Debate on Norfolk coastal defences

Byline: Norfolk Now

The debate over coastal management in Norfolk is set to hot up today when leading academics, regional organisations and local people meet for a one-day conference. Up to 200 people are expected to attend the Changing Coast conference, organised by the Wells-based Norfolk Coast Project which was founded in 1991 to promote sustainable use and management of the county’s coastline. But while ideas are debated in a cosy conference room, villagers living at the cutting edge of an enduring coastal problem are calling for fewer words and more action.

In Happisburgh, despite a summer of helpful tides which has built up sand and shingle, locals know it only takes a spate of surging tides and biting gales to tip the balance and tip more houses over the cliff edge. Such is the strength of feeling at this erosion hotspot, and the suspicion that the experts will keep talking while livelihoods are lost, the villagers formed a steering group to fight for action. Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of Coastal Concern said the answer lay at the Government’s door. “We can talk from now till doomsday,” he said. ‘What we need is action and the time to take that action is now. What we’d really like to see is properly constructed and placed hard sea defences. We could stop the sea if we had the will to do it.’

Diana Wrightson runs a guest house and tea shop in Beach Road, close to the cliff edge. Her livelihood depends on warding off erosion. Defences, she said, had only about five years’ life left in them. “If the present barriers are allowed to fall, we would be in great danger,” she said.

For while the village centre is safe, outlying homeowners face an ever-uncertain future.

Nearly four years ago, during the notorious storms of 1996, George and Jeanne Scott hit the headlines after refusing to evacuate their bungalow as it teetered on the edge of the crumbling cliffs during a stormy spell.

And it is the very coastal issues epitomised at Happisburgh that will be discussed at Holt this afternoon. It is the second time the event has been run and speakers include John Pethick, professor of coastal science at Newcastle University and representatives from the Environment Agency, English Nature and North Norfolk District Council.

But the villagers’ plea for defence is a far cry from what Keith Clayton, founder of the University of East Anglia’s school of environmental sciences, will have to say. His support of a sustainable approach could see more and more homes lost to the sea as nature would be allowed to run its course. ‘I shall argue it’s time to re-think where we’re going,’ he said. “Cliffs have been moving inland for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. It is only in recent years that people have wanted to live near them.” Less money spent on defences could mean more for compensating people who lost homes to the grips of the sea, he added.

Event organiser Tim Venes said the purpose of the day was to involve local people in coastal management issues and raise awareness for the future. “We are trying to make sure people are as well informed as they can be about coastal forces,” he said.

Cash possible for homes lost to the sea

Byline: By Ed Foss (Eastern Daily Press, 19 August 2008)

People faced with losing their homes to coastal erosion or flooding by the North Sea last night welcomed a breakthrough in their fight for financial compensation.

A senior government adviser, the new chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith of Finsbury, yesterday urged the government seriously to consider using taxpayers’ money to re-house those who lose out to the encroaching sea.

It is the first time anyone of such standing has responded to the pleas of homeowners not to be left empty-handed after the sea claims their homes.

His comments were given a general welcome by those living on the brink of coastal erosion, although they stressed the need for speedy action and said the government was guilty of “ongoing ambiguity” over many issues linked with the management of the coast.

Di Wrightson, who lives within yards of the receding cliff edge at Happisburgh and is likely to have to move out of her home in the coming months, said she felt the wheels of government would almost certainly move too slowly to help her, but welcomed the fact the subject of compensation had finally reached the top table of government.

“I really do think they are considering compensation now – and so they should, people are set to lose what they have worked their entire lives for, having been told when they bought their houses they would be protected,” she said.

There have been increasing calls by homeowners for compensation to cushion the blow of losing their homes to the sea as the government attempts to move from a policy of holding the line to one of managed retreat along many parts of the coast.

Lord Smith, a former Labour cabinet minister, named north east Norfolk and Suffolk as being particularly at risk.

He did not make specific comment about the six Broads villages named in a recent, deeply controversial Natural England report which identified an option to allow 25 square miles of Norfolk to be abandoned to the sea – nor did he speak about specific communities such as Happisburgh, which has been at the forefront of coastal campaigning in recent years, or the Blyth Estuary, which is also threatened.

He also left many questions unanswered about the scale and timing of any compensation deals.

But his comments clearly had them in mind and were the first signs of hope for those who have campaigned for years to secure payments for those at risk from climate change and rising sea levels.

