October 2003 Comments

This past few weeks have proved extremely worrying for North Norfolk as a region. There seems to be a pattern emerging that Central Government (DEFRA) has decided, in coastal defence and flood terms we do not exist. There seems to be a hidden agenda in operation. The correspondents who wrote to Government demanding action for Happisburgh have received replies from either No.10 or DEFRA, in some cases both. The standard reply is a superlative example of waffle and Governmental spin. Why do we use the word spin? It has the effect of making outright dishonesty almost acceptable. Make no mistake DEFRA is being far from honest with us.

In recent weeks we have seen the emergence of a study by English Nature recommending that the sea defences are breached from Sea Palling to Winterton to allow the sea to reclaim a vast swathe of North Norfolk (see press article ) flooding many villages and scattered settlements to provide a really nice, comfortable habitat for wildlife. The people of Winterton and the surrounding area are utterly incensed and planning to become proactive in the fight for common sense. CCAG will assist in any way we can.

At the other end of North Norfolk, Cley, the internationally acclaimed habitat for wildlife and an ornithologist’s paradise has recently seen it’s scheme for defending both people and wildlife withdrawn at the eleventh hour thus rendering this beautiful part of England more and more vulnerable to flooding and loss of the age old wildlife habitat. Let us pause here for a moment and consider how much of OUR money has been wasted on the wholly unnecessary coastal habitats report by English Nature which is intended to disregard the human population aspect in search of some kind of wildlife utopia and the utterly obscene amount wasted both financially and in man hours by the Environment Agency (although not their fault) producing the now defunct scheme for Cley. Let us also consider who controls English Nature; the Environment Agency and the Maritime Local Authorities by, it seems, both dictat and purse. DEFRA. It is DEFRA, that brings pressure to bear on all of these agencies behind the scenes to withdraw their much needed and eagerly anticipated schemes before applying to DEFRA for funding. This is an important part of the DEFRA strategy: Use any means to get the lead Authorities to change their minds, as English Nature apparently did over the Cley scheme, or get the lead Authorities to withdraw schemes before submission. Then when there is public outcry and scrutiny DEFRA simply respond with their stock answer, which to them is absolution, they always say DEFRA is not to blame – “we have not said no it’s just that the scheme was never submitted to us for our approval or otherwise”!!!! Great game they (DEFRA) are playing and they could not care less how many millions and millions of pounds of OUR money is poured down the drain in the process, as long as the finger of responsibility and blame is not pointed at them. Now they have problems because Joe Public has rumbled them and Joe Public will be looking for some answers because it is Joe Public who pays their wages and Joe Public will not tolerate divisive, unethical tactics from a Government department. DEFRA is recognised, both in Westminster and around the country, as the most inefficient Government department. Do we have Secretary of State and Ministers running their department? Or is it the department running them?

I am told from within that it was the Chief Engineer Reg Purnell who played a major role in the demise of the Cley scheme; I would ask the Minister is this true? We know he has played a major role in the lack of defences for Happisburgh. I have attended a number of meetings recently which have also been attended by officials of the various agencies involved and it appears there is universal distaste for the Chief Engineer and his attitude and approach within his own organisation, but I am told no-one dare speak out for fear of their career. Is this true Minister? It is high time you came to Happisburgh personally and justified your department’s position because from where we (the public) stand, in our view your department is in chaos and we are paying the price with homes, livelihoods and our socio-economic survival not only at Happisburgh but along the entire length of the North Norfolk coast and beyond. There is deep and mounting unrest in communities along the Norfolk coast, there is huge concern over the DEFRA attitude and approach to the problems our coastal communities face.

Coastal Concern Action Group has recently been contacted by representatives of groups from other areas of the UK including Birling Gap, Sussex. We are seeing a pattern emerging, whilst our various problems may be different and our communities poles apart there is one thing that conjoins and unites us all – DEFRA and their divisive ways. I have just been made aware that the priority score points threshold imposed by DEFRA for granting aid for capital schemes, currently 22, is going to be set at 20 for the year 2004/05 not 15 as previously promised by them. This of course means that they will fund even fewer schemes for flood and coastal erosion prevention than they had said they would. To them that is success, to many of us it is disaster.

