October 2004 update

In this area I am sure we are going to see over the coming weeks many meetings organised by North Norfolk District Council (NNDC). To explain the rationale and finer nuances of the second generation pilot Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), extracts of which were published in the Eastern Daily Press recently.

If this does happen it will be a real opportunity to register your view on it’s implications. It is also extremely important that you ensure your elected representatives at both Parish and District Council levels have a clear understanding of your view on this subject that they may put your case on your behalf.

On the wider front let us remember there are three such SMPs all timed to be launched together and have the same `consultation’ period. The three `pilot’ areas are :

  1. NNDC (Kelling to Lowestoft Ness)
  2. Shepway District Council (Dover to Beachy Head)
  3. Arun District Council (Beachy Head to Selsey Bill)

In July 04 DEFRA released a significant and major consultation paper entitled Making Space For Water as a stepping stone to new policy formation on fluvial flooding and coast defence. I would congratulate them on the scope of that paper, it tables a wide range of questions and thought provoking comments for stakeholder discussion many of which CCAG has been calling for over recent years. Again congratulations DEFRA, much of the content of the Making Space For Waterpaper you would have regarded as heresy not that long ago. The wind of change is indeed blowing! The consultation period is due to close on 1st November 2004.

I recently attended a conference in Southampton organised by DEFRA as part of this consultation process. I came away from there with the impression that Whitehall is in `listening mode’. Let us hope that they are hearing and we end up with a rather more user friendly, more socially just policy than that which currently prevails. Heaven knows the inadequacies of current coast defence policy are glaringly obvious. We desperately need change, radical root and branch change, not just tinkering about with what we are already saddled with. A bit of lateral thinking would be welcome to find innovative ways to address the coast defence problems of both today and the future. Thinking which encompasses the needs of man and his historic communities whilst addressing the major issues of global warming, sea level rise and climate change. That is the real challenge, build on what we already have and secure it in a more community based, Eco-friendly way. Under current policy flora and fauna are compensated when their habitat is lost to coastal erosion but mankind is not. Is that socially just or acceptable?

It would have helped me believe the Making Space For Water consultation document and intentions more if the second generation SMPs were produced after whatever new policy comes out of all this. How can SMPs be produced which, we are told, are going to be operable for the next 20-50 years when we have no idea of the policy framework of which they are supposed to be a part? All seems a bit cart before horse to me, unless of course Government has already decided on the do nothing approach with the SMPs as scene setters and `consultation’ window dressing en route to what has already been decided.

It would have helped me believe in the SMP if Government had come clean about the effects of offshore dredging on coastal process. But they have not.

I have to hand an internal document from Westminster, presumably never meant for public consumption. Which clearly shows political duplicity over offshore dredging, I shall quote from four paragraphs under the heading, Concerns regarding the potential impact of Marine Aggregate Dredging:

  1. “Coastal erosion caused by Marine Aggregate Dredging, effecting property housing and tourism on our coastal areas. `Managed Retreat’ regarding sea defence would be quite acceptable if natural erosion went to the rebuilding of depleted down-tide areas. However, the large-scale removal of marine aggregate has led many to believe that the rapid erosion taking place on our coasts is going directly to replace marine aggregate that has been dredged from the seabed.”
  2. “A deterioration in the overall health/quality of the marine ecosystem since large-scale dredging has been in operation, 35% of Norfolk’s salt marshes have disappeared. Marine and biodiversity are dramatically reduced for a significant amount of time.”
  3. “A reduction in the socio-economic aspects of the sea, including fishery and amenity interests through such an environmental impact could result in further strains on fishing. The impact of dredging on localised areas can be significant, with marine stocks in that area being sharply reduced for a considerable amount of time. Concerns have been raised by many fishermen who have experienced the effects of dredging at first hand.”
  4. “We still need to work to increase our understanding of the process of coastal erosion. Only through this will a true factual analysis of the environmental and financial costs of Marine Aggregate Dredging be revealed. Current scientific analysis simply doesn’t provide an accurate assessment of these problems.”