Lord Smith said ministers could no longer rely on insurance companies to cover families who lost their homes, suggesting they would have to be rehoused at the taxpayers’ expense.

“We need to start having a serious discussion with government about what options can be put in place,” said Lord Smith, who went on to say that the north east Norfolk and the Suffolk coastlines faced the most immediate danger.

Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, a campaign body born from the problems faced in Happisburgh but which now has a reach into communities across the country and into several government bodies, said he “took tremendous heart” from Lord Smith’s words, but added that it was vital to avoid “false hope”.

Mr Kerby said the compensation debate was only in existence because the government wanted to introduce policy changes such as managed retreat, which were “utter madness”.

“To have someone at the top of the Environment Agency say these things shows that he accepts that if the government wants to pursue the policies it says it wants to pursue – which are folly in themselves – then there has to be compensation.

“We need a clear steer on this now, the ongoing ambiguity created by different statements from the likes of the Environment Agency, the minister Phil Woolas, Defra and Natural England is unfair on everyone.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “I am of course encouraged by the support for proper financial compensation for communities and individuals affected; it appears some headway is being made on this subject.

“But I have deep concerns about the fact people can’t play fast and loose with these communities, there is a danger that what Lord Smith has said will only serve to confuse people and his words beg many more questions than they answer.”

Lord Smith said the agency was already drawing up projections as to which areas of coast would be most at risk over the next 50 years.

£100m pledge to defend land from the sea

Byline: (Eastern Daily Press, 08 July 2008)

Norfolk is to stand firm against the ravages of the ever-encroaching North Sea for at least another half century after the government confirmed £100m will be spent on sea defences over the next 50 years.

People living in vulnerable coastal and low-lying areas of Norfolk breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after environment minister Phil Woolas gave reassurances their homes would not be left to flood.

Responding to worries over a Natural England draft report, which includes the option of allowing a 25sqm area of Norfolk to flood, Mr Woolas said the proposal was “not an option,” and stressed it was the government who drew up sea defence policy not Natural England.

As he visited the county to see the effect of coastal erosion and listen to local concerns Mr Woolas said the government was committed to keeping the sea at bay for at least the next 50 years and pledged £100m of investment in sea defences over that period.

The first phase of work, to be done by the Environment Agency, is set to begin as early as September and will include beach recharging at Sea Palling and Waxham and rock works between Horsey and Winterton.

Experts are also looking at longer- term options for maintaining the coastline well into the next century.

As he toured Hickling, Sea Palling and Happisburgh, Mr Woolas had some clear messages.

The coastline and the Broads would be protected for at least half a century and, though individuals whose houses were lost to cliff erosion would not receive compensation, communities will be given help to cope.

Mr Woolas said: “The scenario put forward by Natural England is not the flood defence policy of the government.

“I cannot see a situation where any elected government would allow the Norfolk Broads to flood.

“We have a very serious problem across the country where cliff erosion is taking away people’s homes.

“The government is putting together an adaption package. We will not be able to directly compensate people but we will ensure that the local community is protected.”

Mr Woolas said “adaption tool kits” would be devised to suit individual areas and could be used for things such as relocating vulnerable roads and businesses.

During his visit Mr Woolas met dozens of parish representatives at a closed meeting at Lessingham Village Hall.

After the meeting Mike Walker, from East Norfolk Coastal Parishes Group, said he was pleased by what the minister said and felt the possibility of Broadland ever being flooded had “receded significantly.”

He said Mr Woolas addressed two principle concerns: support for hard defences and reassurance that communities had “a medium to long- term future.”

Malcolm Kerby, from the Coastal Concern Action Group, based at Happisburgh, said Mr Woolas had demonstrated a “willingness to listen” and felt the public outcry over Natural England’s proposal had made a huge difference.

“I do not doubt that we have got such an unequivocal statement because of the pressure we put on,” he added.

Jane Archer, who, as reported in the EDP yesterday, was alarmed to discover her home was only worth £1 because it is so close to the crumbling cliffs at Happisburgh, also met the minister.

She said she was disappointed that she had not been able to get a straight answer on compensation from Mr Woolas.

But she felt she had been offered a “glimmer of hope” by the proposal for community adaption packages and an undertaking to look into the situation of those affected by changing government policy on coastal defence.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who accompanied the minister on his tour, said the minister’s comments on the Natural England proposals were a “substantial advance” and said he was encouraged that local people would be given a say in shaping coastal defence policy in the future.

