Why you need to let go of planned retreat and embrace assisted transition

Mr Allan Young

The standard rule book suggests that there are two main options for coastal adaptation – stay and protect, or move away.

One of the options is more popular than the other – and it comes as no great surprise that retreat is the unpopular one. Yet it remains that case that we are unlikely to be able to protect all assets, in all locations, for all time. Retreat will be a necessary solution in some places.

This presentation is all about making the retreat option workable. It is based on the results of a Churchill Trust research project undertaken in 2017 across the US, Caribbean and UK. It draws on the experience and insights of dozens of coastal practitioners, academics and community groups internationally.

The presentation will reveal the root causes of our general inability to make ‘planned retreat’ work. We have allowed planned retreat to become mission impossible. It now creates a moral hazard that promotes maladaptive behaviour and invites risk escalation. We need a fresh approach to put retreat options on a more realistic and sustainable footing.

This presentation will describe an innovative and pragmatic option to make retreat feasible. It is, as far as can be established, a global first.

The US journal Coastal Management recently published Allan Young’s paper on this topic, and it is generating interest from a number of public authorities in Australia and internationally. With good reason. The difficult economic and social adjustments required of coastal communities need this conversation.


Allan Young is an urban planner with a career background spanning the public and private sector, locally and internationally.

He is the Planning Service Leader for EMM Consulting and previously held senior roles in the NSW Government. His work includes coastal planning projects in Australia and New Zealand. His work has been recognised through a Fulbright Scholarship and more recently a Churchill Fellowship.

Allan’s research looks at some of the most complex issues confronting coastal managers and then tries to offer some simple practical responses.

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