It seems to me that unless and until there is a complete cessation of aggregate dredging natural equilibrium in coastal process can neither be restored or take place.

If natural equilibrium can neither be restored or take place then the second generation SMPs are seriously flawed and must be withdrawn. I believe the Eurosion team got it precisely right when they said “Aggregate dredging can either cause or exacerbate coastal erosion.”

As someone remarked to me recently when discussing the dredging issue “This is just how the BSE crisis started, evasive politicians and denials.” Some people (particularly some politicians it would seem) never learn do they!

Herewith some dredging statistics for you. Between 1989-2002 the total tonnage extracted by region, according to the Marine Sand and Gravel Information Service (MAGIS) was :

East Coast137,817,564
South Coast75,069,066
South West Coast30,336,752
North West Coast4,841,101
Rivers & Misc.1,005,752

So the total tonnage extracted from the Humber and East Coast areas (between which Happisburgh is situated) was 162,670,130 Tonnes.

Malcolm Kerby (26 October 2004)

October 2004 Update

Proposed Kelling to Lowestoft Ness Shoreline Management Plan

I feel it is pertinent to preface my comments with a few words against which I would like my remarks to be judged.

Firstly I do have some understanding of the commitment and volume of work put into the plan by the relevant officers at NNDC. I also have a reasonable grasp of the constraints under which they were forced to construct this SMP.

All of my comments are directed at the plan itself and are in no way intended to reflect upon those charged with the onerous task of it’s production.

It is my unshakeable and firm belief that we are simply trustees of our rich, diverse environment and cultural heritage. I believe it is incumbent upon us to pass on to future generations the Norfolk we love, cherish and have been fortunate enough to enjoy in, at the very least, as good a condition as we inherited it. Notwithstanding that I also firmly believe we have the skills, technology and the know how to pass on to future generations a greatly improved and more secure version of the Norfolk we hold in trust today.

This proposed plan (together with the English Nature ChaMP report 2003) is pure academia, it does not address the real issues facing our communities, it’s main driver is obviously the ongoing reluctance of Central Government to provide funding for the defence of this nation from the sea.

It does not address the socio-economic problems we currently have let alone the enormous problems enactment of this plan would produce. It is in my view an unmitigated disaster for Norfolk.

It speaks of the desire to return to a more natural coastline yet it completely ignores what many believe are some of the most influential causes of damage and hugely accelerated rates of erosion in the area namely the as yet untested Sea Palling reef scheme, which many believe has caused more problems than it will ever solve and the effects of Marine Aggregate Dredging on the coastal process. I note para.3.2.1 Coastal process and coastal defence, contains a reference to aggregate dredging I quote “Whether or not there are links between offshore dredging and coastal erosion is uncertain”. If we are “uncertain” in this key area then this must surely invalidate the entire plan and it’s assumptions and predictions.

As is now widely known I personally went to Brussels last year where the question was put to a key member of the Eurosion team, “does offshore dredging cause coastal erosion?” the answer was an unequivocal “yes of course”. I shall not go into the extent of the damage limitation exercise undertaken by our authorities after I put that in the public domain but I shall quote from the final Eurosion document which is intended to be the state of the art document to which all EU member Governments and Municipal Authorities refer. Chapter 1.5.4 Erosion (page45) states : ” The main causes of erosion along the North Sea coasts are, Sea level rise for estuaries. Gradients in longshore sediment transport for sedimentary coasts. Storm surges for cliff coasts and dune coasts.”

Later in the same chapter is under the header: Sand mining and dredging. “Whereas beach nourishments may have a positive effect on coastal erosion, sediment extraction for sand mining locally attributes to erosion of the foreshore of the coast and may lead erosion of the beach and dune system on the longer term. Local deepening of the seafloor can alter wave patterns and cause gradients in sediment transports, resulting in local erosion”

This is a pretty damning indictment of aggregate dredging made by knowledgeable people who have no financial incentive or strategic reasons to cover up the true effects of offshore dredging on coastal process.

