Byline: (Eastern Daily Press, 08 July 2008)
Norfolk is to stand firm against the ravages of the ever-encroaching North Sea for at least another half century after the government confirmed £100m will be spent on sea defences over the next 50 years.
People living in vulnerable coastal and low-lying areas of Norfolk breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after environment minister Phil Woolas gave reassurances their homes would not be left to flood.
Responding to worries over a Natural England draft report, which includes the option of allowing a 25sqm area of Norfolk to flood, Mr Woolas said the proposal was “not an option,” and stressed it was the government who drew up sea defence policy not Natural England.
As he visited the county to see the effect of coastal erosion and listen to local concerns Mr Woolas said the government was committed to keeping the sea at bay for at least the next 50 years and pledged £100m of investment in sea defences over that period.
The first phase of work, to be done by the Environment Agency, is set to begin as early as September and will include beach recharging at Sea Palling and Waxham and rock works between Horsey and Winterton.
Experts are also looking at longer- term options for maintaining the coastline well into the next century.
As he toured Hickling, Sea Palling and Happisburgh, Mr Woolas had some clear messages.
The coastline and the Broads would be protected for at least half a century and, though individuals whose houses were lost to cliff erosion would not receive compensation, communities will be given help to cope.
Mr Woolas said: “The scenario put forward by Natural England is not the flood defence policy of the government.
“I cannot see a situation where any elected government would allow the Norfolk Broads to flood.
“We have a very serious problem across the country where cliff erosion is taking away people’s homes.
“The government is putting together an adaption package. We will not be able to directly compensate people but we will ensure that the local community is protected.”
Mr Woolas said “adaption tool kits” would be devised to suit individual areas and could be used for things such as relocating vulnerable roads and businesses.
During his visit Mr Woolas met dozens of parish representatives at a closed meeting at Lessingham Village Hall.
After the meeting Mike Walker, from East Norfolk Coastal Parishes Group, said he was pleased by what the minister said and felt the possibility of Broadland ever being flooded had “receded significantly.”
He said Mr Woolas addressed two principle concerns: support for hard defences and reassurance that communities had “a medium to long- term future.”
Malcolm Kerby, from the Coastal Concern Action Group, based at Happisburgh, said Mr Woolas had demonstrated a “willingness to listen” and felt the public outcry over Natural England’s proposal had made a huge difference.
“I do not doubt that we have got such an unequivocal statement because of the pressure we put on,” he added.
Jane Archer, who, as reported in the EDP yesterday, was alarmed to discover her home was only worth £1 because it is so close to the crumbling cliffs at Happisburgh, also met the minister.
She said she was disappointed that she had not been able to get a straight answer on compensation from Mr Woolas.
But she felt she had been offered a “glimmer of hope” by the proposal for community adaption packages and an undertaking to look into the situation of those affected by changing government policy on coastal defence.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who accompanied the minister on his tour, said the minister’s comments on the Natural England proposals were a “substantial advance” and said he was encouraged that local people would be given a say in shaping coastal defence policy in the future.
But he said he still felt individuals should be compensated if they lose their homes to the sea.
“We cannot allow the people in the front line to absorb all the consequences of climate change,” he said.