Flooding threat hangs over region

Byline: Tara Greaves, Eastern Daily Press

If things remain as they are, much of East Anglia’s coastline could disappear under water, according to a new Government-backed report published yesterday.

Only a change in policies, a cut in greenhouse gases and enhanced long-term flood management will help control a crisis of massive environ-mental and financial proportions, according to the Foresight Flood and Coastal Defence report.

Although the grim message is not new, the weight this report has been given is evident in the immediate action of the Government by using it as part of a draft Flood and Coastal Protection Plan, due out later this year.

The Department of Trade and Industry’s Foresight project gathered the 60 experts in climate change, engineering and economics to examine possible risks for the UK from flooding and coastal erosion in the next 30 to 100 years.

Sarah Cornell, a senior researcher at the Tyndall Centre, based at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, was part of the team.

“Some of the report does make for grim reading but that is if things stay as they are or a worst-case scenario. We have to make sure people, and not just the Government, are part of the decision-making process for their own patch but also for the nation,” she said.

“The report shows that we have to make clear choices now to manage future flood risk. This includes reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, such as Norfolk’s CRed project is doing.”

It reveals that the cost of damage from flooding and coastal erosion in Britain could rise by 20 times over the next century – from about £1bn a year to more than £20bn by 2080.

Up to four million Britons could face the prospect of their homes being swallowed by water both from rivers and the sea, particularly in parts of low-lying East Anglia.

As well as the financial impact for residents – including being unable to insure property – there is also the damage to sites of natural beauty such as the Broads.

The report found that climate change and increased flooding could alter the effectiveness of drains and sewers in towns and cities, but it needs more research.

The Government currently spends £500m per year on flood management but in this report the emphasis is not solely on its shoulders but also local council planners, developers and the public.

Four scenarios, depending on things such as climate change, economic development and Government structure, have been put forward.

There is one certainty; things cannot stay the same because the risks grow to “unacceptable levels”.

And even in the best scenario for the next 75 years – where local people take control of their areas and manage floods with strong environmental and social control – the financial risk is still double what it is today, at £2bn a year.

Although it is a national report, the findings are particularly applicable to the east.

Dr Cornell added: “We looked back at flood and coastal defences in the past because we wanted to plan for the future. It is not a forecast for the UK in the sense of a weather forecast but what we wanted to do was put forward a set of what if? situations.

“From Yorkshire to Essex, communities are at risk of flooding because of sea-level and sinking land. In addition, our coasts are soft and vulnerable to erosion and storms can also have unexpected impacts, as seen with the big flood of 1953.”

Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientist, said: “This Foresight report is the most wide-ranging analysis of future flood risk ever made in the UK. Flooding can have a devastating effect on people’s homes and businesses. There are currently about £200bn worth of assets and 1.7 million properties in flood-risk areas in England and Wales.

“The scenarios in the Future Flooding report may seem a long way off, but the challenge of increased flood risk needs to be considered now.”

It is something the Government is obviously taking seriously, having already used findings of the report.

Elliot Morley, Environment Minister, said: “Managing future flood risk, including the latest climate-change predictions, is a challenge Defra is addressing as it works on its new strategy for flood and coastal protection.

“Foresight’s important predictive insights mean that part of Defra’s work is already done – the report’s conclusions will be incorporated into the draft strategy, to be published for consultation later this year.

“Government spending on flood and coastal defence has risen significantly in the last three years and the UK is firmly committed to combating climate change. But this very useful what if? report underlines the need for the Government’s flood-management programme to keep evolving to face up to new potential risks and challenges.”

The Government has no legal obligation to defend property or land and the only way it will intervene is when it is “sustainable” to do so and where the defence is “economically, technically and environmentally sound”.

Developers and those who work in the building industry have also welcomed the report.

Chris Ward, director in charge of hydrology for TA Millard consulting engineers, based in Norwich, said: “I welcome this report. I think it says what hydrologists and engineers have been saying for years. One of the East Anglian angles is coastal realignment – where the coastline is not defended and there is a managed retreat – which is particularly unpopular in areas like Happisburgh. Although the report makes some comments about it, it does not say whether it is in favour of it or not – just that it is in the tool kit as something that can mitigate the effects of flooding.”

An on-going action plan has been drawn up which also involves making use of the report in specific parts of the country.

The full report can be found at www.foresight.gov.uk

April 2004 Update

Anyone who listened to the radio 4 programme Costing The Earth broadcast last week surely can be left in no doubt that marine aggregate dredging is extremely harmful to our marine environment and holds significant responsibility for the massive increase in coastal erosion around our shores. In Europe there is no doubt of its harmful effects, indeed the Dutch who it is acknowledged are the masters of coastal defence, simply will not allow aggregate dredging in waters less than 20 meters deep and within 25 Km of the shore, ironically they fulfil their requirement for aggregates by buying them in from British dredging companies. Contrast this with the UK Government who actively encourage dredging within 6Km of Great Yarmouth. DEFRA were recently asked to comment on the Eurosion document which addresses such issues and highlights North Norfolk among other areas. Their comment was :

“We are considering the reports from the Eurosion project. If it emerges that they have significant new evidence then we will clearly give this careful consideration. However it is our understanding that the project has not conducted any new field work and is probably relying on previously published material.”