This must surely invalidate the whole proposed SMP as it has been compiled on the premise of incomplete data which throws all of the assumption and predictions of what our coastline may do into grave doubt. If the effects of dredging were not included in the modelling for the SMP, which it is patently obvious they were not, then no-one has any accurate idea of what our coastline will do at any given stage or time. Shockingly the answer to that one lies in the hands of the dredging companies for only they know how much of our marine environment they intend to remove.

I would contend that this proposed plan is purely a Shoreline plan and in no way addresses the management of the huge, immense socio- economic problems it will cause, indeed it has caused enough already before it is officially launched for it’s, so called, consultation process. Any such plan could only ever be workable if that dreaded word compensation were included. Without mitigation of the effects on peoples assets in the name of wider national interest, any plan of this type is doomed.

It is a real tragedy that we have not taken the opportunity to produce a real shoreline management plan, one which builds instead of destroys, one which faces and solves the challenges ahead instead of running away from them. I firmly believe we have the capability to produce a plan which provides protection for the coastal communities by the selective use of defences in already defended areas which will enhance the sedimentary transport and harness the natural elements to work with nature and enhance both man’s environment and the biodiversity of our area, if we followed this path coupled with a complete cessation of dredging of the Humber and East Coast we would then truly have fulfilled our obligations as trustees and pass on a much improved, more secure Norfolk to future generations.

I do not think those generations to come will thank us if we throw away so much of their cultural heritage as the current plan would demand of us.

Malcolm Kerby (08 October 2004)

October 2004 Comments

What an eventful ten days not just for Happisburgh but almost all the Norfolk coastal communities. First we have the reports in the press and media of a study conducted by Dr. Nigel Pontee of the Halcrow group and others which tells the world that the coastline of England and Wales has become steeper. The south of England showing the most dramatic changes. Apparently 61% of the studied coastline has been affected. According to Dr. Nigel the most likely cause of steepening appears to be man made infrastructure on the upper parts of the shore (how convenient).

What they have singularly failed to tell us is the contribution marine aggregate dredging has made to that steepening and I am willing to bet much of that 61% of coastline is close to the licensed dredging areas.

However it made a good scene setter for the next bombshell: the report in the Eastern Daily Press of the proposed Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for the Norfolk coast published on Saturday 2nd October and bombshell it most definitely was. Unfortunately I cannot comment on the proposed SMP because I/we, the so called stakeholders, are yet to see it or be told what is contained therein. I find it extremely difficult to understand why it was released to the press before it’s completion and publication.

A cynic would be forgiven for thinking that this was a part of a ‘softening up’ process to reduce the negative impact on it’s public release. The great danger here of course is that many people will ‘shoot the messenger’. Personally I would say well done Eastern Daily Press you have brought the whole sorry saga into the public eye. My congratulations to those involved at the Eastern Daily Press on an excellent report. At least I no longer have to worry in my campaigning about blighting properties in Happisburgh that would otherwise not be affected, this so called SMP appears to have done precisely that for almost the entire length of the Norfolk coast and the inland coastal strip. I fear that many people will feel the impact of this proposed SMP in a devaluing of their property and perhaps even difficulty in selling. I very much look forward to the official publication of this second generation pilot SMP surely there will be much to comment on.

Two words spring to mind: ‘stakeholder’ and ‘consultation’. At the moment those words seem meaningless. Here we see all the hallmarks of a ‘done deal’ before we even get a chance to have any input. Disgraceful!! I sense the heavy hand of Westminster in this.

Malcolm Kerby (06 October 2004)

June 2004 Comments

My comments this month are intended to cover a number of important issues.

First let us consider the three ‘pilot’ Shoreline Management Plans (SMP’s) which I assume DEFRA have requested be done. There are three District Councils (Lead Authorities) involved:

  1. North Norfolk District Council for Sheringham to Lowestoft area.
  2. Shepway District Council covering Dover to Beachy Head.
  3. Arun District Council covering Beachy Head to Selsey Bill.

