Minister criticised for cancellations

Byline: Tom Smithard, Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners rounded on a Government minister last night after he pulled out of a series of Norfolk meetings to avoid protesters.

Environment minister Elliot Morley was 30 seconds away from a photo opportunity with the media at Somerton, near Yarmouth, yesterday when the call came through to cancel.

His failure to turn up at pre-arranged meetings prompted claims that he was denying local voters the chance to tackle him on a key local issue – and that he simply lacked “the bottle” to confront his critics.

The man responsible for the deeply unpopular Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) – which controversially advocates changing the coastal erosion policy from hold-the-line to managed retreat– was in the area to launch Labour’s rural manifesto.

Mr Morley had been set to meet reed cutters at a picturesque location at the edge of the Broads with Labour candidate for Yarmouth, Tony Wright.

However, just before he arrived, about 15 villagers – some of whom are members of the Countryside Alliance – and Malcolm Kerby, the prominent Coastal Action Group campaigner, turned up.

When Tory candidate Mark Fox also showed his face, Mr Wright made a telephone call and a ministerial car, seconds away from Somerton, made an abrupt U-turn.

The next meeting on the agenda, with Winterton villagers unhappy about the Government’s coastal erosion plans, was also cancelled at last minute after protesters again showed up at the parish hall.

And after a quick face-to-face with selected members of the Winterton and Scratby protest groups at Labour’s Yarmouth headquarters, Mr Morley was whisked away from the constituency.

Protesters were yesterday livid with the minister’s refusal to meet with them. Mr Kerby said the minister had avoided people from Norfolk since the divisive SMP had been announced.

“We’ve gone into an era of sterile politics,” he said. “Isn’t it about taking the bric-bats as well as the congratulations?

“This is a travesty for democracy. The minister either didn’t want to see us because he is utterly bereft of joined-up thinking or he’s got absolutely no bottle. These people have to be answerable for their actions.”

But Mr Wright said: “If I thought there was going to be a dialogue talking about the issues in a serious context I would have gone along with that.

“I’ve been in politics for a very long time and I know the signs. The event was going to be hijacked – I wanted the minister to meet members of the community but that was going to be restricted.

“I do think people have a right to protest, but some elements would have loved to see the minister jostled.

“If the minister would be under threat I’m not going to place him in that position.

“I’m highly disappointed but I’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.”

And speaking to the EDP later while touring Lowestoft, Mr Morley said: “I was running half-an-hour late, but it is fair to say the Countryside Alliance turned up with the local Conservative candidate.

“He associated himself with people more interested in abusing animals rather than allowing local people to talk about real issues in this area.

“The people of Winterton came and had the opportunity to talk to me at Tony Wright’s headquarters. I’m glad they did.”

Mr Fox denied any association with the Countryside Alliance protest. He said: “How can we have a democratic political debate if he refuses to come close to anyone who may have a different opinion?”

Simon Peasley, a protester from Somerton and member of the Countryside Alliance, said: “It’s pathetic he’s running away from less than 20 gentle villagers.”

April 2005 Comments

HANSON AGGREGATES MARINE LTD ADMITS DREDGING HAS AN IMPACT.

In an interview on BBC Radio Norfolk’s Today in Norfolk programme which took place on Tuesday 19th April whilst discussing marine aggregate dredging, coastal issues and coastal spokesman for Hanson Aggregates Marine Ltd David Weeks admitted “We are not saying there is no impact and no effect, but what we are saying is we can control it and we can manage it”

Amazingly this was on the very day that the company staged an information day at Yarmouth Racecourse in support of their application for a licence extension to continue dredging for a further 15 years off Great Yarmouth.

Yet again I quote from the Eurosion study which, when advising on the management of coastal cells and erosion, states the following measures and management imperitive under the sub heading LESSON 6:

 THE COASTAL SEDIMENT CELL.

 1. maintain the total amount of sediment (in motion or dormant) 
    within the coastal system.

