UUP's Nesbitt in plea for clear policy to tackle coastal erosion in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's storm-battered coastline is being allowed to ebb away because Stormont's strategy to tackle erosion is holed below the waterline.
That is the claim of Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, who insists coastal erosion should be a formal responsibility given to one of the Government departments.
The chair of the Assembly committee that monitors the First Minister and Deputy First Minister described the current reduction of departments as a "wasted opportunity".
The 12 departments are being amalgamated into nine, which should be in place just after the Assembly election in May.
But the ongoing loss of the province's coast will not be included because it is deemed a new policy area, Strangford MLA Mr Nesbitt said.
"As things stand, policy on coastal erosion is a handwritten scrawl on a piece of paper written by a civil servant in 1967," he said.
He was referring to the almost 50-year-old Bateman formula, but a report last year concluded: "A deliberate and structured strategic approach along the lines of Shoreline Management Plans is necessary in Northern Ireland.
"This would clarify the situation for property owners, developers, planners and the public.
"It would enable targeting of resources for sea defences where they are most necessary and it would enable the preservation of the coastal attributes for which Northern Ireland is renowned and which underpin significant economic activity."
Mr Nesbitt argued: "We are being knocked back and being told that the exercise is about rearranging existing functions, not involving any new functions. That would require a public consultation and so on.
"To a certain extent it doesn't really matter which of the new departments takes it over, as long as one of them does."
Mr Nesbitt said a recent task force set up by Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen was welcome.
He added: "I think it is a good development, but it is not the solution. At the moment it is scattered. If it is a roads issue, that will be Regional Development, if it is rivers that comes under DARD (Agriculture and Rural Development), and the Department of the Environment might be involved also.
"Nobody is in the lead, no one is taking a proactive stance, and there is no strategy.
"There is no criticism of what the departments do, but it is all reactive. It is all after the event."
A statement from Mrs McIlveen said: "Decisions on the responsibilities and functions of the new departments are a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive." Mrs McIlveen and Environment Minister Mark H Durkan attended the first meeting of the new task force last month, which also included Rivers Agency officials and the Ards Peninsula Coastal Group.
During the meeting the minister said coastal erosion cannot be managed by one organisation alone "and required bringing together expertise and resources from across central and local government, organisations such as the National Trust and local communities", her department said yesterday.