I have tried to obtain information on what the Sheringham to Lowestoft proposed plan will contain but have been told no information will be released until public consultation. So I shall have to have a shot at predicting what they will say in the broadest of terms. One thing I think we can be sure of is that the SMPs will not reflect the true aims and requirements of the Lead Authorities. Quite simply I believe the parameters set by DEFRA were too narrow and will ultimately therefore only reflect the DEFRA view of what should be done. Neat trick that because I believe when we the public see these SMPs we are not going to like them one bit. I believe they will advocate saving, or protecting, only the major conurbations and let the rest go. Obviously they will dream up some new policy title for areas where they intend to do nothing it used to be called managed retreat ( but that implied some kind of management which there was not) that then became coastal realignment what, I wonder, will the next euphemism be? May I suggest one a little closer to the truth, abdication of responsibility or dereliction of duty spring to mind.

We all accept there must be a more complete approach to coast defence and very little can be viewed in isolation. If our Government or the Civil Servants decide that much of our coastline, as we know it, and many of our historic coastal settlements and communities must be sacrificed in the greater national interest (not a view to which I and many others subscribe) then they must MANAGE that sacrifice, or retreat, effectively. When a motorway or airport runway is built in the greater national interest those who suffer losses as a result are compensated fully that they may make a new life elsewhere. All we as coastal dwellers ask is parity. We need a mechanism by which any coastal retreat or realignment can really be managed effectively and those who face a total loss situation because our Government wishes to allow the defensive line to be moved landward are adequately and effectively compensated for being forced to surrender their homes, businesses and communities in the perceived wider national interest. I very strongly and firmly believe that the three pilot SMPs when presented for public assent can only be accepted by our elected members if and when they include complete and just means of mitigating the full socio-economic impact on our coastal communities. That is the only circumstance under which they should meet with our elected members approval. To return to my earlier comment of neat trick, DEFRA have drawn up the parameters under which these new SMPs are put together. So when they meet with our disapproval DEFRA can say, it’s nothing to do with us it was the lead authorities who created the SMPs. As I said neat trick, not entirely honest but then DEFRA will do anything to put the Lead Authorities up front. To the elected members of the Lead Authorities I would say when you come to vote on these Shoreline Management Plans on our behalf please remember we will only accept them if they are a complete management philosophy with full mitigation and or compensation for the havoc they are probably going to wreak in socio-economic terms on the many coastal communities around our shores. If they are perceived to be the best way forward in the wider national interest then the nation must take full account and compensate accordingly.

Another major factor which influences the lives of our coastal communities is offshore dredging for aggregate. The Europeans are in no doubt whatsoever that aggregate dredging causes or exacerbates coastal erosion. Indeed we were assured of that on the occasion of our visit to Brussels and meeting with Eurosion project team members. That assurance was contained in the Eurosion draft policy recommendations (Dec 2003). I knew when I returned from Brussels that the information I now had was dynamite. I also knew that our lot, Ministers and Civil Servants, would not take that lying down. For years they have got away with saying, as Elliot Morley keeps repeating “ There is no evidence.” Well we returned from Brussels with evidence. To Elliot Morley I would say of course there is no evidence in this country because you have not and will not look for it. You know full well what you will find and that you would have to act on it. So I can only assume the British Government and Civil Service approach is do not look for evidence of the manifestly harmful effects of offshore dredging then we will not have any and consequently we will not have to do anything. Elliot you can fool some of the public all of the time, all of the public some of the time. What you can not do is fool all of us all of the time.

All seven of the licensed dredging areas around our shores are suffering coastal erosion problems. In some, like Happisburgh, erosion is running massively ahead of all expert forecast and prediction. I believe it is no coincidence that in these areas dredging activity has increased markedly. There must be a moratorium placed on the dredging for marine aggregates until proper effective independent studies have been carried out to determine precisely the effects on our marine and coastal environment. Incidentally the final Eurosion policy document had all embarrassing references to dredging in the UK removed and the leading Eurosion team member has ‘resigned’! I wonder why! As I said previously I knew our lot would not take it lying down. It would seem they were very active behind the scenes. Thanks to European honesty we now have confirmation of the harmful effects of dredging. Our Government and Civil Service will do all that they can to rubbish those findings for a multitude of reasons:

  1. They will not wish to give up their huge income from royalty payments and subsequent taxation of the products ( this amounts to approx. £1 million per week from off the Norfolk coast alone) so nationally the Government take is massive.
  2. If this Government is to meet it’s building targets for homes, particularly in the South East, the adequate supply of aggregates at what is deemed reasonable cost is of strategic importance. Yet again coastal communities are being forced to bear the cost, this time of an industry from which the companies involved and the Government are making billions of pounds annually.