But he said he still felt individuals should be compensated if they lose their homes to the sea.

“We cannot allow the people in the front line to absorb all the consequences of climate change,” he said.

Norfolk house valued at just £1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop joins coastal flood debate

Byline: By Dominic Chessum (Eastern Daily Press, 04 May 2008)

The Bishop of Norwich has waded into the debate over plans to sacrifice 25 square miles of Norfolk land to the sea.

Speaking at the launch of a new inshore lifeboat for Sea Palling, he said the proposal by Natural England could leave coastal communities feeling “like prisons from which there is no escape”.

Addressing a packed church in Sea Palling today, where he had come to bless the village’s new lifeboat, the Rt Rev Graham James said vibrant communities with spirit, such as the coastal village, were crucial and should not be made to feel unimportant.

But the Bishop would not be drawn on whether he himself would be making representations to Natural England, who drew up the plans which have cause such controversy, saying only that it was important community leaders represent local views.

The comments come ahead of a Commons debate on the flooding plans, when local MPs will be given their first chance to grill the government over the issue, and just days after Stuart Burgess, the government’s rural advocate, warned of the danger of the A12 flooding if sea defences on the Blyth Estuary are abandoned.

During the sermon the Bishop said he was delighted to be giving his blessing to the new lifeboat, named Lion’s Roar after one of the major donors to the £25,000 craft, Hoveton and Wroxham Lions club.

But he told the congregation: “You’ve been in the news, and not for any welcome reason. The problem with any long term plan to allow villages around here to be claimed by the sea is that it has given the impression that people don’t matter.

“The consequential planning blight could to make these coastal communities seem like prisons from which there is no escape. People do matter. Communities matter. And communities only prosper if they are loved.”

After the service the bishop joined lifeboat crewman aboard the boat as it was driven from the church to the beach where it was launched to great applause.

Speaking from the shore, as the boat’s three man crew performed manoeuvres for the crowd, he added: “A community like this which is able to do things like a voluntary lifeboat for the safety of others has an extraordinary spirit and it is quite understandable it feels threatened by these proposals.”

Prominent coastal campaigner Malcolm Kerby, from the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group, said he was “delighted” with the bishop’s words.

“I really appreciate the bishop stepping into the ring,” he said.

“He is a very high powered and influential man and clearly he has chosen his words carefully but he is absolutely right.

“One of the things I have telling government is you simply cannot go around suggesting things because it does have a local effect. “There is a danger it could close off these communities.”

Since the EDP revealed the Natural England proposals in March thousands of people have attended three public meetings held on the issue, expressed their anger through letters and signed a petition drawn up by north Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

The 90 minute debate parliamentary debate, which begins at 9.30am on Tuesday morning, will be on flood defences in Norfolk and will cover coastal and inland flooding across the county.

The debate can be viewed live at www.parliamentlive.tv

Army chief condemns Broads flood plan

Byline: (Eastern Daily Press, 17 April 2008)

Britain’s top soldier – who has spent a professional lifetime defending the realm – last night joined the battle to save huge swathes of Norfolk from being surrendered to the sea.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, who is a Norfolk farmer and president of the 2008 Royal Norfolk Show, said it would be a tragedy if plans to allow the sea to breach coastal defences between Horsey and Winterton, were allowed to go ahead.

Speaking exclusively to the EDP, Sir Richard said he was shocked to hear that the area around Horsey – one of his favourite locations in the county – was at the heart of proposals to allow the sea defences to be breached in a move that would see 25 sq miles of the Broads surrendered to the sea.

Sir Richard, who as Chief of the General Staff is the professional head of the British Army, said: “I think it would be a tragedy if we allowed that area to be given up and inundated.”

The General, who pointed out that he spent his professional life “defending UK interests” and by definition, potentially protecting UK territory, added: “I think to give up a great chunk of Norfolk to the sea without a fight is something I find quite counter-intuitive and quite difficult to do.

“I really think we should continue to invest in the sea defences around there, I think it would be a tragedy to lose a wonderful area of the county by allowing the sea in without a fight. After all, the Dutch manage to achieve this perfectly well so why can’t we do this on our side of the North Sea.”

