Minister will ‘nag’ for cliff people

Byline: (North Norfolk News, 24 January 2008)

East of England minister Barbara Follett toured the north Norfolk coast on Monday on an information gathering visit – and pledged to “nag, coordinate and prod” on behalf of communities facing coastal erosion and saline flooding.

Calling at Cromer, Overstrand, Mundesley, Bacton, Walcott and Happisburgh, Mrs Follett was accompanied by local politicians, North Norfolk District Council officers and representatives of bodies such as Go East and the Environment Agency.

Standing on the clifftop at Happisburgh next to the village’s former lifeboat ramp, one of the many victims of erosion along the coastline, Mrs Follett said she was “fairly shocked” at what she saw.

“I am here to see for myself how badly the sea has encroached and how much we are losing,” she said.

“The sea surge of November taught me a great deal about it and this visit will teach me more.

“We are facing a world wide problem and we have to look at how best to manage that problem up here in north Norfolk.”

Mrs Follett said financing and funding was “not the totality of the problem”, but needed to be backed up by making the right decisions at the right times.

“It is about coordination; the regional minister’s role to some extent is nagging, coordinating and prodding. In this unique position I can sometimes bring more to the table.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the benefit of the visit was to create a dialogue between local communities and the government.

“We need to defend communities as best we can and where we can’t, the people affected must be treated with justice.”

The council’s coastal portfolio holder Clive Stockton said: “What we want to do is show the minister and inform her of our situation.

“There are a lot of different bodies involved in this issue and different departments within those bodies. We all need coordination between all of those people and authorities.

“We need a coordinated management policy for changing coastlines.

“Here in north Norfolk we are a small district council, but a national player on this issue. We need the help of the region behind us.”

The council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew said it was important to “get the proper linkage between the different pieces of government”.

And Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal Concern Action Group, said Mrs Follett had demonstrated a very good understanding of the importance of drawing together the many different arms of government.

January 2008 Update

My comments this time concern the statement released by DEFRA on the 13th December 07:

Government blueprint to deliver better protection for people on the coast

“A blueprint to help deliver improved protection for people and property nationally, from coastal flooding and erosion has today been set out by Phil Woolas, Minister for Climate Change and Flooding” (Full statement)

In the statement the Minister speaks of the need to protect ourselves from the ” impacts of our changing climate “, I would wholeheartedly concur with that.

The problems arise from the manner in which that need is funded and managed in reality on the ground. The measures outlined in the statement will actually render both the built and natural environment more vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change and substantially increased risk.

At some point there will have to be a change in political thinking and priorities. Firstly there is a desperate need for a substantial increase in funding, without such an increase it simply will not be possible to achieve even minimum levels of protection around this country’s coast .

It is the coastal zone which is now and will continue to be in the front line of the effects of Climate Change yet year on year Central Government have reduced funding.

We have some 19000kms of coast with app. 16.9 million people living and working in that zone. Why then does Government continually allocate annual funding of less than 50 million pounds to be shared between the 92 Maritime Authorities (MAs) charged with the responsibility of protecting their coasts and the Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs)?

There can be no better example on record than the official figures ( supplied by a previous Minister) for the financial year 2005 to 2006 when from a total allocation of 570million pounds only 47million was allocated for coast protection schemes from the MAs and other works by the IDBs.

At about the same time a scheme to protect app 3kms of coast at Scarborough was completed at a cost of more than 53million pounds. That is app 6 million pounds more than the entire national allocation!! so it is certainly incorrect to say there has been “record levels of investment” in “coastal erosion work”. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

The Minister also speaks of “a responsibility to taxpayers who need to know that this funding is being used to best effect”. Absolutely right Minister, so can we expect you to stem the systemic waste of taxpayers money in the current and historic management (if it can be called that) of our coast? Currently my contacts within the system tell me that only about half the annual budget allocation for Flood and Coast Protection goes in to work on the ground (actual protection measures) and half is lost in constant reviews, internal audits and structure changes, abortive strategies and studies etc. for schemes which often never come to fruition. Should anyone need confirmation of this take a look at the almighty cock up the Environment Agency (EA) ably assisted by Natural England (NE) have made at Jury’s Gap in East Sussex.

So what is really required is not tinkering around the edges of a very cumbersome system that plainly is not fit for purpose but an absolute root and branch rethink to achieve better control, management and application of significantly increased funding of the coast.

In short the current level of funding and lack of effective management are neither cost effective or sustainable and most certainly not in the wider taxpayers interests.

DEFRAs intention of “closer working with the Regional Flood Defence Committees” (RFDCs) could be beneficial although the way Government achieves this could be extremely detrimental.

If, as I believe they will, they force the MAs to submit all applications for capital scheme funding or grant in aid to the RFDCs for thier approval or otherwise ( the RFDCs will then decide whether any application can be put forward for funding) it will probably be a disasterous move.

Climate Change is upon us now, that is self evident, and most experts believe it’s effects will become more intense as we proceed through the coming century. We have no control over the weather which Global Warming and Climate Change will bring, our only option is to effectivelymanage our way through it. That will cost money, probably a significant amount of it, but what alternative is there!!

We already have a system which is bogged down, as intended, by too many fingers in the pie which actually spends millions of pounds avoiding doing anything constructive. The latest blueprint will undoubtedly perpetuate this and afford yet more opportunity for more of the same.

We inherited this beautiful country and I am absolutely commited to doing all I can to ensure we pass it on to future generations in at least as good a condition as we were fortunate enough to inherit it.

I truly believe our current approach to managing our coast is unsustainable, extremely poor value which will pass on a huge and wholly unacceptable cost to future generations. A cost which will not be measured in financial terms alone.

There are alternatives some I have previously outlined please see Alternative Governance for Living With a Changing Coastline and my paper Adaptive Management and Local Specificity Within ICZMpresented at a conference in Edinburgh 2005 the problem is time is of the essence. If we continue underfunding and managing by default we will make the effects of any Climate Change much, much worse.

Malcolm Kerby (13 January 2008)