Elliot Morley when questioned on this income simply says the income from dredging is not directly linked to coast defences. Isn’t that amazing and ground breaking! Elliot old son my taxes are not directly linked to you or your Chief Engineer’s salaries but I still have to contribute to them and believe me that really hurts!!! How many more increasingly ludicrous excuses is DEFRA and Government going to come up with for failing to maintain for future generations the rich and diverse coastal heritage of this Nation? How much longer can they seek to shift the blame to the Lead Authorities when DEFRA themselves render those Lead Authorities powerless in this situation?

How much longer can we hope to address effectively the problems of global warming, significant sea level rise and the change in weather patterns it would seem we face with a primary statutory instrument, the Coast Protection Act 1949, which is so outdated and outmoded in this modern environment. Indeed the 1949 Act it seems to me was only a revamp of the 1939 Act so we are trying to address a modern situation and new problems with a 65 year old toolkit!! We need change, we need change at every level. A good place to start would be with the primary legislative tool, a new Act of Parliament which actively prevents Ministers and Civil Servants from becoming ever more embroiled in the playground game of ‘pass the buck’. Remove permissive from the power let us have an Act of Parliament which is crystal clear in it’s apportionment of responsibility. All we have at the moment is an outdated statutory instrument behind which every level of authority can and does hide, pointing the finger of blame at others whilst doing nothing themselves. Let us have an Act of Parliament which removes the need for Secretary of State and Ministers having to approach the Treasury each year with a begging bowl and a plea to the Chancellor of the Exchequer “please sir may we have some more that we can save our nation from drowning.” Only to be slapped on the wrist with the Treasury Green Book or Multi Coloured Document and told no! Presumably because the Chancellor has to retain billions of pounds of our money to throw around the world protecting us from what is not there anyway. Sounds a bit like a Brian Rix farce to me, unfortunately it is not.

In October 2000 the European Bill of Human Rights was enshrined in British law, so we now have our own Bill of Human Rights. This raises some interesting questions in coast defence and flood management terms. On 1st April this year Sarah Nason, head of Flood Management Division DEFRA wrote to the flood management stakeholders forum attaching a paper under the heading, Maintenance of uneconomic sea flood defences: A way forward. This is a very interesting document particularly if you ‘read between the lines’ there are many aspects of this paper on which I could comment however I shall for now restrict my comment to paragraph 25 under the heading Human Rights in which Ms Nason specifically refers to three articles they are 1, 8 and 6 of the first protocol. I firmly believe DEFRA are in breach of articles 1 and 8 however she does state “ essentially, no one can be deprived of the unimpeded use of his or her land except in the public interest.” Obviously some of the residents of Happisburgh who have already lost land and property and those who will lose land and property have and are doing so in the public interest. Were that not the case they would surely have continued to be defended. Ms Nason goes on to say, I quote “the Act recognises the need for a balance between public interests and private rights, with measures taken to further the former at the expense of the latter required to be proportionate.”

The sacrifices which have and are being forced upon some Happisburgh landowners and homeowners have and are being made as Elliot Morley has stated “ in the wider tax payers interests.”

As I see it unless and until measures are put in place to ‘square the management circle’ and compensate said landowners and homeowners then their sacrifices and losses are disproportionate and therefore in direct contravention of the Bill of Human Rights.

Malcolm Kerby (14 June 2004)

May 2004 Comments

The DTI sponsored Foresight Study published on the 22nd April 04 took on board the likely consequences of continuing lack of investment in coast defences. CCAG has, for some years, been raising awareness of the abject folly of this Government’s do nothing approach to coast defence.