Sir Richard, who farms just south of Norwich, joins a growing group of campaigners who are opposed to the proposal by Natural England.

The proposal is one of four being considered by Natural England, and would see low lying areas as far inland as Potter Heigham and Stalham – where new sea walls would be built – would be flooded.

Hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of farmland and some of Norfolk’s top wildlife sites would be lost beneath the waves. The villages of Eccles, Sea Palling, Waxham, Horsey, Hickling and Potter Heigham along with parts of Somerton would be given up to the sea. The area would be allowed to revert to reed beds and saltmarsh.

The other options under consideration are to “hold the line” of existing defences, do nothing and allow defences to fall into disrepair, and “adapt the line” by moving defences slightly inland.

However, the Environment Agency has said that its present commitment is to continue to maintain the defences of the Broads for at least the next 50 years. Steve Hayman from the Environment Agency has also indicated that a further £7million of work is scheduled to take place over the next two years to continue the protection of the coast.

Sir Richard has lived in Norfolk for the past 35 years and is passionate about the county, its landscape and the wildlife and conservation work that has been carried out in the areas affected by the proposal.

He has been elected President of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and will preside over the 2008 Royal Norfolk Show in June, which this year is expected to have a strong military theme to it.


Opinion: General call to arms

What better man to have on you side than General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, when there is thought and talk of surrendering British territory?

Britain’s top soldier – who also farms near Norwich, and is this year’s president of the Royal Norfolk Show – has voiced his opposition to Natural England’s idea of surrendering 25 miles of Norfolk to the North Sea. He thinks it would be a “tragedy” if it went ahead; he has stressed that giving up “a great chunk of Norfolk to the sea without a fight” is, for him “counter-intuitive”; and he wonders why, in resisting the sea, we can’t be more like the Dutch.

Many people, in and beyond the threatened area, will like the sound of this. The “surrender” option is a worstcase one. It may never happen, and if it does it may be after another half a century or more has passed. The proposal has caused immediate pain and worry for many people, however, and runs against the grain of both the national and local character.

It seems doubly appropriate that the 2008 Norfolk Show is expected to have a military theme. Be prepared to wear a tin hat. We shall fight on the beaches… we shall fight in the fields… we shall never surrender.

‘We will fight to save our villages’

Byline: By Ed Foss (Eastern Daily Press, 09 April 2008)

Villagers vented their fury at the government during a packed public meeting held last night in one of the parish churches directly threatened by a proposal to abandon six Broads villages to the North Sea.

Around 400 people packed into St Mary’s Church in Hickling to decide how to react to possible plans revealed in the EDP at the end of last month which could see hundreds of homes, thousands of acres of farmland and some of the county’s top wildlife sites surrendered to the sea.

Under the proposal – one of several which has so far only been considered behind closed doors by the agencies involved – 25 square miles of Norfolk could be flooded by a coastal breach and allowed to turn into salt marsh and reed beds. The villages concerned are Hickling, Horsey, Sea Palling, Waxham, Potter Heigham and Eccles.

At last night’s meeting it was revealed for the first time that the plan would affect 600 homes, a figure obtained by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb through direct discussions with the Environment Agency and Natural England, two of the key bodies involved.

The meeting was the first of three and provided the first opportunity for the public to discuss and debate the deeply controversial plans. Concerns centred around property blight, the fact the proposals had so far only been discussed secretly and whether it would be possible to take the government to court.

The first person to speak was Peter Boggis, who has become well known for his fight to save his home from coastal erosion at Easton Bavents, near Southwold.

“There is nothing more natural for a man to stand up and fight for his home and the way of life he enjoys,” said Mr Boggis.

“It is in the public and national interest that the coast should not be abandoned.”

Mr Boggis said the government agencies involved had failed to “respect property or human rights” and said they actions were “almost criminal”.

Chris Hall, a Horsey parish councillor, said it was important to include the “whole of Norfolk” in any battle with the government over the issue, as it was something which concerned a much wider area than the six named villages.

Chris Hollis said he was “appalled” by Natural England’s comments about habitat and failure to mention jobs, homes or history.

“Are the Dutch giving up part of their country like this?” said Mr Hollis.

Hickling resident Simon Mann said he had considerable concerns about the “clandestine manner” in which Natural England had behaved.

“They should have come out of their hiding place,” said Mr Mann, who went on to make a lengthy argument about the Human Rights Act and the possibility of taking court action in the future.