On Monday 20th October 2003 I am travelling to Brussels, (see joint letter elsewhere on site) to take the matter to the European Parliament. Clearly the British Government is in complete and hopeless disarray over coast defences, and yet again we, the indigenous English have to look to Europe in an effort to protect ourselves from our own Government and ultimately the sea.. Meanwhile we shall continue to lobby Westminster for action to protect our coastal communities and their cultural heritage.

Malcolm Kerby (16 October 2003)

Crumbling village chases Euro-cash

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners for Happisburgh are taking their fight overseas in a bid to stop the village from crumbling away.

After council officers this week said a further bid for government funds to pay for a £2m sea defence project would be “futile”, three coastal ambassadors will travel to Brussels to try and get European backing.

Campaigners are confident a meeting at the European Commission about the EUrosion Project, which aims to draw up a cross-country strategy to manage eroding and flood-prone shorelines, will be successful.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, and Peter Frew, coastal engineer for North Norfolk District Council, will be part of discussions with EC representatives on October 20. They hope sizeable loans from European banks and new legislation, which will force the British Government to support coastal communities, will stop more properties being claimed by the sea.

Mr Kerby said the get-together was not a last-ditch attempt to halt Happisburgh’s rapidly-eroding cliffs.

“We are utterly committed to saving our community. Clearly our own government is falling far too short on coastal dwellers’ expectations. They are allowing the heritage and socio-economic value of our communities to disintegrate and, yet again, we look to Europe for some common sense.”

The EUrosion scheme, run by the National Institute for Coastal and Marine management of the Netherlands, was set up in 2001 to form policy recommendations for the EU, national, regional and local authorities.

Mr Kerby added that the Government would have to listen to new national strategies, due to be im”appropriate and ecologically responsible coastal protection measures for coastal settlements and cultural heritage”.

Happisburgh’s cliffs, which in some places have been eroding at speeds of up to 10m a month, fail a government points system for funding.

Liberal Democrat MP Mr Lamb, who organised the Brussels meeting, said there was also a possibility that Happisburgh and other coastal villages could benefit from loans from European investment banks.

“I have no idea if anything will come out of the meeting but my view is that we have to try. I wish it was not necessary. I remain deeply frustrated at the Government for changing the goalposts for funding criteria.”

New North Norfolk Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Iain Dale yesterday called for more government support for coastal communities at the party conference in Blackpool.

September 2003

I have today been handed the reply received from 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA dated 2nd September 03, to a letter sent by a couple who reside in Cambridge urging Tony Blair to become involved in seeking a solution to the Happisburgh coast defence problem. This reply signals a change of tactics – our letters are not now being passed to DEFRA. It appears now that the No.10 Direct Communications Unit is peddling the DEFRA mantra.

As one has come to expect it contains the usual DEFRA bunkum about how careful they must be with taxpayers money and how they must ensure that said taxpayer gets best value for his or her money invested by H.M. Government!! I really can not believe they want to open that particularbucket of worms. Again and again people both local and from all over the UK when speaking with me have expressed their disgust at the various ways this government spends their money, the following are just some of the more popular comments:

  • Did they worry about best value when spending five million pounds on a Ruddy Duck cull?
  • Did they worry about best value when authorising four million pounds to be spent assisting the breeding of the Bittern?
  • Did they worry about best value when spending three million pounds improving the lot of the Raft Spider?
  • Did they worry about best value over the countless millions the Millennium Dome has cost us?
  • Did they worry about best value when building Yarlswood for asylum seekers and then rebuilding it? (they did try to save our money the fist time round by not putting in a fire sprinkler system!!!)
  • Do they worry about best value when it comes to the Falkland Islands and the billions of pounds that costs us?
  • Did they worry about best value for us when the new office building for MP’s at Westminster was built and how much did that cost us?

The list is endless but the answer is “not”. This Government in common with most Governments has wasted billions of pounds of our money. Not their money OUR MONEY!!! To try and plead ensuring value for taxpayers in the context of the defence of this Island Nation from the sea or rather as an excuse to not defend it from the sea is at best politically inept and an absolute insult to our intelligence. Many people are incensed over that one.

