Minister will ‘nag’ for cliff people

Byline: (North Norfolk News, 24 January 2008)

East of England minister Barbara Follett toured the north Norfolk coast on Monday on an information gathering visit – and pledged to “nag, coordinate and prod” on behalf of communities facing coastal erosion and saline flooding.

Calling at Cromer, Overstrand, Mundesley, Bacton, Walcott and Happisburgh, Mrs Follett was accompanied by local politicians, North Norfolk District Council officers and representatives of bodies such as Go East and the Environment Agency.

Standing on the clifftop at Happisburgh next to the village’s former lifeboat ramp, one of the many victims of erosion along the coastline, Mrs Follett said she was “fairly shocked” at what she saw.

“I am here to see for myself how badly the sea has encroached and how much we are losing,” she said.

“The sea surge of November taught me a great deal about it and this visit will teach me more.

“We are facing a world wide problem and we have to look at how best to manage that problem up here in north Norfolk.”

Mrs Follett said financing and funding was “not the totality of the problem”, but needed to be backed up by making the right decisions at the right times.

“It is about coordination; the regional minister’s role to some extent is nagging, coordinating and prodding. In this unique position I can sometimes bring more to the table.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the benefit of the visit was to create a dialogue between local communities and the government.

“We need to defend communities as best we can and where we can’t, the people affected must be treated with justice.”

The council’s coastal portfolio holder Clive Stockton said: “What we want to do is show the minister and inform her of our situation.

“There are a lot of different bodies involved in this issue and different departments within those bodies. We all need coordination between all of those people and authorities.

“We need a coordinated management policy for changing coastlines.

“Here in north Norfolk we are a small district council, but a national player on this issue. We need the help of the region behind us.”

The council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew said it was important to “get the proper linkage between the different pieces of government”.

And Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal Concern Action Group, said Mrs Follett had demonstrated a very good understanding of the importance of drawing together the many different arms of government.

Norfolk to test coast erosion schemes

Byline: (Eastern Daily Press, 22 November 2007)

Communities in north Norfolk could be put at the forefront of pilot projects designed to help communities deal with the impact of coastal erosion, rising sea levels and climate change.

A Norfolk delegation of politicians, senior council officers and campaigners travelled to London yesterday for a long meeting with environment minister Phil Woolas.

As well as describing the meeting as much more positive than expected, the possibility of putting Norfolk forward as an ideal test bed for practical solutions to the results of erosion and global warming was well received, said North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb.

Mr Lamb was joined by North Norfolk District Council’s coastal- issues portfolio holder Clive Stockton, the council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew, Yarmouth MP Tony Wright and co-ordinator of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group Malcolm Kerby.

“We made the case for Norfolk to be treated as the first place to trial new ways of dealing with communities living on the coast,” said Mr Lamb.

“The minister completely understood there needs to be something to go alongside the shoreline management plans which have caused such great concern in the county.”

Mr Woolas’s predecessors Ian Pearson and Elliot Morley both had contact with the members of the delegation over recent years.

Mr Pearson, who took over from Mr Morley in June 2006, immediately demonstrated a different attitude towards the Norfolk concerns.

“In the Elliot Morley days all we heard was no, no, no, but both with Ian Pearson and now with the new minister in post, it is clear they are at least interested in listening,” said Mr Lamb.

“In all I was very pleasantly surprised, but we have to keep the pressure up and keep stressing the urgency of the situation.”

Mr Kerby said the meeting was “very constructive” and added: “It was explained that we would be the ideal area to pilot any adaptation schemes and they were not averse to that.

“It makes sense, after all if you solve the current problems in north Norfolk you solve impending problems in many other parts of the country.

“Overall if you look at where we were four years ago when we went to talk to Mr Morley and where we are now, we are in a much better position in terms of our contact with the government.”

Mr Kerby added: “When I walked in there I thought it would be daggers drawn and Mr Woolas might be a party political animal who didn’t want to hear what we were saying. It was quite the opposite. But there is still a long way to go.”

Surge floods prompt new erosion fears

Byline: (North Norfolk News, 14 November 2007)

Seaside homes, businesses and tourist attractions across north Norfolk were left battered and bruised by the worst storm surge for 50 years.

And, as the big clear up continues after the wave and flood damage, coastal campaigners say it shows exactly why the government cannot abandon sea defences.

Friday’s towering, wind-driven seas left a trail of damage in their wake – smashing down walls of houses at Walcott, splintering decking on Cromer pier, and reducing beach huts to match wood.