“We need to galvanise. Mr Lamb, when you next speak to Gordon Brown, tell him ‘Hickling says no!'”

Dr Martin George of the Broads Society said the authorities were ignoring people in their discussions.

He added that the much vaunted Option 4 of allowing the sea to encroach the six villages was not the only option which could cause problems for the area, insisting that three out of the four options were seriously problematic and the other was only less damaging.

None of the four options were acceptable, said Dr George, and the only satisfactory solution was to strengthen the existing sea wall.

Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal Concern Action Group, who called the meeting alongside Mr Lamb, said the concerns expressed at last night’s meeting would be “carried to the heart of government”.

He added that he was “incandescent” at the recent actions of “government quango” Natural England.

Mr Lamb said it was very important that the village of Hickling had demonstrated its feelings in such numbers and with such force.

“We have got to do everything we possibly can to require government to defend this coastline,” said Mr Lamb.

“It is vital to demonstrate the strength and unanimity of feeling.”

Natural England spokesman David Viner said earlier in the day that his organisation had planned to talk to the public about the plan later in the year.

Feelings running high in Broads villages

Byline: By Jon Welch (Eastern Daily Press, 04 April 2008)

Pie-in-the-sky or a genuine threat? A week after draft proposals that would surrender a large area of Norfolk to the North Sea were uncovered, what is the mood of the communities that would be affected? JON WELCH reports.

On a warm spring day with sunshine glinting on its gently rippling Broad, there can be few more pleasant places to be than Hickling.

Beneath the village’s tranquil veneer, however, there is anger and fear.

A week after the EDP revealed how conservation bosses were considering proposals that would ultimately involve surrendering the village and at least five others to the sea, feelings are still running high.

The anger, it seems, is directed not so much at the publicly-funded bodies, including Natural England, the Broads Authority and the Environment Agency, that have been discussing the scheme, but towards the EDP for breaking the news that the proposals were back on the agenda.

In Hickling and surrounding villages, there is an altogether understandable refusal to believe that such a scheme could even be entertained, even though the bodies involved admit that while discussions are at an early stage, they have to be prepared to think the unthinkable.

“Who’s going to buy a house here now? What’s it going to do to property values?” asks one villager, bitterly.

John Tallowin, of nearby Willow Farm, is sceptical that the government would ever approve proposals to allow the sea to flood the area.

“I don’t think they are foolish enough to allow it to happen and for all the hard work that our forefathers and other agencies have put in to go to waste,” he says.

Eric Lindo retired to the village 12 years ago and now chairs the Stalham with Happing Partnership, which works to regenerate an area comprising some 20 parishes in this beautiful corner of north-east Norfolk.

“It’s very much a talking point,” he says. “I don’t think I have met anybody since that article came out that hasn’t talked about it. It succeeded in bringing to everybody’s attention the lack of government understanding of yet another threat to rural life.

“People are more worried about the short-term effects: the impact on housing, businesses, getting household and business insurance, participating in equity release schemes, long-term care. It has impacted on lots of different people in lots of different ways, each of them serious.”

Already there are stories of house sales falling through. “It has made people think twice about moving into the area,” says Mr Lindo.

“There is insufficient information to put their minds at rest. There has to be a programme of information to say, ‘It’s a threat that does not exist today, it’s half a century away’.”

The troubling proposals were first drawn up in 2003 by the Environment Agency and English Nature.

Little-known even then, they had been virtually forgotten about until six weeks ago when they appeared in a Natural England-authored report as the most radical of four options for dealing with climate change in the Broads.

“It’s up to Natural England to bring that up,” says Mr Lindo. “It’s up to the government to weigh that report against the interests of people who live in the area and it will be interesting to see how much the government values the people of Norfolk with regard to the decisions it has got to make.”

Mr Lindo doesn’t agree with those who say the area cannot be protected from rising sea levels.

“Tell that to the Dutch. Much of Holland is much lower-lying than East Anglia. The Dutch are looking across the North Sea in bemused puzzlement as to why this debate is going on.”

In Stalham, no-one is keen to see the town get an “on-Sea” suffix.

Mike Becconsall says: “I think it’s outrageous. Why they can’t do something to protect the coastline I don’t know. But I don’t think they will go ahead. There would be too much hue and cry.”