The total irony is that they would more than likely spend twice as much as our sea defences would cost to make a case for not putting them in place! Amazing isn’t it when it comes to our money being spent on US for a change to protect our homes, our commercial life and the socio-economic survival of our communities, suddenly that is not best value for us the taxpayers.

The amount that needs to be spent at Happisburgh to effectively protect our community and the northern Broads is positively minuscule when viewed alongside successive Government’s, including this one, folly with the public purse. The truth is we are the fourth richest nation in the world and could well afford effective coast defences. All that is needed is the political will to do it. If that political will were there many thousands of good honest British citizens would be spared the misery of the effects of coastal erosion and or flooding.

To return to the letter from the No.10 Direct Communications Unit, in paragraph three they say, I quote “North Norfolk District Council, the relevant authority for Happisburgh, withdrew their application for DEFRA funding of works there because they judged that the proposals were no longer economically worthwhile.” This is blatant spin. I have no doubt that is what both No.10 and DEFRA would like you to believe, but the truth is that because of the delays incurred looking at the proposals the erosion ensued at a rate way beyond all official predictions, property was lost and the proposals could not then meet the DEFRA economic criteria and had to be withdrawn. Indeed that criteria and point score system imposed by DEFRA actively seeks to prevent NNDC or any other authorities from submitting fresh proposals for a grant aided scheme, no matter how viable that scheme may be.

So come on No.10 if you are going to reply to everyone who is concerned enough to write to you about Happisburgh at least get your facts right and be honest. I would urge everyone who has had such a reply to write back and demand a full explanation and factual reply.

Finally, in a letter to our local MP dated 30th June 2003, Elliot Morley speaks of the DEFRA criteria and point score system which they have imposed and in one paragraph says, I quote “It is not based on statute, but our intention nevertheless is to apply it consistently and rigorously to all projects except where, from time to time, there may be the need to make general exceptions.”

There could be no more deserving exception than Happisburgh and the northern Broads.

Malcolm Kerby (12 September 2003)

Sea could swallow thousands of homes

Byline: Dan Grimmer, Evening News

THOUSANDS of homes could be swallowed by the sea if conservationists get their way and allow sea defences to be breached to create new wetland habitation.

English Nature and the Environment Agency believe it will cost too much to maintain the concrete wall near Winterton in the long term.

In a report which will send shockwaves throughout North Norfolk, they suggest it could be left to collapse, therefore allowing the sea to eventually engulf six villages and hundreds of isolated homesteads.

The study known as CHaMPS (Coastal Habitat Management Plan), which will be considered by planners responsible for protecting Norfolk’s coastline, concludes that in the long run it might prove too costly to keep maintaining the existing concrete sea wall.

The report states: “The saline flooding of northern Broadland resulting from a major breach of the dunes, would, of course, represent a major human tragedy involving six villages and numerous isolated house and farms.”

The villages most likely to be threatened include Sea Palling, Eccles, Waxham, Horsey, Hickling and Potter Heigham, while erosion could see between 70 and 260 metres of coastline at Winterton itself lost over the next century. The report added the area flooded could be restricted to 6,500 hectares if extra defences were built at Potter Heigham and Stalham.

It continued: “Given the fact that such a major change in the coastal landscape is not likely to occur for at least 100 years, it would be possible to consider adjustment to long-term planning objectives so that socio-economic interests would not be adversely affected.

“The conservation value of such a steep change in the management of this critical coastal area would be immense, while the alternative, in terms of continued and increasingly expensive and potentially unsustainable defences, is difficult to contemplate over a period of more than two centuries.

“It is clear though, that further study of the proposal would be required, particularly with respect to the viability of other long-term coastal defence options.

“In this context it is important that continued monitoring of the Winterton frontage is undertaken in order to determine the accuracy of the predictions made in this CHaMP.

“Only with additional and longer-term datasets can informed decisions on the future sustainability and strategic direction of coastal defence requirements be made for this stretch of the Norfolk coastline.”

Peter Lambley, English Nature’s conservation officer for the Norfolk coast, was quick to stress the ideas were still subject to a much wider consultation process.

He said: “The CHaMPS is a contribution to the debate on this length of coast which will be built into the Shoreline Management Plan which is in development.”