Coastal defences were given a bloody nose, but escaped the knock out punch that many people feared as authorities prepared for the worst flooding since 1953.

Campaigners are using the dramatic day to renew calls for government spending on sea defences, and their will be top of the agenda when the Coastal Concern Action Group heads to London on November 21 to meet environment minister Phil Woollas.

Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said: “The government will be crowing about wonderfully things worked simply because Yarmouth got away with it.

“But we only missed a 1953 disaster because the weather let us off. The surge was a little lower than expected and if the wind had shifted a few degrees we would have been in serious trouble.

“The government needs to latch on the fact that if they if there is erosion you will get flooding on a scale you cannot imagine.”

Officials are still assessing the full extend and cost of the storm damage along the north Norfolk coast.

The district council this week said it was “extensive”, and that it was seeking to make a claim for compensation under the government’s Bellwin scheme – last used to recover £100,000 worth of costs for damage done in the 1996 storms.

Replacing damaged promenade handrails alone is likely to cost £20,000, while council-owned beach chalets are set to cost more than £40,000 to mend.

Clean up work was taking place this week on damaged and debris-strewn promenades at Cromer, Sheringham and Overstrand in a bid to get them open as soon as possible.

Inspections of steel are taking place under Cromer pier, where waves have damaged the floor of the Pavilion Theatre

At Walcott where 20 homes were flooded as waves came over the seawalls, families have found accommodation with friends or family. Trading standards officers this week visited the village, warning people against rogue traders offering repairs, and yesterday afternoon a public meeting was due to assess the best way to clear up debris.

Wildlife experts were also this week assessing the damage to nature reserves at Cley and Salthouse marshes which were flooded as waves came over shingle banks, left to lower under new coastal management techniques – with improved drainage designed to help the saltwater clear more quickly working well under its first real test.

Government promises erosion cash

Byline: By Ed Foss (Eastern Daily Press, 15 October 2007)

The government has finally bowed to years of pressure from persistent Norfolk lobby groups and set aside millions of pounds to help communities at risk from coastal erosion, it was revealed last night.

The surprise move is in the small print of the heavyweight pre-budget report and comprehensive spending review published last week. It commits a pot of £10 million to help communities deal with the consequences of flooding and coastal erosion where the construction of defences is not deemed “appropriate”.

The allocation of the money was last night welcomed by leading climate change and coastal campaigners, who described it as “joyous”.

The figure of £10 million would not be sufficient as a long term solution, said the campaigners, but they stressed an important principle had been established in official policy for the first time.

The government pledge stops short of using phrases such as “compensation” and “social justice”, instead using the word “adaptation” – but it represents a significant turn around, said Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal concern Action Group, which now campaigns on an international stage.

“This is huge, a momentous step forward, quite joyous. It is the single most important development for the benefit of coastal communities for many years,” said Mr Kerby.

“Our problems are not solved, but for the first time we can see there is going to be some kind of assistance on the table for those people who are suffering. We never had that before.

“It is not clear what this will translate as, how it will shake down, and the pot is wholly inadequate, but at this stage that is not the point – it is now written in tablets of stone that the government is prepared to provide financial assistance to communities who are facing this dreadful plight.

“Bear in mind as well that this has been announced in one of the most important policy documents of the year.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said a new principle had been established: “This is the first sign of a breakthrough for the many years we have been putting forward the argument for social justice.

“It is far too early to be confident we will reach a satisfactory conclusion, but it is crucially important that the government has accepted the principle of helping people in these situations.

“It is a dramatic piece of news and I share the excitement with those people on the coast directly affected. We now enter a new stage of the process.”

A meeting arranged with environment minister Phil Woolas for the end of the month now took on a whole new importance, said Mr Lamb, with further clarification vital.

Both Mr Lamb and Mr Kerby said they felt the new policy was the direct result of a collective effort in north Norfolk, involving politicians, North Norfolk District Council, CCAG and communities at threat such as Happisburgh.

“Unanimity has won this major battle,” said Mr Kerby.

And Mr Lamb said: “No one else in the country has been arguing this case other than the group in Norfolk.” That group included Mr Kerby and the communities he represented, the district council and climate change expert Tim O’Riordan, said Mr Lamb.

The district council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew, said he was “very pleased indeed” at the news.

“We will have to wait and see how it would work, but I would like to think the district council can be involved in any pilot schemes or associated works.”

Council sets conditions for accepting sea defence plan

Byline: By Richard Batson (Eastern Daily Press, 03 September 2007)

A campaigning council is demanding a raft of measures to help erosion-threatened seaside communities face their fate.