I now feel totally vindicated in pointing out to Elliot Morley and his department the huge disservice they are doing to this nation in coast defence terms. Their lack of judgement, foresight and policy (including their instrument for exclusion – cost benefit and point score) will ultimately cost us the taxpayers many many millions of pounds more than it need or should. Indeed I would contend that the current DEFRA stance is irresponsible in the extreme.

It does rather beg the question: Is it Ministers ignoring sound Civil Service advice or is it the Civil Service ignoring the needs and requirements of the people and giving their Ministers seriously flawed advice? Either way they are both culpable jointly or severally!

They are quite simply derelict in their duty of care and protection of the people. Particularly whilst in the full knowledge of the likely effects of global warming, its effect on weather patterns and glacal rebound; the combined effects of which, according to the experts, will raise sea levels in the south east by some 5-6mm per annum. So by 2024 we can expect a sea level some 100-120mm higher than we currently enjoy.

I am told the effect of this rise on wave height and intensity could be disasterous. Yet we have a Government department, DEFRA, burying their head in the sand of criteria. Their only answer seems to be to comission a report and then another report then reports on reports all of which costs huge amounts of OUR money. Money which would be much better spent actually doing something constructive rather than just covering their backsides.

There will shortly be a new Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) for this area. I am willing to bet it will be pages and pages long, have cost many thousands of pounds to produce, will use all the latest buzz words ie. Sustainable, Sustainability, Natural Equilibrium,Holistic etc. whilst recommending precious little be done. Then the Minister whoever he or she may be can continue to do nothing and point the finger of blame at the SMP.

In my letter to Elliot Morley of the 23rd November 2003 and in previous postings on this site I have spoken of the financial and economic consequences of spending too little on coast defences in the short term. Every day nothing is done so the problem gets worse and becomes more difficult and expensive to address.

There can be no sound economic justification for not building some defences now. Delaying the solution will cost the taxpayer infinately more.

It seems to me that Ministers and civil servants alike seem to forget that they work for us not us them and as taxpayers we require a more cost effective and sensible approach in the way in which they spend OUR money.

Malcolm Kerby (10 May 2004)

April 2004 Update

Anyone who listened to the radio 4 programme Costing The Earth broadcast last week surely can be left in no doubt that marine aggregate dredging is extremely harmful to our marine environment and holds significant responsibility for the massive increase in coastal erosion around our shores. In Europe there is no doubt of its harmful effects, indeed the Dutch who it is acknowledged are the masters of coastal defence, simply will not allow aggregate dredging in waters less than 20 meters deep and within 25 Km of the shore, ironically they fulfil their requirement for aggregates by buying them in from British dredging companies. Contrast this with the UK Government who actively encourage dredging within 6Km of Great Yarmouth. DEFRA were recently asked to comment on the Eurosion document which addresses such issues and highlights North Norfolk among other areas. Their comment was :

“We are considering the reports from the Eurosion project. If it emerges that they have significant new evidence then we will clearly give this careful consideration. However it is our understanding that the project has not conducted any new field work and is probably relying on previously published material.”

So it would appear our Government, particularly the responsible Minister have been extremely economical with the truth. His answer to the question, does offshore aggregate dredging have an impact on coastal erosion? Is always very careful, very guarded, short and quite meaningless: “There is no evidence.”

Why do you say there is no evidence Minister?

Have you deliberately avoided looking for it?

Is it being suppressed by Government that they may continue to receive their approx. £1,000,000 per week revenue from off the Norfolk Coast (more if other areas are included)?

Do you have evidence which has been buried because some fool somewhere has decided it is not in the national interest to allow it into the public domain?

Has there been a deliberate policy to suppress evidence?

Is it Blair, Beckett, Morley, Prescott (whose department licences and permits dredging) or the civil service withholding any previously published evidence?

Why is the DEFRA Chief Engineer a director of one of the leading consultancy companies used by Government in the process of granting dredging licences?

