November 2007 Comments – Near miss

Much has happened in recent weeks, not least the weather which conspired to create a huge tidal surge in the North Sea over the 8th and 9th of November. A surge tide which took us perilously close to another 1953 disaster along the eastern flank of this country. Mercifully the weather itself ‘let us off the hook’. What defences remain took a fearful battering and some damage but they held. There were however some localised problems particularly at Walcot where the much extolled Environment Agency (by them of course) warning system failed miserably resulting in extreme threat to life and limb for many residents.

A widespread disaster was avoided solely because the wind direction did not shift more northerly. Had it done so the outcome would have been very different indeed.

Unfortunately Central Government will now consider there are few lessons to be learned from this near miss simply because it was precisely that, a near miss. In other words not enough happened to force the ‘gnomes of Whitehall’ to advise Ministers that the current and proposed policies and low levels of funding for managing the coast significantly increases the risk to the built and natural environment as well as public safety.

The second generation Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) may well be “Plans” of what Government wants to do with the coast but in no respect are they “Management Plans” for they actually ‘manage’ nothing, not even the consequenses of their own proposals. They ignore completely the enormous Social Justice problems they create and the possible (or more likely probable) adverse effects of Marine Aggregate Dredging on the coastal process.

Make no mistake these SMPs were intended to be a means to ‘legitimise’ the massive underfunding of coast management. It was assumed (wrongly) that no longer defending much of our coastline would be a zero cost option for Central Government. Only now are they beginning to realise there is a huge cost and significant price to pay for “no active intervention” in many areas.

Contained within the Treasury’s recent Comprehensive Spending Revue is a commitment to make available ten million pounds each year for the next three years to “help communities adapt to climate change where defences are no longer considered viable”. Quite what this will mean and how it will be applied few if any people know or understand as yet. It is hoped that North Norfolk can be used to pilot any mitigation measures for if it can be got right here then it will work anywhere.

There is a real danger that some will wish to get their hands on a slice of that annual ten million to fund yet more strategies and studies etc. I have no doubt that various individuals, academics and institutions,cosultants et al are already working toward obtaining funding from the Adaptive Toolkit package. This I believe must be avoided at all costs, over the next three years that money must be used to help real people, real communities to adapt for that is the only way the SMPs will ever become acceptable to the people.

Thanks yet again to the tremendous efforts of our local MP Norman Lamb we had a meeting with the new Minister, Phil Woolas MP on the 21st of November. Clearly the Minister is a very busy man and we are most grateful he afforded us the time. The meeting was very cordial and we were able to discuss the substantive issues with both the Minister and senior staff. Only time will tell if it was as constructive as we felt it was on the day.

I was disappointed that the new Head of Flood Management, Chris de Grouchy, was not present.

Therein lies one of the major problems at the heart of the British way of doing things, every three or four years it seems there is a great shuffle round of top personnel. New people are brought in usually with no experience or understanding of coastal process or coast management. The nett effect of this is to promulgate talk, talk and more talk. Then just as those individuals begin to get a grasp of the situation they are moved on and new blood is brought in and we start all over again! This is great for perpetuating talking but it does seem to inhibit decision making (action on the ground)

Over the past four years I have met with three different Ministers holding responsibility for coastal strategy. the first was Elliot Morley, to put it mildly he was about as much use as a chocolate teapot. The second was Ian Pearson, a very bright individual for whom I have the greatest respect. He recognised and identified many of the problems very rapidly and was quietly very effective.

The third of course is Phil Woolas whom I thank very much for meeting with us and who I think could make a significant and positive contribution coming as he does from a DCLG background. Unless of course the British way of doing things impedes him as well !!

Malcolm Kerby (26 November 2007)

Norfolk to test coast erosion schemes

Byline: (Eastern Daily Press, 22 November 2007)

Communities in north Norfolk could be put at the forefront of pilot projects designed to help communities deal with the impact of coastal erosion, rising sea levels and climate change.

A Norfolk delegation of politicians, senior council officers and campaigners travelled to London yesterday for a long meeting with environment minister Phil Woolas.