But families in Winterton have been rocked by the suggestion the sea could be allowed to swallow swathes of land and forever change the landscape of the Norfolk coast. Shirley Weymouth, Great Yarmouth Borough councillor for Winterton and Somerton, has called a meeting which will include representatives from English Nature, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and various local authorities.

She said there was concern in Winterton over the erosion of the coastline, with predictions that water levels could rise by nearly a metre in the next 100 years.

She said: “Until we have had this meeting, I do not really know the ins and outs. That is why I have called the meeting. One party is saying one thing and another says another thing. We have got to get everyone together.”

The meeting will be held in the village at 7.30pm on Monday, September 29.

Work on the concrete wall started in 1953 after a surge tide broke through the existing defences and seven people died. The current wall was built in stages between 1953 and 1989.

Gary Watson, coastal geomorphologist at Anglian Coastal Authorities Group, based at North Norfolk District Council, will take a lead role in drawing up the Shoreline Management Plan for the county’s coastline.

He made it clear English Nature’s views would not be the only ones taken into account when the policy was drawn up next year and submitted to the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs for funding approval.

Mr Watson said: “I do appreciate the environmental benefits, but English Nature do not take into account that thousands of people will be affected. English Nature’s report blatantly ignores the fact there are a lot of people who live there and we are probably talking about millions of pounds in compensation.”

Last month, several hundred protesters gathered on the rapidly-eroding clifftops at Happisburgh to spell out a human SOS to the Government.

Keith Harrison, parish representative of the Norfolk Coast Partnership, said the time to panic had not come yet. “There’s a new round of Shoreline Management Plans taking place at the moment which could say something completely different to what Champs say.”

Endangered cliff dwellers spell it out

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

It was a sight to behold – from the ground and from the air.

Several hundred people seemed to come from nowhere to gather on the sunny cliffs at Happisburgh yesterday lunchtime.

They were all there for one reason: to voice their support for satisfactory sea defences – in a rather unusual manner.

The protesters were quickly marshalled into position on the field opposite the Cliff House Teashop, forming themselves into three giant human letters.

Some had walked or cycled from Cart Gap, Eccles and Happisburgh. Others had driven from at least as far away as Kent and Cambridgeshire, and there were even a few men and women in wheelchairs and on crutches, who made it to the field, despite terrain that was not particularly easy for them.

When everyone was marshalled into position, the finished product spelt out the word SOS – standing for Save Our Shoreline.

A few minutes passed before the expected arrival of a light aircraft, piloted by aerial photographer Mike Page.

The assembled crowd, estimated to number between 500 and 600 men, women and children, cheered and waved as they were first videoed from the air and then photographed.

At all times they were under the direction of Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, who was standing on the teashop’s second floor balcony, along with a loud-hailer.

The footage and pictures will be used in publicity material to advertise a “self-help” charity being set up to raise money for the village’s sea defences, while pressure is still kept on central and local government to provide a cash injection for Happisburgh.

“It was a wonderful event and was a really quintessential example of English village life,” said Mr Kerby.

“People have come from all over, there has been wonderful support from across the community. I said I would be the happiest man in North Norfolk if we got 500 people, and we did.

“As one measure of what it all means, there was a guy here from Kent, whose late parents retired here 30 years ago, and he came along specially to support the village.”

The general mood of the crowd was summed up by Gerald Bradley, a regular visitor to Happisburgh from his home county of Cambridgeshire.

He said: “It just shows the mix of people who are concerned about what is happening here.

“There were people of all ages, locals and visitors alike, home-owners, caravan owners, people who had walked a couple of miles to get here or even driven a couple of hundred miles.

“It felt as if everyone was speaking very much with one voice.”

There was also a barbecue and tea and coffee laid on to help raise cash towards the Happisburgh fighting fund.

August 2003 Comments

August has been a busy month for us.

Some weeks ago I appealed via both Radio Norfolk and the Eastern Daily Press, for professional assistance and advice with setting up and operating a registered charity. It is most pleasing to report the response was almost immediate and under expert guidance we are now engaged in creating a charity. My thanks to all concerned, there will of course be more news on that as it progresses.

On Sunday 17th August local supporters held a Car Boot Sale in aid of our fighting fund. The event was staged on the very cliff top we are fighting to save and brought in a really staggering £1130.00. It was a pleasant day, the weather was kind to us and everyone enjoyed the event enormously.

