Shoreline management plans

Check how coastal flood and erosion risks will be managed in your area.

Applies to England


Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) help to deliver the ambitions of the National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy. They set out a planned approach to managing flood and coastal erosion risk around the coast of England to 2105.

There are 20 SMPs covering the English coast. You can see these on the Shoreline Management Plan Explorer.

What SMPs are

SMPs were developed by coastal groups between 2006 and 2012.

Coastal groups include:

  • the Environment Agency
  • local authorities
  • others with an interest in coastal management

The Environment Agency has a strategic overview role for the management of all sources of flooding and coastal change in England, including coastal erosion. This includes approving SMPs and any changes made to them.

SMPs are living plans updated by coastal groups. They guide coastal management investment decisions on the coast such as:

  • building and maintaining sea defences
  • implementing adaptation plans
  • creating coastal habitats

They are adopted by local authorities and used as part of the town and country planning system to designate Coastal Change Management Areas (CCMAs). They also inform local plans and development decisions.

The Environment Agency has worked closely with coastal groups to refresh and improve SMPs. These works include:

The Environment Agency also commissioned an independent peer review to assess the state of SMPs and identify where further improvements can be made. The peer review panel was made up of six coastal experts including representatives from local government and academia. The peer review report provides an objective view of how much the updated shoreline management plans are contributing to the ambitions of the National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy.

These ambitions include:

  • climate resilient places - working with partners to bolster resilience to flooding and coastal change across the nation, both now and in the face of climate change
  • today’s growth and infrastructure resilient in tomorrow’s climate - making the right investment and planning decisions to secure sustainable growth and environmental improvements, as well as resilient infrastructure
  • a nation ready to respond and adapt to flooding and coastal change - making sure local people understand their risk to flooding and coastal change, and know their responsibilities and how to take action

The Environment Agency is continuing to work with coastal groups on further improvements to SMPs. These include updating management approaches where needed and providing new assessments of coastal flood and erosion risks.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has committed to review national policy for shoreline management plans by 2026. This will be informed by the Environment Agency’s SMP refresh.

It will make sure:  

  • local plans are transparent  
  • they continuously review outcomes and enable  
  • local authorities can  make robust decisions for their areas  

This commitment is set out in the government’s flood and coastal erosion risk management policy statement.

What is the Shoreline Management Plan Explorer

The Shoreline Management Plan Explorer is an online tool that makes shoreline management plans easier to access and use.

It is available for:

  • coastal managers
  • local authority planners
  • the public, including communities living on the coast

You can use the Shoreline Management Plan Explorer to view:

  • SMP management approaches and actions for each section of coast
  • where changes to management approaches have been made and why
  • areas protected for their environmental, historic or landscape importance which must be considered when deciding the approach to managing flood and erosion risk
  • guidance on how shoreline management plans are developed and updated

Who uses Shoreline Management Plans

The Environment Agency and local authorities use SMPs to guide investment in managing flood and erosion risk to people and property in a sustainable way.

Local planning authorities can use SMPs to guide where they plan and permit development, including the designation of CCMAs.

The National Planning Policy Framework Planning Practice Guidance explains how planners can use SMPs to define coastal change management areas and their associated policies.

SMPs are useful to anybody living and working at the coast or to those interested in how the coast is changing and how it is being managed.

Shoreline Management Plan management approaches

All SMPs apply a management approach for each section or ‘unit’ of the coast through this century. They have been developed by coastal groups in consultation with local communities. They are based on the best available evidence on how the coast is changing and what may be at risk from flooding or erosion now and in the future.

The management approaches are:

  • hold the line - maintain or upgrade protection from flooding or erosion by holding the shoreline in broadly the same position
  • no active intervention - maintain or encourage a more natural coastline, which may involve discussing adaptation to the risk from flooding or erosion
  • managed realignment - change the position of the shoreline in a controlled way, such as by slowing erosion or creating areas of habitat to help manage flooding
  • advance the line - actively move shoreline defences significantly seawards

The Shoreline Management Plan Explorer explains how these approaches can be achieved along different sections of the coast. All are dependent upon funding being available.

Management approaches can change if new evidence shows a different approach would be more sustainable. The Environment Agency reviews all changes proposed to management approaches.

Published 30 January 2024