So it would appear our Government, particularly the responsible Minister have been extremely economical with the truth. His answer to the question, does offshore aggregate dredging have an impact on coastal erosion? Is always very careful, very guarded, short and quite meaningless: “There is no evidence.”

Why do you say there is no evidence Minister?

Have you deliberately avoided looking for it?

Is it being suppressed by Government that they may continue to receive their approx. £1,000,000 per week revenue from off the Norfolk Coast (more if other areas are included)?

Do you have evidence which has been buried because some fool somewhere has decided it is not in the national interest to allow it into the public domain?

Has there been a deliberate policy to suppress evidence?

Is it Blair, Beckett, Morley, Prescott (whose department licences and permits dredging) or the civil service withholding any previously published evidence?

Why is the DEFRA Chief Engineer a director of one of the leading consultancy companies used by Government in the process of granting dredging licences?

The whole DEFRA approach and response to coastal erosion and its associated socio-economic problems is seriously flawed, extremely unfair, totally biased and is a huge disservice to this nation in both economic and physical terms.

Since meeting with Elliot Morley in his Office on 13th May 2003 I have spoken with officers from three different maritime authorities. Privately they agree with many of our views, publicly they dare not express those views for fear of being ‘drummed out’ by DEFRA as it would appear happened in North Norfolk some years ago.

The whole set up and system stinks, the deeper I look, the more I learn, the smellier it gets.

Stop the dredging now and start addressing some of the problems it has caused.

Finally to return to Costing The Earth it was, shall we say, interesting to hear Dr. Ian Selby’s pathetic attempts to justify marine aggregate dredging (he is employed by one of the largest dredging companies) saying that offshore dredging is “benign” in its effects! Come on Dr. Selby you appear to be making the same mistake as DEFRA in believing that we area all stupid out here in the real world! Obviously we wasted a great deal of money on somebody’s education.

It is becoming increasingly evident that marine aggregate dredging is about as benign in its effects on the marine and coastal environment as a Kalishnikov bullet is when hitting the flesh of its intended target!

Malcolm Kerby (13 April 2004)

April 2004 Comments

Having attended two conferences in recent weeks namely the CLA organised ‘On The Brink’ at Barnham Broom Norfolk and the National Flood Forum Second Annual Conference in Birmingham, I am left with mixed feelings and emotions.

The ‘On The Brink’ gathering was indeed excellent as it highlighted what we are facing in terms of global warming and other environmental changes. From that came how little our Government appears to be doing or even planning to combat those inevitable changes i.e. sea level rise and weather patterns, in coastal defence terms. If central Government continues on it’s chosen path many people could be facing disaster even in the short to medium term.

The NFF gathering in Birmingham was also an excellent event. Although concerned mainly with fluvial flooding there was some discussion on coastal defence / erosion. There was a strong feeling that if we are going to actually manage our coastal defences there must be a statutory means to address the current lack of compensation for those businesses and homeowners who lose everything as a result of the defensive line being moved landward, as is happening in Happisburgh.

What did come over to me loud and clear through both of these events is just how inadequate the Coast Protection Act 1949 is. The 1949 Act, which in itself was a revamp of the 1939 Act, was placed on statute 55years ago. Long before global warming and tectonic plate movement (where the North West of the UK is rising and the South East is sinking. Something to do with glacial rebound I believe) were ever thought of. We are currently attempting to manage and mitigate twenty first century problems with a rather blunt mid twentieth century instrument and the chaos of a multi agency approach, Happisburgh is a glaring example of this.

There was some discussion about offshore aggregate dredging and it was interesting to note that at least one speaker in an ‘official’ capacity admitted that “ We really don’t know” when referring to the effects of dredging on coastal erosion. I also note that more and more voices are supporting my call for a moratorium on aggregate dredging until we do know the full consequences. That seems to me to be the only sensible way forward. Happisburgh cliffs are eroding five times faster than expert prediction, more in specific areas, this quite clearly is not the result of natural process.

It is Central Government, DEFRA, who block all progress in the defence of Happisburgh and the Northern Norfolk Broads, yet they make a profit of approx. £1,000,000 per week every week from offshore aggregate dredging off the Norfolk Coast alone. That means over the five years (or 260 weeks) CCAG has been in existence Central Government have made some £260 million profit from our assets and indeed our sacrifices (26 properties already lost) having spent absolutely nothing on our protection! I would welcome justification of the foregoing in moral as well as economic terms from Messrs Blair, Brown, Prescott, Beckett and Morley.

Finally I would cordially extend my belated best wishes to the DEFRA Chief Engineer Reg Purnell for his 58th Birthday on 15th (the Ides) of March.

Malcolm Kerby (05 April 2004)