Loading up her shopping in the town’s Tesco store, Colleen Ford is horrified by the proposals.

“I suppose my head’s saying they won’t ever let it happen. We live in Potter Heigham. We would be very affected by it – we’ve lived here 28 years. Our house is everything to us. Who’s going to buy around here now?”

Just a few miles away in Ingham, people are more used to living with the threat of the sea. Frank and Kerri Knights live and work at Causeway Farm, where they run a butcher’s shop.

“We’re happy here – when it’s lapping over the fields, that’s when we’ll worry,” says Mr Wright.

“People in the shop have been worried about house prices. They are worried that prices will halve, and even if they do whether anybody will touch them.

“It’s stupid to let thousands of homes go and spend millions on dams inland. Why not protect what you have got now?”


Meetings will the the public a voice

A leading coastal campaigner and a Norfolk MP will host a trio of meetings in the next two weeks to give the public a voice in the debate about the future of the northern Broads.

Proposals for the future of the waterways have already been discussed behind closed doors at a conference in Norwich on climate change, organised by Natural England and attended by representatives of the Environment Agency, Broads Authority and Norfolk County Council, plus other organisations.

But the public needed a forum to make their feelings known, said Coastal Concern Action Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby.

Although some people might perceive CCAG as a Happisburgh-based group with a main focus on cliff erosion, it has built up a reach into several government departments and is now an internationally-recognised body.

“There has been a massive response in the last few days since the piece in the EDP,” said Mr Kerby.

“We need to strike while the iron is hot and give people the chance to say their piece. This can then be fed back up the chain via us and the MP.

“We need to try and get an air of calm back to proceedings and explain to people that horrendous though this proposal may be, it is purely the wish list of a government quango, a quango which does not have the ultimate power to put it in place.

“We cannot let them keep banging on about this without consulting with the stakeholders, which means us.

“These three meetings will be in-house gatherings for the wider family of north-east Norfolk to gather and discuss, there will be no constraints, no officialdom, an uninhibited discussion.”

Mr Kerby said people needed to vent their anger at the authorities responsible for shaping coastal defence policy – Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England – rather than other organisations such as the EDP who were simply reporting what was being suggested.

“Don’t shoot the messenger; in this case we should be saying thank goodness we were told about this.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb will attend the meetings and said yesterday: “We need an opportunity to talk to the communities concerned and to give them an opportunity to raise particular concerns and anxieties.”

The meetings will be held at St Mary’s Church, in Hickling, on April 8; Potter Heigham village hall on April 9; and Sea Palling village hall on April 15. All meetings start at 7.30pm and will be open forums.


Letter: “Send in the newts”

Re the proposed deliberate flooding of the east coast area of North Norfolk. A solution has been found, thanks to some extent to a story carried by the EDP. What we need to do is to search the proposed flooded area for one of the following: great crested newts, rare orchids and/or endangered butterflies.

When found, Parliament will ensure that no work is carried out in the area of the flooding as to do so would be against the law and as such they would have to sue themselves.

It seems strange that the government could go ahead and affect the lives of thousands of people by riding roughshod over public opinion but as soon as they disturb a newt, flower of butterfly they would be breaking the law.

Problem solved. (A RABEY, Newton Close, Newton St Faith.)

What a surrender to the sea would mean for Norfolk

Byline: By John Welch (Eastern Daily Press, 28 March 2008)

At least six villages wiped off the map, hundreds of people turned out of their homes and some of the Broads’ best freshwater lakes swamped by sea water. Thousands of acres of agricultural land turned into mudflats, the loss of bird species such as bitterns, cranes and marsh harriers and the extinction of traditional crafts such as reed cutting. Unthinkable? Perhaps, but if radical proposals currently under consideration for the future of the Broads ever see the light of day, by no means impossible.

Conservation chiefs are currently drawing up strategies in response to the effects of climate change in this most vulnerable of areas. With sea levels set to rise, government body Natural England has produced a list of four possible courses of action for the Upper Thurne basin, discussed at a conference in Norwich last month. The options are set out in a document which was distributed to delegates, but has not been made public. Natural England has refused to supply a copy but the EDP has managed to obtain one.

The first option listed is to do nothing to adapt to climate change: to fail to maintain coastal defences and inland flood embankments, allowing them to fall into disrepair and be breached by the River Thurne and the sea.

