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)

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)

May 2003 Comments

The most frequently asked question in recent weeks is “When are the steps to the beach going to be put in?” After speaking to NNDC Coast Protection Engineers today I can confirm the steps will be in place week commencing Monday 12th May. This is a little while later than had been hoped due to production difficulties and delays, however we shall soon have safe access to the beach.

Whilst access will be safe, the beach and cliff base between the broken ramp and the end of beach road where the bay is forming remains difficult to negotiate, so please stay clear of this particular area if possible. Please adopt a common sense approach and do not attempt to scale the broken ramp, as a family of four complete with dog and bicycle did over the Bank Holiday weekend. We also spotted a rather foolish male attempting to scale the cliff by going up where there are many iron poles precariously perched all the way up the cliff face.

We are now just one week away from our meeting with Elliot Morley MP, let us hope that the meeting goes well. Our preparation is well under way, and we look forward to discussing the matter with he who holds responsibility. Any developments will of course be posted on this website.

We have started a new section effectively singing the praises of Happisburgh. In recent weeks Kipling’s poem The Dykes was brought to my attention remarkably it was written 101 years ago yet is as applicable today as ever. What better way to get our new section started.

Malcolm Kerby (06 May 2003)

March 2003 Comments

Comments on the Flood and Coastal Defence debate, House of Commons 13-3-03:

Having read and reread the Hansard transcript of the debate I am extremely pleased to note that the Minister for Flood and Coastal Defence, Elliot Morley MP, is ” sympathetic to the situation in which people in that community” ( Happisburgh ) ” find themselves.” I also note that at least one major insurer is ” concerned ” over recent changes to the cost/benefit evaluations for the funding of capital schemes. It is interesting to see that the Minister was made aware by his shadow on the opposition benches that ” We can all disagree over the causes of Global Warming. However, what is indisputable is that the spectre of coastal and inland flooding looms increasingly large. The exercise of those forces of nature is out of our control, but the minimisation of their impact lies in the hands of Government. Although they cannot turn back the tide, stop the rain or reverse rising sea levels, they can do much to protect us from what is foreseeable today and may become a catastrophe tomorrow.” Then looking to Government for ” the delivery of a policy that looks beyond sandbags to a long term preventive strategy is essential before the next disaster catches us as unprepared and underfunded as we were in 1953.” This is precisely the message Coastal Concern Action Group has been promulgating for the past four years.

Personally I am very pleased that Mr. Morley will be ” happy to meet the Hon. Member for North Norfolk ( Norman Lamb ) and discuss the problems.” Mr. Morley then went on to express his desire to deal with another problem: ” there has been misinformation about Happisburgh” he said. How right he is, however he omitted to tell the House that the misinformation has come from DEFRA !!

More than once he referred to the “lead authority” ( NNDC ). DEFRA have repeatedly said it is the responsibility of the District Council to identify what is required in their area for effective coastal defences, formulate those requirements into a proposal for funding and submit it to DEFRA for Capital Scheme Grant Aid. Indeed it is the bounden duty of the local authority to do precisely that for the long term safety and well being of its residents as well as securing the commercial viability of affected communities in their area. NNDC have done that on more than one occasion, all entirely without success. They have consistently identified the need for capital expenditure on coastal defences yet Government has consistently put obstacles in their path to obtaining grant aid. The net result has been no funding therefore no effective coast defences !!

It is high time Central Government applied some joined up thinking as well as co-operation with the local authority, that is the only way forward.

The latest changes to financial criteria forced upon us by DEFRA mean that it will be virtually impossible for NNDC to meet the threshold for capital scheme grant aid, so it will not be possible for them to fulfil their coast defence obligations to the people.

I firmly believe in the face of such Government intransigence and folly our District Council should submit plans and a request for funding to construct what we all know is required here, that is the continuation of solid defences (sea wall) from Cart Gap to Ostend/Walcott. This would protect the northern broads from inundation along with Happisburgh and it’s environs. This would have the joint effect of NNDC fulfilling their obligations and revealing where the true responsibility lies with DEFRA.

The United Kingdom is the fourth richest Nation in the world, as such we know that money is not a barrier to our protection from the sea, indeed the cost of joining up the hard defences here would appear positively minuscule when compared to Government wastage in any given year. So we as a Nation undoubtedly have the money to create proper sea defences, we also have the technical ability to create proper sea defences, we have a Local Authority that repeatedly asks for proper sea defences. So where you may ask is the problem?