I would especially like to thank Chris Lomax for the use of his field at Manor Caravan Park, Cedric Cox our local Lifeboat Operations Manager for the use of his field for parking and the Lifeboat station facilities, Glen and Jo Berry of Hall Farm Forage for producing 500 notices to be handed out and the loan of their equipment and fencing. Last but by no means least the supporters who staged the event. Thanks for all their long hours of work both before and on the day.

For me the most moving thing about the day was the constant stream of messages of support for CCAG accompanied by many, many donations to the fighting fund. People from as far afield as The Midlands, The Cotswolds and The West Country all expressing their absolute disgust with Central Government (DEFRA)’s approach to coastal erosion and flooding.

People from all over the country are sending messages of support. Many are realising that the Happisburgh situation is being repeated in communities all round our shores. Many are realising the DEFRA so called criteria is unfair, unjust and completely unworkable. The point scoring system and criteria are probably the most seriously flawed polices to emanate from DEFRA who it seems are past masters at inventing flawed policies. We have Maritime Local Authorities all around the UK now barred from protecting their own communities by DEFRA, who quite simply will not allow those local authorities to submit viable coast defence schemes no matter how vital and urgent those schemes may be. It is nothing short of a national disgrace.

CCAG will do everything it can to bring the matter to the attention of the wider public and show the DEFRA criteria up for what it is in practice: A system for preventing spending on coast defences whilst seeking to shift all responsibility and blame on to the local authorities who in this context are rendered powerless by the DEFRA point score and criteria.

Malcolm Kerby (21 August 2003)

July 2003 Comments

This month I have to report there is still much going on even though it appears not much is happening. Happisburgh is appalled, angry and still smarting from the complete blank its representatives drew from the ministerial meeting in May. Literally hundreds of letters have gone to Tony Blair. It appears however he is far too busy dealing with the rest of the world to read any of them, so his aides are replying with the news that they have forwarded them to the appropriate department: DEFRA. This is most unsatisfactory and most certainly not in keeping with the spirit of our democracy. So come on Tony get your backside into gear and have a good look at what Happisburgh and thousands of other good honest citizens around our shores are being forced to endure!

Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG) and North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) have worked both individually and jointly over the past four years to obtain effective sea defences. We have both put much time and effort into understanding each other’s position, the result is, I believe, a far greater appreciation by NNDC of the legitimate concerns and desires of the residents and on our part a far greater understanding of precisely what NNDC can, or more appropriately, can not do in terms of capital schemes.

We have both presented the case of Happisburgh to the minister. We have both been told the same thing : Currently Happisburgh does not qualify under present criteria.

That brings me on to the Coast Protection Act 1949 which is the statutory instrument governing coast protection. As I see it the so called criteria implemented by DEFRA, which we are all supposed to believe is written in tablets of stone and can not be got round, is not part of the 1949 Act. Therefore the criteria is not legally binding and can be changed, altered scrapped or implemented at will. No local authority can be expected to finance capital schemes of the magnitude of what is required at Happisburgh. Quite rightly and properly it is a matter for Central Government to defend our shores. We are not asking them to create defences for what was hitherto undefended. Central Government installed effective defences in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s thereby creating the confidence for this community to flourish and grow. People who purchased property 20 years ago were told they had no reason to worry for 70 years. Those who purchased property 12 years ago were told they were safe for 60 years.** All of them now just a few metres from the cliff edge. So it seems expert opinion and forecasts of erosion are quite worthless and not to be trusted.

I have no doubt that NNDC officials are confounded as to where they go from here, they know what is required but have no support from their adversarial partner in these matters (HM Government) so I believe the officers will probably have to seek policy direction from the elected members. There are a number of alternatives but, I believe, only two options. One is to raise more money for coast protection. That could be done by levying a ring fenced annual charge of say ten pounds per household this would amount to just a few pence per week for each household and could be spent, as now, on all the coastline for which they are responsible. The other option I believe must be carried out, it is imperative that NNDC puts forward to DEFRA a request for capital grant aid for Happisburgh and promote a coast defence scheme. That is what the law of the land permits them to do and that is what the vast majority of residents require them to do. This I feel must be done irrespective of the criteria or the threshold score of 22 points both of which are not enshrined in the Coast Protection Act 1949 but are the latest whim of Government.

