£100m pledge to defend land from the sea

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.

Norfolk house valued at just £1

Byline: By Richard Batson (Eastern Daily Press, 07 July 2008)

A campaigner who has been told her house is worth less than a loaf of bread will today try to show the man in charge of the nation’s sea defences the true human cost of the government’s coastal policies.

The bungalow Jane Archer and her partner bought as a happy family home 21 years ago is still 60m from the clifftop, but is now worth just £1.

Today when environment minister Phil Woolas makes a fact-finding visit to north Norfolk over erosion and flooding issues she will be among the people keen to show him the impact of the government policy of abandoning sea defences without any compensation.

“I will tell him he is destroying our lives,” said 49-year-old Ms Archer. “Lots of money is spent by the authorities compensating and finding new habitats for rare birds whose homes are threatened by climate and coastal management changes – but what about people? Are they just going to let my house fall over the edge of a cliff, and leave us with nothing?”

Mr Woolas is visiting Norfolk following the concerns of hundreds of other people living near the coast and in low-lying Broads villages which are vulnerable to erosion, and a controversial Natural England option of allowing six villages and 25 sq m of countryside to flood in the future because it is too difficult and costly to defend.

After seeing reef defences at Sea Palling he will attend a meeting with representatives from a range of communities, including Ms Archer, who is a founder member of the Coastal Concern Action Group formed in her home village of Happisburgh in a bid to fight government “managed retreat” policies and battle for a fair deal for those affected by it.

Also attending is North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb who said it should be a collective effort of society to pick up the bill for adjusting to climate change not people like Ms Archer who were “in the front line through a quirk of fate and having to bear all the cost themselves.”

He was encouraged that environment officials seemed more open to discuss impacts on communities, but remained concerned that the Treasury restrictions could hamper funding, and that there was a need for urgency to help other people like Ms Archer.

She and partner Chris Cutting bought their Beach Road bungalow for £20,000 in 1987, when it was 400m from the clifftop and there were no problems over a mortgage and survey.

But a road and several houses have been swallowed up by erosion in recent years, after the government refused to fund the replacement of aging sea defences, and promoted a policy of managed retreat, which abandons long-standing defences everywhere except the main resorts.

So when the couple tried to get a bank loan to expand their motor engineering business, seeking to use the house as security, the valuer’s report highlighted “chronic coastal erosion”, refused the loan and valued the bungalow at a paltry £1.

Mr Cutting said: “It is not as if the house was right on the edge of the cliff. But we are now left with a house that is worth nothing, and lost about £60,000 through the collapse of the business deal.”

The couple thought the house might be worth about £50,000-£60,000 when they applied for the loan nearly two years ago, when a nearby cottage sold for £89,000 and other three bedroomed rural homes were selling for up to £200,000.

“We were angry and frustrated when we told it was worth £1,” said Ms Archer. “We are stuck here. We are worse off than first time buyers, because we only have another 15 years of earning towards a mortgage before we retire, and we don’t want to rent and pay out again for housing having already paid off our existing mortgage.

“It is so unfair, because when we came here the policy was to maintain the defences,” said Ms Archer.

Action group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said tackling that unfairness was one of their key aims they would outline to Mr Woolas today.

“Forget all the fancy technical talk. This is the real effect of these policies on families.

“The government suggests people should move away from coastal areas because of climate change, but how can they if their home values are being hit.

“They cannot pursue these policies without ensuring there is social justice. People like Jane and Chris are being put in a ridiculous position.”

He suggested that properties affected by flood and erosion risk should be underwritten by the government so areas were not blighted, leaving properties and communities viable.

Adding the real value of buildings into the equation might also mean it became a cheaper option to protect rather than abandon.