The second is to hold the line, the current policy of the Environment Agency. This involves maintaining the sea defences and flood embankments in their current positions. Under this option, saline intrusion – something all farmers fear – would get worse as sea water passes under the coastal dunes.

The third option is to adapt the line: allow the sea to flood some places while building barriers and embankments to protect other parts.

The fourth and final option is the most radical of all, and is described as the “embayment of the Upper Thurne”. Once the sea has penetrated existing coastal defences between Horsey and Winterton, the area immediately behind would flood as far as two “retreated defences” – think of them as sea walls, or even dams – built at Potter Heigham and Stalham.

Five of the best lakes in the Broads including Hickling Broad and Horsey Mere would be lost as 25 square miles (6,500 hectares or 16,061 acres) of Norfolk – 1.2 per cent of the county’s total area – disappeared under sea water.

Under the proposals, this could happen between 20 and 50 years from now, given what the document describes as the “unsustainable nature” of these sea defences beyond this point. Maintaining sea defences is a costly business, not least because vulnerable beaches need to be constantly “fed” with material to replace that washed away by the waves. There may come a point at which the government decides it is no longer prepared to throw good money after bad.

Longer term, it is envisaged that a spit would develop near Winterton, behind which “coastal and inter-tidal habitats” would develop. For comparison, think of the area of North Norfolk around Blakeney and Morston. What remained of Potter Heigham, Hickling and Eccles would revert to freshwater reedbeds, while Waxham and parts of Somerton would become brackish saltmarsh, and Horsey would become an area of saltmarsh and tidal channels.

What about those whose homes and farms would be lost? Where would they go, and would they be compensated? It seems nobody has properly considered these questions yet: the document concentrates on the implications for the natural environment and barely touches upon the human cost of such a scheme.

The proposals have come to light just days after North Norfolk planners refused to approve three bids to build new homes at Mundesley because the plots were on land that could be swallowed by the sea in the next 100 years.

The Environment Agency has already revealed plans to abandon flood defences along the Blyth Estuary, near Southwold, over the next 20 years, claiming the costs of repairing them are greater than the benefits.

Proposals for the Upper Thurne are not entirely new. They were was initially drawn up by English Nature and the Environment Agency in 2003 under what was called the Coastal Habitat Management Plan (CHaMP) for the Winterton Dunes.

Malcolm Kerby, of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concerns Action Group, said he had been concerned by the plan ever since he had first heard about it, and was dismayed but not surprised to learn it was back on the agenda. “I have never ever doubted it is very much on the cards,” he said. Mr Kerby said he was sceptical that people would be compensated for the loss of their homes. “If they are seriously considering this and have pushed it up the agenda again, they have to be firmly told ‘Don’t even think about it until you have a complete social justice package in place’. One has to say if there’s anywhere to surrender to the sea that looks the right place. That doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I can see the rationale behind it. I’m afraid we’re going to see some very major changes along the coastline whether we like it or not.”

Plan to allow sea to flood Norfolk villages

Byline: By Nick Allen (Telegraph, 28 March 2008)

Large swathes of Norfolk, including six villages, could be flooded under a controversial plan to deal with the effects of climate change.

The proposal would see Britain effectively admit defeat in the battle to maintain coastal defences and around 16,000 acres (25 square miles) of land in the Norfolk Broads would be allowed to flood.

Six villages, hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of farmland would be wiped out over the next 20 to 50 years under the plan put forward by environmental group Natural England.

Villagers who face losing their homes have described it as “devastating” and “horrifying”. The area is also one of England’s favourite holiday spots.

Experts doubt that coastal defences in the area will stand up to rising sea levels caused by global warming and the plan to “realign the coast” is seen as a less expensive long term option.

The sea would be allowed to breach 15 miles of the north Norfolk coast between Eccles-on-Sea and Winterton and would flood low-lying land to create a new bay.

Seawater would destroy the villages of Eccles, Sea Palling, Waxham, Horsey, Hickling and Potter Heigham along with five fresh water lakes.

Two new “retreated” sea walls would be erected further back from the original coast line.

According to the Natural England report 1.2 per cent of Norfolk would be flooded and the area would revert to saltmarsh to create a new habitat for wildlife.

Opponents say the plan would involve relocating hundreds of people from their homes and compensating them. In the short term property would be unsellable.

The move would also see a millennium of history vanish under the sea. The village of Hickling is typical of what would be lost. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book under the name Hikelinga and a priory was founded there in 1185.