There is one inescapable fact here: HM Government has a bounden duty to protect it’s citizens. I feel sure the elected members of NNDC will assist the Government to fulfil it’s duty and instruct their officers to put forward a capital scheme for Happisburgh.

Finally a message to our illustrious Mr. Blair. Come on Tony at least read the letters being sent to you and get some idea of what is going on here. We can not blame you or you administration for the inaction of previous administrations however your administration is now totally aware of the situation here in Happisburgh. From this point forward your Government will hold full responsibility for whatever happens here in terms of coastal defence. GOOD OR BAD.

(Comment by Peter Frew, NNDC)

** Post Script – since publishing the above comments, the coordinator has had sight of documentation re: searches carried out on a property some 2 years ago and would like to emphasise that any suggestion that the property would not be subject to coastal erosion for 50 years was not obtained from NNDC.

Malcolm Kerby (24 July 2003)

June 2003 Comments

Since the inception of CCAG and throughout this campaign I have at all times tried to represent Happisburgh at every level correctly, honourably and with absolute integrity. Of course it is not for me to judge whether I have achieved those ideals. What I can tell you is that we (CCAG) have made many friends along the way. Friends at all levels of the political spectrum. Friends in local press and media, I would pay particular tribute to the Eastern Daily Press and BBC Radio Norfolk, whose coverage has been accurate, objective, unbiased and Hugely appreciated.

Friends not only in press and media but also MAFF and DEFRA retired employees understanding what we are fighting for and totally support our cause. In one case a retired middle manager from MAFF / DEFRA with over 30 years service who has been at great pains to explain to me how the internal structure of this Government department really works and what makes them tick. Edifying knowledge I assure you. Friends from within the ranks of serving civil servants.

One of the greatest ongoing difficulties for me personally throughout the campaign has been the possession of knowledge and facts which must remain confidential until events slot into place. Then, and only then, can that information be put into the public domain.

One example of this is concerning the current DEFRA Chief Engineer, who when serving as our Regional Engineer allegedly made no secret of the fact that as long as he was around Happisburgh would not get hard sea defences. I was first made aware of this some two years ago and until now have chosen to keep it to myself. Recently however the same information has been imparted to me by a second and separate source. I would emphasise that these are allegations. However I do strongly feel that the chief engineer to whom we pay a significant salary to oversee our protection from the sea should clarify his position as it may or may not have a direct bearing on the appalling state of coastal defences we suffer at Happisburgh today.

What I know for certain is upon my recent meeting with the Minister and Chief Engineer I did detect a somewhat adversarial attitude toward District Council emanating from the Chief Engineer. This seems to have been borne out at a recent meeting of DEFRA Chief Engineer and Local Authority officers who were allegedly told by the Chief Engineer that they (District Councils) were to blame for much of our misunderstanding of DEFRA’s policy on coastal defence as the Local Authorities are not managing (i.e. controlling) our expectations (i.e. thoughts) well enough. What a staggering statement to make.

I thought that type of regime and thinking fell with the Berlin Wall and Glasnost. Am I to presume then that I may well be accompanying Local Authority Officers from up and down the land on the next train to a gulag in Siberia?

Perhaps it is time to reflect on the power of non elected individuals particularly civil servants who are precisely that, servants of the people and not there to dictate terms in any form other than need. Accordingly the people of Happisburgh reject absolutely any form of criteria other than urgency necessity and need to protect the physical, social and economic well being of our community.

I do not necessarily blame the present Minister for our situation as Happisburgh’s need has been either ignored or rejected by previous administrations. I do however take note there is one common denominator through previous and current political administrations that is Reg Purnell, Chief Engineer; he has clearly been in a position of influence (perhaps too much) for many years.

Rather than trying to dictate what we may or may not think, maybe he would be more usefully employed working with our Local Authority finding a solution to our ongoing Coastal Defence problem!

Malcolm Kerby (08 June 2003)

May 2003 Update

Having noted the comments on site re withholding council tax & before anyone considers such action I thought it would be pertinent to place on record how our council tax is split and who gets what.