It is the only way the embattled coastal area will accept the controversial new shoreline management plan, whose new policies could put thousands of properties at risk.

Half a billion pounds worth of homes and businesses could potentially be lost to erosion and sea flooding under moves to abandon almost all the existing sea defences in north Norfolk.

The district council has been among those vocally opposing the emerging shoreline management plan (SMP).

But it is now saying it would “conditionally” accept the master plan – providing there are measures in place to help the communities affected.

That could range from compensation to individual property owners, to relaxing planning guidelines to allow communities to expand inland.

But North Norfolk District Council’s cabinet member for coastal issues Clive Stockton stressed the change of stance was not a question of caving in.

“We have accepted there is no way of practically defending the whole of the north Norfolk coast. So we must find a combination of poilicies, which includes measures to ensure there is social justice for those areas which cannot be defended. We are not Luddites. But we are also not prepared to roll over and give in. We must find a pragmatic and workable way forward.”

Only the main resorts of Cromer and Sheringham, along with the nationally important gas terminal at Bacton, and the vulnerable Winterton area were earmarked for ongoing protection in the new SMP.

Other places face “realignment” – by letting ageing defences crumble and nature take its course over the next 50 years. The areas most needing help to mitigate against possible policy change were Overstrand, Mundesley, Bacton, Walcott, Ostend, Eccles and the Runtons.

Up to 1,000 coastal properties could be lost and a further 2,500 inland if the sea broke through, added Mr Stockton.

Digging in its heels to seek help for communities could take years admitted Mr Stockton, but the council was spending £200,000 a year for the next decade, to buy time at villages whose defences were struggling to cope. Happisburgh was strengthened last year, and this year it was Overstrand’s turn.

He was heartened the government which was previously “deaf” to the calls for social justice, was now looking at an “adaptation toolkit” including issues such as blight caused in communities by failing sea defences.

Compensation was being discussed, along with the possibility of the government buying threatened property to give the owners their equity back, while leasing it back to tenants to keep it occupied until it became unsafe.

Council cabinet will be asked to agree the new stance next Monday, and the issues will also be raised when a delegation meets the new environment minister Phil Woolas next month.

Happisburgh’s delivery of seaside rock

Byline: (Eastern Daily Press, 19 February 2007)

In the height of summer it is filled with tourist cars – but for the next few weeks it will be filled with massive lumps of rock.

The council car park on the clifftop at Happisburgh has been turned overnight into the holding area for hundreds of tonnes of rock, which will be used to create a new sea defence scheme for the village.

Deliveries started today for the project, which will take several weeks and is being led by North Norfolk District Council. The main £200,000 funding for the scheme has been provided by the council, with the village and its supporters making their own donation. That donation already stands at about £50,000 once the gift aid tax forms have been processed, but fundraising is continuing.

For the villagers it is much more than a simple sea defence scheme – for those on the very front line it means saving their houses from the encroaching sea.

“We have been redrawing our plans for the next few years because of this,” said Di Wrightson, who lives in Cliff House on Beach Road, where her clifftop back garden has gradually been disappearing into the sea.

“Instead of thinking about moving out in the next few months, we are looking at a possible extension of three to five years, although it is very hard to be exact.

“The fact is that without the last set of rock defences put in back in the winter of 2002, we would not be here now, so it clearly makes a difference.”

Miss Wrightson said the generosity of those who had given their own cash to top up the council pot had been “staggering”.

And she added: “You can’t help feeling people have almost been waiting to give money, but wanted to wait until they knew it would be useful.

“There is now a clear end use for it and we are hugely grateful to people who have given.”

Malcolm Kerby, coordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, said the number of deliveries had dropped from an expected 12 flatbed lorries per day to about eight because the quarry supplying the material was also sending rock to a similar project in Felixstowe.

But instead of being disappointed at the news, he was delighted.

“It demonstrates what I have been saying for a long time, there are many other communities around the coast which are in the same position as us.

“This is a clear example of the fact we have brother communities around the country who are going through the same process as we are.”

The first phase of the project will see rock stockpiled on the car park and on the field at the end of Beach Road. At some stage the rock will start being dropped onto the beach, after which it will be engineered into a two-metre high sill. Tides and the weather will be a significant factor in how long the work takes to complete.

To make a donation, call in to the village post office or log on to www.buyarockforhappisburgh.com where details of several payment methods are given.