The whole DEFRA approach and response to coastal erosion and its associated socio-economic problems is seriously flawed, extremely unfair, totally biased and is a huge disservice to this nation in both economic and physical terms.

Since meeting with Elliot Morley in his Office on 13th May 2003 I have spoken with officers from three different maritime authorities. Privately they agree with many of our views, publicly they dare not express those views for fear of being ‘drummed out’ by DEFRA as it would appear happened in North Norfolk some years ago.

The whole set up and system stinks, the deeper I look, the more I learn, the smellier it gets.

Stop the dredging now and start addressing some of the problems it has caused.

Finally to return to Costing The Earth it was, shall we say, interesting to hear Dr. Ian Selby’s pathetic attempts to justify marine aggregate dredging (he is employed by one of the largest dredging companies) saying that offshore dredging is “benign” in its effects! Come on Dr. Selby you appear to be making the same mistake as DEFRA in believing that we area all stupid out here in the real world! Obviously we wasted a great deal of money on somebody’s education.

It is becoming increasingly evident that marine aggregate dredging is about as benign in its effects on the marine and coastal environment as a Kalishnikov bullet is when hitting the flesh of its intended target!

Malcolm Kerby (13 April 2004)

April 2004 Comments

Having attended two conferences in recent weeks namely the CLA organised ‘On The Brink’ at Barnham Broom Norfolk and the National Flood Forum Second Annual Conference in Birmingham, I am left with mixed feelings and emotions.

The ‘On The Brink’ gathering was indeed excellent as it highlighted what we are facing in terms of global warming and other environmental changes. From that came how little our Government appears to be doing or even planning to combat those inevitable changes i.e. sea level rise and weather patterns, in coastal defence terms. If central Government continues on it’s chosen path many people could be facing disaster even in the short to medium term.

The NFF gathering in Birmingham was also an excellent event. Although concerned mainly with fluvial flooding there was some discussion on coastal defence / erosion. There was a strong feeling that if we are going to actually manage our coastal defences there must be a statutory means to address the current lack of compensation for those businesses and homeowners who lose everything as a result of the defensive line being moved landward, as is happening in Happisburgh.

What did come over to me loud and clear through both of these events is just how inadequate the Coast Protection Act 1949 is. The 1949 Act, which in itself was a revamp of the 1939 Act, was placed on statute 55years ago. Long before global warming and tectonic plate movement (where the North West of the UK is rising and the South East is sinking. Something to do with glacial rebound I believe) were ever thought of. We are currently attempting to manage and mitigate twenty first century problems with a rather blunt mid twentieth century instrument and the chaos of a multi agency approach, Happisburgh is a glaring example of this.

There was some discussion about offshore aggregate dredging and it was interesting to note that at least one speaker in an ‘official’ capacity admitted that “ We really don’t know” when referring to the effects of dredging on coastal erosion. I also note that more and more voices are supporting my call for a moratorium on aggregate dredging until we do know the full consequences. That seems to me to be the only sensible way forward. Happisburgh cliffs are eroding five times faster than expert prediction, more in specific areas, this quite clearly is not the result of natural process.

It is Central Government, DEFRA, who block all progress in the defence of Happisburgh and the Northern Norfolk Broads, yet they make a profit of approx. £1,000,000 per week every week from offshore aggregate dredging off the Norfolk Coast alone. That means over the five years (or 260 weeks) CCAG has been in existence Central Government have made some £260 million profit from our assets and indeed our sacrifices (26 properties already lost) having spent absolutely nothing on our protection! I would welcome justification of the foregoing in moral as well as economic terms from Messrs Blair, Brown, Prescott, Beckett and Morley.

Finally I would cordially extend my belated best wishes to the DEFRA Chief Engineer Reg Purnell for his 58th Birthday on 15th (the Ides) of March.

Malcolm Kerby (05 April 2004)

January 2004 Comments

The storm of December 21st. caused yet more significant losses at Happisburgh, I remain utterly confirmed in the belief that our problems are, in the main, man made.