The following is a breakdown per thousand pounds paid:

Norfolk County Council £777.41 Norfolk Police £107.84 Parish and Town Council Precepts £20.46 North Norfolk District Council £94.31 Total £1000.00

Obviously, the bit that we are concerned with is the amount NNDC receives, which is £94.31 out of every thousand pounds paid, which breaks down as follows:

Central Services £12.67 Parks – Leisure etc. £7.13 Economic Development £8.34 Environmental Services £11.62 Housing Grants & Benefit £13.31 Local Council Tax & Benefits £6.38 Planning & Transport £4.93 Sports / Recreation £8.48 Refuse Collection & Street Cleaning £13.02 Coast Protection £8.43 Total £94.31

Thus for every £1000 collected in Council Tax, the District Council (NNDC) receives £94.31 and spends £8.43 (app. 9%) on coast protection.

During the financial year 2002/03 approximately 50% of the annual revenue and budget for coast protection was spent at Happisburgh.

The calculations are endless, but to reduce it still further to terms in which I can make more sense of it – for every £100 in council tax paid by a householder, North Norfolk District Council receives just £9.43 from which app 84 pence is spent on coast protection.

So as you can see, withholding council tax would appear to be a very broad and blunt instrument in terms of effect.

I felt it to be right and proper that anyone considering that action should be fully aware of the facts.

Malcolm Kerby (20 May 2003)

Clifftop death sentence fury

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

ANGRY villagers are vowing to step up their battle for sea defences to protect their North Norfolk homes, despite being told by a top Government official there is no money in the pot.

A deputation from Happisburgh travelled to the corridors of power in London on Tuesday – but were met by gloomy news.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley offered them sympathy, but no hope of cash to shore up their shoreline.

A £700,000 rock groyne project was the last plan to fail to get off the ground because of a raft of delays, technical and funding problems.

And the cost of a scheme to protect the east end of the village and rebuild a storm-shattered lifeboat ramp is now put at £2 million.

Villagers were frustrated to hear Westminster officials constantly refer to problems meeting “criteria” during the hour-long meeting, but later talked of their determination to fight on.

Long-standing campaigner and home-owner Jack Hall said: “For them it is a problem, but for us it is a crisis.”

The meeting had confirmed there was no help coming from central Government, but they would carry on fighting for funding.

“There is absolutely no way that this can stop here – if it did we would be sentencing the village to death,” he said.

Coastal action group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said: “Of course we are disappointed – absolutely furious.”

He attacked the “completely dismissive attitude” of officials who were “so rigid in their approach.” But he said the campaigners would “go forward from here” – starting with another public meeting.

And local guest house owner Di Wrightson, whose home is now just yards from the clifftop, accused the Government of “completely failing to take into account the human cost of what is happening to our village.”

She said: “They just flatly refused to listen to the real consequences of what we are facing up to as individuals and as a community” – a charge the Minister later denied.

The trio were joined by parish councillor and publican Clive Stockton and Peter Frew, head of law and property at North Norfolk District Council.

MP Norman Lamb, who organised the meeting, was also “immensely disappointed” – but pledged to continue fighting.

He will call on Government officials to take more account of the longer-term threat of the sea breaking through into the Broads, and will seek support from other coastal MPs facing similar problems.

Other issues raised at the meeting included the question of compensation for those who lose their homes, the effect of the nearby Sea Palling rock reefs built in the 1990s and the possibility of justifying funding for sea defences by considering Happisburgh as an emergency situation.

After the meeting, Elliot Morley released a statement saying: “I sympathise with the residents who may suffer damage and distress because of the coastal erosion.

“However, we must accept that natural events such as coastal erosion can never be entirely prevented.

“I know that North Norfolk District Council does face many severe technical and practical problems as it seeks to devise sustainable defence measures for this frontage.”

Any application for Government funding would be considered “sympathetically against the normal technical, economic and environmental criteria and priority score arrangements.”

And he stressed that his department recognised the human aspect of coastal erosion — by taking account of social, health and environmental issues and not just economic values.

“Regretfully, there are major cost and technical challenges which makes any proposed scheme very costly to protect a very small number of homes.

“That is not to say a scheme may not be affordable or justified in the future but at the moment it does look difficult to do,” he said.