Villagers asked to dig deep to protect homes

Byline: By Ed Foss (Eastern Daily Press, 19 January 2007)

Villagers in Happisburgh were last night urged to dig deep into their own pockets to help protect their homes from coastal erosion.

North Norfolk District Council has already pledged to spend £200,000 on new sea defences for the village, which has become famous worldwide for its campaigning on the issues of coastal erosion and the demand for compensation for those who will lose their homes.

But the villagers themselves were asked at a public meeting last night to boost this figure by as much as possible in order to build even more effective defences.

Although specific figures were not discussed in detail, it was suggested each household gives £100 to the cause.

The donation was dubbed a “one-off insurance premium” by Jack Hall, chairman of the charity Coastal Concern Limited (CCL), an associate body to the better known campaign group Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG).

The district council project is due to start in the middle of February, subject to approval of tenders. Villagers have been asked to make their minds up as quickly as possible – certainly within the final deadline of three weeks – about whether they are prepared to pay out.

Last night’s meeting, held in the village church and chaired by CCAG coordinator Malcolm Kerby, was attended by around 200 people, senior council staff and campaign leaders.

Mr Hall told the gathering that CCL already had a “five figure sum” in the bank from previous community events, such as fetes and car boot sales. Because of CCL’s charity status, the gift aid system could be used, potentially adding an extra £28 for every £100 donated to the final total.

“Providing we act within the short time available, we have a unique opportunity. We are asking people to make their own individual contribution, perhaps £100 per household,” he added.

Mr Hall said one of the key advantages of giving money now was that each and every pound would go towards materials and the cost of placing those materials; all overheads were already being paid from the £200,000 council pot.

A simple system had been set up, said Mr Hall, which involved people collecting donation forms at the end of last night’s meeting and either posting them once they had been filled in, or dropping them off at the village post office.

The meeting heard technical advice from the council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew, plus contributions from the council’s deputy leader Clive Stockton and chief executive Philip Burton.

Crumbling coast in line for £2m help

Byline: By Edward Foss, Richard Batson (Eastern Daily Press, 05 December 2006)

Coastal erosion hotspot Happisburgh is first in line for a slice of a potential £2m package of emergency sea defences over the next 10 years.

The raft of repairs is aimed at buying time while the bigger issue of longer-term coastal management is debated at national level.

North Norfolk is playing a major role in those talks, which are for the first time looking at the thorny question of whether people losing property and homes under the controversial policy of managed retreat should get compensation.

North Norfolk District Council’s deputy leader, Clive Stockton, said they were trying to buy time by funding repairs over the next 10 years, while drawing up new coastal planning policies aimed at preventing problems in the future.

They were also seeking changes to the controversial Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) to provide more social justice and talking to the government’s Defra officials over issues such as compensation, which would be the “hardest nut to crack”.

The draft SMP sparked huge protests when it suggested “managed retreat” at many previously protected villages, which would have resulted in millions of pounds of homes and businesses being lost to erosion over the next 100 years.

Peter Frew, council head of coastal strategy, said there was no objection to about 70pc of the recommendations, but there was to the idea of switching sustainable communities to managed retreat. The council and other campaigners would continue to fight their case in a bid to address the SMP’s consequences and make it deliverable.

Mr Frew, who now represents councils on the Defra working party looking at how to deal with erosion and flood issues, said it was a major step forward in recent months that the government was at least talking about compensation.

It was no guarantee it would happen, but until those issues had been decided, hopefully in time for a government spending review next year, the council wanted to maintain its current defences.

The first stage of a suggested £2m programme of temporary measures will be discussed at NNDC’s cabinet on Monday, with the funds being drawn from capital reserves, and the council prepared to lose the interest it would have generated in a bid to help the communities in danger.

If agreed, Happisburgh would get £200,000 of extra and re-engineered rock to protect homes in the Cliff Road area.

The 10 years plan also includes:

  • Sheringham – rebuilding the east promenade wall;
  • Sheringham to Cromer – revetment repairs, and removal if they are a hazard on the beach;
  • Overstrand – repairs to the wall below the promenade;
  • Trimingham – safety work on revetments;
  • Mundesley – major groyne refurbishment and work on the walls;
  • Bacton to Walcott – refurbishing the deck and joints of the sea walls;
  • Happisburgh – further work at Low Light, with rock protection at an exposed sea wall.

The spending plans and latest situation will be outlined to the full council on December 13, and to a meeting of coastal parish councils the following evening.