The village has been flooded many times before including in 1287 when 180 people lost their lives.

Potter Heigham has similar historical value with a medieval bridge dating from 1385 and a church with a round tower dating from the 12th century. A number of its other buildings are listed by English Heritage.

The flooding proposal was discussed at a meeting in Norwich between Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and Norfolk County Council. No final decision has been made.

But North Norfolk Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who would see a significant part of his constituency disappear under water, said: “The implications are pretty horrifying for the communities involved. What shocks me is that profound, devastating implications are being discussed at a conference between delegates without the communities affected being part of the decision at all.”

Dr Martin George, of the Broads Society, said: “I’m extremely concerned at the prospect of houses effectively finishing up in the sea and I think it’s very sad that agricultural land is going to be lost. I am just horrified by the proposal.”

He said one eighth of the area thought of as The Broads would be lost, including Hickling Broad, the largest and most popular.

Even if the plan didn’t go ahead for years the effect on the value of properties would be devastating, he said.

Steve Hayman, project manager for the Environment Agency, said his organisation was committed to “hold the line” by maintaining existing sea defences for the next 50 years.

“It’s going to get more difficult and expensive to hold the line but we’re going to do our damnedest to maintain the defences in the best possible conditions because there are people living directly behind.”

A Natural England spokeswoman said the “surrender” option was one of many and their report was intended to start a debate about facing up to climate change.

She said: “We have got to face up to the issue. We have got to have discussion. There are difficult decisions to be made and we have produced this report after lengthy research.

“It’s one of a number of options for consideration and we’re in the early stages of trying to decide what options to take.”

The Broads span 74,000 acres to the north and east of Norwich and are based around 63 shallow lakes, most of which were dug in medieval times by people gathering peat for fuel.

The largest is the 350-acre Hickling Broad which one of Britain’s most popular holiday and boating areas and contains a wealth of wildlife.


Coastal erosion – residents can protect homes

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

Coastal home owners have won a landmark ruling against a Government agency which was attempting to force them to abandon their homes to the sea.

Charlie England, an artist who lives on an eroding cliff at Easton Bavents, north of Southwold, in Suffolk, has won an appeal against Natural England which refused to allow him to maintain sea defences protecting his property.

An inspector decided that Natural England’s plans to force erosion on the occupiers of properties on the cliff would have constituted an unnecessary and disproportionate interference with their human rights.

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, has accepted the inspector’s report and directed Natural England, his conservation advisers, to give residents consent to maintain the soft sea defences in front of their homes.

The ruling is expected to have wide implications for landowners who seek to reinforce sea defences themselves.

Since 2002, a neighbour of Mr England, Peter Boggis, who has been called the King Canute of East Anglia, has used more than a quarter of a million tons of clay, shingle and building site waste to shore up the cliff to prevent the houses being lost to the sea.

But in 2005, Natural England designated the cliff a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), which prevented residents reinforcing it.

It claimed that protecting the cliffs would prevent the study and analysis of geological exposures in the cliff and that it was necessary in the national interest that natural erosion should continue.

Mr Boggis, who is a spokesman for Eastern Bavents Conservation, a residents’ group, said: “I am thankful to the inspector and the secretary of state for the clarity of their decision.

“It has been hell to watch mine and my neighbour’s property being destroyed at the whim of dictatorial agencies having personally taken care to protect them without cost to the nation until forced to neglect them by Natural England in December 2005.”

Peter Scott, of Parkinson Wright, solicitors, said: “This is a ground-breaking decision; it shows that Natural England is likely to be unable through the creation of SSSIs to force people to lose their properties to coastal erosion without paying compensation.

“This is a very significant decision in the long-running campaign to save Easton Bavents from being destroyed in its entireity by the North Sea.”

A spokesman for Natural England said it had received the inspector’s report and was considering the decision.

John Gummer, MP for Suffolk coastal, said: “This is a landmark case and very much underlines the reason why I set up Suffolk Coast Against Retreat and proves that we all have to fight together in order to win the battle.”

He said the next battle would be to save Southwold harbour and the Blyth estuary just to the south.

The Environment Agency decided last autumn to abandon the maintenance of sea defences there, in the same month that they repaired the sea wall outside the property owned by Tony Benn, Hilary’s father, on the Blackwater Estuary in Essex.