It is true we have the same two Objectors throwing their spanners in the works every time causing delay after delay for any and every scheme at Happisburgh, however Central Government could sideline them and nullify their effect at any time if it chooses to. Thus far these two Objectors have aided and abetted Central Government by giving it reason to inject delay.

There are no excuses, the vulnerability of the Northern Broads to inundation by the sea and property losses at Happisburgh are without doubt the direct responsibility of Central Government’s lack of joined up long term thinking. If Central Government put as much effort into creating effective sea defences for this area as it does into creating artificial barriers to providing funds for sea defences we would all be safe and secure behind a superb defensive line.

Malcolm Kerby (17 March 2003)

February 2003 Comments

As you will no doubt have seen from the press and comments posted elsewhere on this site, the village meeting in our church on Thursday 30th January was an outstanding success. We had somebody counting those present, however she lost count at 550, so it was certainly between 550 and 600.

I can put it no better than a local resident who emailed me shortly afterwards saying: “I was amazed by the dignity and determination shown by the community in our church that evening – there was a real sense of disbelief, loss, unfairness, anger and inability to accept what is happening to us. Yet we stood together and must have left the authorities in no doubt of our intentions to fight to the bitter end.”

How true, and fight we shall! We do however need all the help we can get.

There were almost 5,000 visits to this site in January alone, and some 28,000 page impressions. If all of those in the UK that visit our site would please write to their own MP and DEFRA demanding action now for Happisburgh and the northern Broads, can you imagine the effect of that? We might even get through to this extremely hard of hearing government.

One thing is for certain, we will not give up. We will not waiver. If we could get to our beach, we would fight them on it!!!

Please be assured every individual can make a contribution, as I have already outlined, and you will make a difference. Your letter could be the one that makes that difference.

Finally, I have to report that despite inviting the Secretary of State to our meeting one the 30th, not a scrap of interest was shown by DEFRA. Mrs Beckett was invited on the 6th January, her office responded on the 7th saying quite simply “Thank you for inviting Mrs Beckett. We be in touch shortly.” That was the last I heard until some 6 1/2 hours before the meeting when I was told by telephone there would be no representation form DEFRA. In my view that was absolutely appalling, if DEFRA wanted to send the message We do not give a damn about Happisburgh they certainly achieved it.

This community deserves to be heard not snubbed.

Malcolm Kerby (27 February 2003)

January 2003 Comments

On Thursday 30th January the people of Happisburgh will have the very rare opportunity to make their case directly as a unified determined force. As I write this I have still not received confirmation from the Secretary of State’s office that she will attend our meeting nor indeed, has there been any indication as to whether or not any government member will attend.

Government can not plead ignorance of the acute,critical problems faced by Happisburgh and it’s environs in terms of sea defences,or rather the lack of them. In an address to the House of Commons last year the Rt. Hon. Tim Boswell MP said “I will always remember inspecting the crumbling Norfolk cliffs at Happisburgh and being made uncomfortably aware that any major sea incursion through the cliffs could surge straight through the Broads. Once the sea got though there would be little to stop it. The Association of British Insurers,which briefed me for the debate,said: We believe that Government investment in flood defence is vital if affordable insurance is to be available. In other words, an individual’s ability to protect themselves economically depends on there being a Government commitment, just as an individual’s physical security also depends on that commitment.”

I also have before me a copy of a Select Committee on Agriculture report to Parliament and the Government, it is a rather lengthy document so I shall quote a few relevant parts, this part is referring to the reefs at Sea Palling: “The Environment Agency has provided sea defence for the Norfolk Broads behind this low lying section of coast by constructing a broken line of offshore reefs … as well as reducing the risk of erosion, these sea defences have ALTERED THE PATTERN OF EROSION ALONG THE COAST.” Amazingly further in the same report the following is stated: “The dangers of the erosion at Happisburgh outflanking the reef scheme at Sea Palling ARE SELF EVIDENT, but have not yet been effectively absorbed by the process so as to justify defence works.”

Government is, at best, confused and unclear on the issue. What is crystal clear however is Government’s bounden duty to either protect or compensate in full those who incur losses as a result of it’s negligence in it’s failure to take all reasonable measures to protect.

Malcolm Kerby (26 January 2003)