October 2003 Comments

This past few weeks have proved extremely worrying for North Norfolk as a region. There seems to be a pattern emerging that Central Government (DEFRA) has decided, in coastal defence and flood terms we do not exist. There seems to be a hidden agenda in operation. The correspondents who wrote to Government demanding action for Happisburgh have received replies from either No.10 or DEFRA, in some cases both. The standard reply is a superlative example of waffle and Governmental spin. Why do we use the word spin? It has the effect of making outright dishonesty almost acceptable. Make no mistake DEFRA is being far from honest with us.

In recent weeks we have seen the emergence of a study by English Nature recommending that the sea defences are breached from Sea Palling to Winterton to allow the sea to reclaim a vast swathe of North Norfolk (see press article ) flooding many villages and scattered settlements to provide a really nice, comfortable habitat for wildlife. The people of Winterton and the surrounding area are utterly incensed and planning to become proactive in the fight for common sense. CCAG will assist in any way we can.

At the other end of North Norfolk, Cley, the internationally acclaimed habitat for wildlife and an ornithologist’s paradise has recently seen it’s scheme for defending both people and wildlife withdrawn at the eleventh hour thus rendering this beautiful part of England more and more vulnerable to flooding and loss of the age old wildlife habitat. Let us pause here for a moment and consider how much of OUR money has been wasted on the wholly unnecessary coastal habitats report by English Nature which is intended to disregard the human population aspect in search of some kind of wildlife utopia and the utterly obscene amount wasted both financially and in man hours by the Environment Agency (although not their fault) producing the now defunct scheme for Cley. Let us also consider who controls English Nature; the Environment Agency and the Maritime Local Authorities by, it seems, both dictat and purse. DEFRA. It is DEFRA, that brings pressure to bear on all of these agencies behind the scenes to withdraw their much needed and eagerly anticipated schemes before applying to DEFRA for funding. This is an important part of the DEFRA strategy: Use any means to get the lead Authorities to change their minds, as English Nature apparently did over the Cley scheme, or get the lead Authorities to withdraw schemes before submission. Then when there is public outcry and scrutiny DEFRA simply respond with their stock answer, which to them is absolution, they always say DEFRA is not to blame – “we have not said no it’s just that the scheme was never submitted to us for our approval or otherwise”!!!! Great game they (DEFRA) are playing and they could not care less how many millions and millions of pounds of OUR money is poured down the drain in the process, as long as the finger of responsibility and blame is not pointed at them. Now they have problems because Joe Public has rumbled them and Joe Public will be looking for some answers because it is Joe Public who pays their wages and Joe Public will not tolerate divisive, unethical tactics from a Government department. DEFRA is recognised, both in Westminster and around the country, as the most inefficient Government department. Do we have Secretary of State and Ministers running their department? Or is it the department running them?

I am told from within that it was the Chief Engineer Reg Purnell who played a major role in the demise of the Cley scheme; I would ask the Minister is this true? We know he has played a major role in the lack of defences for Happisburgh. I have attended a number of meetings recently which have also been attended by officials of the various agencies involved and it appears there is universal distaste for the Chief Engineer and his attitude and approach within his own organisation, but I am told no-one dare speak out for fear of their career. Is this true Minister? It is high time you came to Happisburgh personally and justified your department’s position because from where we (the public) stand, in our view your department is in chaos and we are paying the price with homes, livelihoods and our socio-economic survival not only at Happisburgh but along the entire length of the North Norfolk coast and beyond. There is deep and mounting unrest in communities along the Norfolk coast, there is huge concern over the DEFRA attitude and approach to the problems our coastal communities face.

Coastal Concern Action Group has recently been contacted by representatives of groups from other areas of the UK including Birling Gap, Sussex. We are seeing a pattern emerging, whilst our various problems may be different and our communities poles apart there is one thing that conjoins and unites us all – DEFRA and their divisive ways. I have just been made aware that the priority score points threshold imposed by DEFRA for granting aid for capital schemes, currently 22, is going to be set at 20 for the year 2004/05 not 15 as previously promised by them. This of course means that they will fund even fewer schemes for flood and coastal erosion prevention than they had said they would. To them that is success, to many of us it is disaster.

On Monday 20th October 2003 I am travelling to Brussels, (see joint letter elsewhere on site) to take the matter to the European Parliament. Clearly the British Government is in complete and hopeless disarray over coast defences, and yet again we, the indigenous English have to look to Europe in an effort to protect ourselves from our own Government and ultimately the sea.. Meanwhile we shall continue to lobby Westminster for action to protect our coastal communities and their cultural heritage.

Malcolm Kerby (16 October 2003)

Crumbling village chases Euro-cash

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners for Happisburgh are taking their fight overseas in a bid to stop the village from crumbling away.

After council officers this week said a further bid for government funds to pay for a £2m sea defence project would be “futile”, three coastal ambassadors will travel to Brussels to try and get European backing.

Campaigners are confident a meeting at the European Commission about the EUrosion Project, which aims to draw up a cross-country strategy to manage eroding and flood-prone shorelines, will be successful.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, and Peter Frew, coastal engineer for North Norfolk District Council, will be part of discussions with EC representatives on October 20. They hope sizeable loans from European banks and new legislation, which will force the British Government to support coastal communities, will stop more properties being claimed by the sea.

Mr Kerby said the get-together was not a last-ditch attempt to halt Happisburgh’s rapidly-eroding cliffs.

“We are utterly committed to saving our community. Clearly our own government is falling far too short on coastal dwellers’ expectations. They are allowing the heritage and socio-economic value of our communities to disintegrate and, yet again, we look to Europe for some common sense.”

The EUrosion scheme, run by the National Institute for Coastal and Marine management of the Netherlands, was set up in 2001 to form policy recommendations for the EU, national, regional and local authorities.

Mr Kerby added that the Government would have to listen to new national strategies, due to be im”appropriate and ecologically responsible coastal protection measures for coastal settlements and cultural heritage”.

Happisburgh’s cliffs, which in some places have been eroding at speeds of up to 10m a month, fail a government points system for funding.

Liberal Democrat MP Mr Lamb, who organised the Brussels meeting, said there was also a possibility that Happisburgh and other coastal villages could benefit from loans from European investment banks.

“I have no idea if anything will come out of the meeting but my view is that we have to try. I wish it was not necessary. I remain deeply frustrated at the Government for changing the goalposts for funding criteria.”

New North Norfolk Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Iain Dale yesterday called for more government support for coastal communities at the party conference in Blackpool.