I have before me the Crown Estates Licensed Dredging Areas Index of Plans. There are seven areas around the UK coast where dredging is taking place. In every one of those areas there are extremely significant coastal erosion problems! The sheer scale of this dredging activity is absolutely mind boggling. Aggregate extraction from off the Norfolk coast alone has depleted the marine environment by a staggering 114,087,993 Tonnes over the period 1992—2002 inclusive!! Little wonder then that Happisburgh’s erosion problem has increased over app. the same period by two orders of magnitude. To give an indication of the profit HM Government makes from this dredging activity in the form of royalty income, here are the latest figures for the past five years, remember this is from off the Norfolk coast alone there are six other areas for which I do not have the figures.

  • 1998 £4.44 Million
  • 1999 £4.77 Million
  • 2000 £6.16 Million
  • 2001 £5.36 Million
  • 2002 £5.29 Million

This totals for a five year period £26.02 Million. Over the same period Government spending on coast defences in North Norfolk was £1,190,243!! Not one penny of that at Happisburgh.
Suddenly one can begin to understand why our Government is a tad economical with the truth, why they desperately do not want the subject of offshore dredging mentioned or discussed. I most fervently hope that we do not find any politicians either Non Executive Directors, Consultants or in the Lobbying employ of the dredging companies.

Also it becomes easier to see why DEFRA use such an inadequate, over complex system of so called Criteria and Point Score for the application of Grant Aid for coast defences. It’s all smoke and mirrorsintended to create confusion amongst the public whilst they divert funds inland. Coastal Communities are being discriminated against on purely financial grounds. That is morally indefensible, a complete betrayal of millions of coastal dwellers all around this Nation and surely cannot be legal ! To all coastal communities around our shores particularly those adjacent to dredging activity, I would say you, just like Happisburgh are being thoroughly stitched up by HM Government.

I would urge everyone to write to the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott demanding a moratorium be placed on offshore dredging immediately and remain in place until either a Public Enquiry or thorough comprehensive, independent study has determined the cause and effect on coastal erosion of offshore aggregate dredging. to date no such enquiry or study has been undertaken !

We cannot allow this situation to continue. Ruined coast defences MUST be replaced. Compensation MUST be paid, as is demonstrated here, the money IS available to facilitate these things.

Above all dredging MUST cease until we have the definitive answers to the problems increasingly associated with it.

Malcolm Kerby (07 January 2004)

November 2003

One of the questions put to the officials with whom we met in Brussels was: “Does offshore aggregate dredging and extraction have any impact on coastal erosion?” The reply indicated that it most certainly does! Over the Last 5 years our Government has received in royalty income from dredging and extraction from off the North Norfolk coast a staggering £26.02 million pounds.

Over the last 5 years the total amount spent by our Government on coast protection throughout North Norfolk is £1,190,243 None of which was spent on Happisburgh.

In spite of the obvious and direct correlation between dredging and coastal erosion our Government has not commissioned any study into the impact of offshore dredging on coastal erosion. So our Government is granting and extending dredging licenses with absolutely no knowledge of the consequences.

This can only be described as hugely irresponsible and a complete betrayal of the people’s trust. That irresponsibility and betrayal might have been a little more palatable if they had spent the £26.02 million on our coast defences but they have not.

CCAG is not able to claim that dredging is responsible either in whole or in part for the massive coastal erosion problems throughout North Norfolk, in particular Happisburgh, equally the Government cannot claim that dredging is not responsible because neither CCAG or our Government have commissioned a proper effective study of the effects of dredging.

There should now be a moratorium placed on dredging until a proper, effective, comprehensive study has been made. This is the very least a responsible, moral Government should do, immediately!

Remember the figures over the last 5 years dredging off the Norfolk coast Government profit £26.02 million. Government spend on coast protection less than £1.2 million

Many centuries ago the Vikings arrived on our shores and thus the popular phrase, rape and pillage entered our vocabulary. The Vikings raped and pillaged our coastal settlements but, it seems, on nothing near the scale that our own Government is today.

Malcolm Kerby (10 November 2003)

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)