As well as describing the meeting as much more positive than expected, the possibility of putting Norfolk forward as an ideal test bed for practical solutions to the results of erosion and global warming was well received, said North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

Mr Lamb was joined by North Norfolk District Council’s coastal- issues portfolio holder Clive Stockton, the council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew, Yarmouth MP Tony Wright and co-ordinator of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group Malcolm Kerby.

“We made the case for Norfolk to be treated as the first place to trial new ways of dealing with communities living on the coast,” said Mr Lamb.

“The minister completely understood there needs to be something to go alongside the shoreline management plans which have caused such great concern in the county.”

Mr Woolas’s predecessors Ian Pearson and Elliot Morley both had contact with the members of the delegation over recent years.

Mr Pearson, who took over from Mr Morley in June 2006, immediately demonstrated a different attitude towards the Norfolk concerns.

“In the Elliot Morley days all we heard was no, no, no, but both with Ian Pearson and now with the new minister in post, it is clear they are at least interested in listening,” said Mr Lamb.

“In all I was very pleasantly surprised, but we have to keep the pressure up and keep stressing the urgency of the situation.”

Mr Kerby said the meeting was “very constructive” and added: “It was explained that we would be the ideal area to pilot any adaptation schemes and they were not averse to that.

“It makes sense, after all if you solve the current problems in north Norfolk you solve impending problems in many other parts of the country.

“Overall if you look at where we were four years ago when we went to talk to Mr Morley and where we are now, we are in a much better position in terms of our contact with the government.”

Mr Kerby added: “When I walked in there I thought it would be daggers drawn and Mr Woolas might be a party political animal who didn’t want to hear what we were saying. It was quite the opposite. But there is still a long way to go.”

Surge floods prompt new erosion fears

Byline: (North Norfolk News, 14 November 2007)

Seaside homes, businesses and tourist attractions across north Norfolk were left battered and bruised by the worst storm surge for 50 years.

And, as the big clear up continues after the wave and flood damage, coastal campaigners say it shows exactly why the government cannot abandon sea defences.

Friday’s towering, wind-driven seas left a trail of damage in their wake – smashing down walls of houses at Walcott, splintering decking on Cromer pier, and reducing beach huts to match wood.

Coastal defences were given a bloody nose, but escaped the knock out punch that many people feared as authorities prepared for the worst flooding since 1953.

Campaigners are using the dramatic day to renew calls for government spending on sea defences, and their will be top of the agenda when the Coastal Concern Action Group heads to London on November 21 to meet environment minister Phil Woollas.

Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said: “The government will be crowing about wonderfully things worked simply because Yarmouth got away with it.

“But we only missed a 1953 disaster because the weather let us off. The surge was a little lower than expected and if the wind had shifted a few degrees we would have been in serious trouble.

“The government needs to latch on the fact that if they if there is erosion you will get flooding on a scale you cannot imagine.”

Officials are still assessing the full extend and cost of the storm damage along the north Norfolk coast.

The district council this week said it was “extensive”, and that it was seeking to make a claim for compensation under the government’s Bellwin scheme – last used to recover £100,000 worth of costs for damage done in the 1996 storms.

Replacing damaged promenade handrails alone is likely to cost £20,000, while council-owned beach chalets are set to cost more than £40,000 to mend.

Clean up work was taking place this week on damaged and debris-strewn promenades at Cromer, Sheringham and Overstrand in a bid to get them open as soon as possible.

Inspections of steel are taking place under Cromer pier, where waves have damaged the floor of the Pavilion Theatre

At Walcott where 20 homes were flooded as waves came over the seawalls, families have found accommodation with friends or family. Trading standards officers this week visited the village, warning people against rogue traders offering repairs, and yesterday afternoon a public meeting was due to assess the best way to clear up debris.

Wildlife experts were also this week assessing the damage to nature reserves at Cley and Salthouse marshes which were flooded as waves came over shingle banks, left to lower under new coastal management techniques – with improved drainage designed to help the saltwater clear more quickly working well under its first real test.