North East Coastal Observatory website.  

Consents for coastal works and activities

This note is designed to advise those wishing to undertake work around the coast. It a summary of the different types of coastal consents that may be needed. Additional factors to consider and links to more information.  The two main types of development consent required for coastal or marine works are: 

  • Planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 for infrastructure to the boundary jurisdiction of the local planning authority (LPA, Northumberland County Council).  Generally, the seaward boundary is the Mean Low Water Mark (MLWM). 
  • A Marine Licence under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 for works below mean high water springs (MHWS). It is assessed and issued by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). 

Depending on the environmental significance of the immediate and adjacent areas, a number of nature conservation consenting processes may also apply, even in cases where works are not deemed to be developments requiring planning permission or a marine licence. Such consenting process might include:

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) Consent under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This is issued by Natural England. 
  • Habitat Regulations Assessment required under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended 2012) if works have the potential to impact European protected sites. 

The entire shoreline of Northumberland, except a small section around Lynemouth, has multiple SSSI, European and international nature conservation designations in place and the above statutory conservation consenting processes are also likely to apply.  To find out if the location of your proposed works is located within or may affect a designated site, please see the following website: Defra Magic Map.

 For developments taking place in the intertidal zone or across the land/sea boundary, for example a slipway, both planning permission and a Marine Licence will be required. 

The planning, marine licensing and nature conservation consenting systems work independently of each other and are administered by Northumberland County Council, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Natural England respectively. 

For all proposals it is advised that you discuss your proposal with your local SSSI advisor, planning officer and MMO officer for initial advice on the permissions that are likely to be required. 

Landowners  Permission should be sought from all landowners whose land will be affected either permanently, or temporarily during works. 

The Crown Estate owns much of the foreshore and seabed around the UK, between Mean High Water (MHW) and the 12 nautical mile territorial limit including the beds of many estuaries and tidal rivers.  In general, the Crown Estate does not sell these areas but instead grant leases for works and activities occurring on owned foreshores and beds.  If consent is required, a short application form will need to be completed and the application will take up to 4 weeks to process.  

For further information or clarification, email

In Northumberland, many areas of the shore are under multiple landowners including:

  • the National Trust
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust
  • private owners

Those proposing development will need perission from the landowner.  It is also recommended that you consult your Town/Parish Council to inform them of the works. 

Further Information  

Northumberland County Council Local Planning Authority

Marine Management Organisation

Natural England and SSSI Consents

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