Allan Young is EMM’s very own National Technical Leader in Urban and Regional Planning. To date, his career has spanned management of urban planning, development and policy in Government through to project management and development advisory services in the private sector. He has been recognised through a number of awards including a Fulbright Scholarship (Urban planning, 2013) and a Churchill Fellowship (Coastal management, 2015). It was the latter of these awards that took Allan to the US, Caribbean and UK in 2017 to undertake research into coastal adaptation with governments, universities and international experts. His particular interest was to examine the factors leading to success or failure in coastal relocation schemes. Allan’s focus on finding practical solutions is built upon 20 years of experience as a marine and coastal planning specialist. 

“The coast holds a special place in Australia. We have a strong cultural attachment to beaches; it is an important ecological area, and it is the home to significant economic activity. Yet the coast is vulnerable to hazards which are likely to be amplified by sea level rise.” 

~ Allan Young 

Coastal Hazards and Relocation

As coastal hazards migrate towards development, there will be difficult choices. Although protection is often preferred, it is unlikely to be feasible, for technical or financial reasons, in all locations. Communities, businesses and governments will need to collaborate and contribute to viable and workable solutions. Considering the scale and cost of the challenge over the long term, it is important that today’s policies create a feasible trajectory for the future. 

In most jurisdictions, there is a significant policy gap when it comes to arrangements for areas unable to be protected. Understandably, relocation is not something anyone wants, but if it becomes necessary the key question is – how will it work?

Most governments have assumed a ‘wait and see’ approach, preferring not to commit to any specific solution. On the other hand, most communities assume that, if protection is not feasible, or if protection efforts fail in the future, the government will acquire the affected properties at a generous ‘pre-hazard’ price. This has indeed happened in some vulnerable coastal communities such as Staten Island, NYC, after Hurricane Sandy. Buyouts are, however, simply unaffordable and unsustainable as a long-term solution. Moreover, they also incentivise on-going development in at-risk coastal locations. But if not buyouts, then how can relocation work?

A better solution 

The solution is proposed in Allan’s paper, “How to Retreat: The Necessary Transition from Buyouts to Leasing” which appears in the current edition of the prestigious US journal Coastal Management. 

Allan’s solution is to create a clear baseline role for government when relocation is required. This involves government retiring the false assumption of generous government buyouts for all vulnerable property, and setting a more pragmatic policy default of leasing (not buying) vacant private land if and when owners choose to relocate. The relocation of some coastal assets will be inevitable in future years, and in order to minimise the difficulty of that transition, it is essential to clarify as early as possible how landowners and the government will jointly manage the adjustment.

 The paper represents a fresh idea in coastal planning and is already drawing interest from coastal practitioners and governments, locally and internationally. You can read more about it in this month’s issue of Coastal Management here.

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