 2. when taking measures, try to work with natural processes 
    or leave natural processes as undisturbed as possible.

 3. If no other options available, use hard constructions to 
    keep sediments in its position.

Elsewhere in the same report under the simple heading DREDGING is the following:

  Dredging activities have intensified in the past 20 years for navigational purposes 
  (the need to keep the shipping routes at an appropriate water depth), construction 
  purposes (an increasing amount of construction aggregates comes from the seabed), and 
  since the 1990's for beach and underwater nourishment. Dredging may affect coastal 
  processes by a variety of way:

  (i)   by removing from the foreshore materials (stones, pebbles), which protect the 
        coast  against erosion. For instance, stone fishing in Hyllingebjerg-Liseleje 
        (Denmark) triggered structural erosion. By way of illustration, it is estimated 
        that 50% of the total volume of the protective pebbles (3 million cubic meters) 
        has been extracted from the chalk cliff of Normandy (France) since the early 1900's.

  (ii)  by contributing to the sediment deficit in the coastal sediment cell, such as 
        in the Humber estuary, the coast of Sussex (United Kingdom) for construction 
        purposes (extaction of sand, gravel and shingle), the Western Scheldt (Netherlands) 
        for navigational purposes, Cova do Vapor (Portugal) where sand has been dredged off
        the coast to supply materials for the beaches of Costa del Sol, or Marinell di 
        Sarzana and Marina di Ravenna - Lido Adriano (Italy) where dredging from riverbeds 
        took place.

  (iii) by modifying the water depth, which in turn results in wave refraction and change 
        of alongshore drift, as illustated by the Wadden Sea (Netherlands).

Has Elliot Morley and the ODPM been extremely economical with the truth? Are they prepared to say anything to protect what they see as a strategic industry? In the light of Hanson’s admission will they continue to spin their yarns?

Finally I would say to everyone sit back and wait for the lame excuses, the justifications as to why the admission was a “mistake”. To the politicians and civil servants (who run the whole coastal thing because, as demonstrated by Elliot Morley on numerous occasions not least on 8th of March, the vast majority of Ministers and MP’s are absolutely clueless about it) I would say there is now absolutely no doubt about the effects of dredging on the littoral process so get your fingers out and do something about it.

Malcolm Kerby (22 April 2005)

Meeting held to defend dredging

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners yesterday demonstrated outside a meeting about the safety of dredging.

Hanson Aggregates Marine held the public consultation at Yarmouth Racecourse to dispel concerns over its bid to renew its dredging licence for an area in the North Sea 22km east of the town.

Norfolk communities affected by coastal erosion are convinced the process has been accelerated by years of dredging removing millions of tons of sediment.

Among the audience were Malcolm Kerby, chairman of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group, and around a dozen residents from Scratby near Yarmouth.

The clifftop village is predicted to lose more than 50 properties in the next half century under the Government’s proposed shoreline management plan (SMP) strategy of not bolstering sea defences.

Andrew Bellamy, a spokesman for the dredging industry, claimed there was no scientific evidence to link controlled dredging to erosion.

He said the dredging took place too far out to sea to affect the processes of longshore and inshore drift.

What were being extracted were fossil deposits, not part of the coastal sediment.

And he insisted the trenches created by dredging were not being filled in with sand and gravel from adjacent banks – a claim made by campaigners to explain the disappearance of coastal sediment.

David Harding, a spokesman for Hanson, said the issue had been clouded by misinformation – dredging was not to blame for erosion.

However, the campaigners left the meeting unconvinced and urged people to write to their MP about dredging.

David Archer, 60, from Scratby, said: “When I was growing up, Scroby Sands were protruding above the water a lot more than they are today. Where has all that sand gone? What we need is independent, professional advice.”

Mr Kerby said the uncertainties of dredging were recognised in an official EU report and far more widely recognised on the Continent.

And he said a document leaked to him from Westminster admitted there needed to be a greater understanding of the links between coastal erosion and dredging.