Warning over flood risk homes

Byline: By Tom Smithard (Eastern Daily Press, 30 September 2006)

Thousands of families in the areas of East Anglia most at risk from flooding are likely to become uninsurable unless the government increases funding on defence works, the insurance industry warned last night.

The warning covers at least 30,000 homes in Norfolk, plus thousands more in low-lying Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

One MP described it as a “massive blight on huge areas of the region.”

The forecast came from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) – representing all of Britain’s major insurance companies – which indicated that its patience with the government had almost run out.

Current flood spending levels were set in 2002 but have since decreased significantly in real terms – and in August the Environment Agency was told to cut this year’s flood defence budget even further.

A spokeswoman for the ABI said that the floods in Yarmouth this week were likely to be the tip of the iceberg, with climate change making torrential downpours and rising sea levels ever more likely to cause havoc.

She said that the insurance industry could no longer afford to cover homes in the most at-risk areas if the government was not prepared to spend an appropriate amount on protecting them.

Kelly Ostler said: “We have a statement of principles with the government which says that if they commit to a certain level of funding our members will commit to providing flood cover everywhere.

“But with the real threat from climate change we have no obligation to carry on covering areas that aren’t being protected.”

She said that the government had a responsibility to areas at risk of flooding which it was not currently fulfilling.

The ABI will make a decision on whether to recommend members to stop providing flood damage insurance to the most at-risk areas next spring, when the government publishes its spending plans for up to 2011.

It believes that spending on flood defences needs to rise from the current level of £570m a year to £750m a year by 2011, an increase of about 10pc a year.

“With proper defences flooding is not an inevitability,” said Ms Ostler. “But at the moment Defra is spending its budget on avian flu and farming subsidies and is too stretched to spend what it needs on flood defence.

“They need to take their heads out of the sand and up their spending on flood defence work. We want to keep insuring everyone but we simply won’t be able to if the government doesn’t keep to its side of the bargain.”

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency confirmed that there were about 113,000 homes deemed at “significant” risk of flooding from coasts or rivers in the East of England, including more than 30,000 in Norfolk.

Huge numbers of homes in east Cambridgeshire and west Norfolk, including King’s Lynn and Wisbech, areas of the north Norfolk coast, Broadland villages, Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Beccles would no longer be able to get insurance for flood damage.

A spokeswoman from Norwich Union said that the average insurance pay-out to homeowners suffering from flood damage was between £15,000 and £30,000.

Norman Lamb, MP for north Norfolk, said yesterday: “The potential impact from this on a county like Norfolk could be devastating. The implications for house owners unable to insure against flood damage is enormous.

“This would have a massive blighting effect on huge swathes of the county. The government has to get a grip – it’s bizarre that the budget for sea and flood defences is being cut back at a time when the threat is increasing.

“This is a massive warning from the Association of British Insurers that the government has to be forced out of its state of denial and start helping these communities – before it’s too late.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “The government works hard with the ABI with the mutual aim of ensuring continued widespread availability of flood risk insurance cover for domestic and small business policy holders.

“We will meet our commitment under the ABI Statement of Principles to maintain investment. Indeed, the original investment figure for 2005/06 of £564m was exceeded for that year, and is still expected to be met in 2006/07.

“Government funding has increased by 35pc in real terms since 1996/97, with £4bn invested. £600m was invested last year alone. This major investment programme has delivered new and improved defences and strengthened flood warning arrangements.

“The capital budget, which delivers improved flood defences, has not been cut. There is also no impact on the Environment Agency’s ability to respond to serious flooding. Teams are in place and ready to act if necessary.”

Sea defence boss attacks agency

Byline: By Richard Batson (Eastern Daily Press, 25 September 2006)

A sea defence boss from north Norfolk has launched a stinging attack on the agency being lined up to look after the nation’s shoreline.

A Government consultation paper identifies the Environment Agency (EA) as the best organisation to take overall control of coastal management, some of which is done at present by local councils.

But North Norfolk District Council’s head of coastal strategy, Peter Frew, has dismissed the agency as remote and unfeeling.

He says he was stunned when a national agency officer suggested that residents under threat of losing their homes to sea erosion at Happisburgh should “be told to get out”.

Yet the government, in its Making Way for Water paper, is suggesting that coastal communities should be looked after by an organisation employing a person holding that unacceptable attitude, he points out.

Mr Frew’s report will be discussed by the council’s cabinet next Monday with a recommendation to object to the proposals in the strongest possible terms.

It outlines grave concerns about the Defra document, which would take coastal management out of the hands of councils serving local communities and give it to a regional committee made up of government appointees and nominated representatives from county councils.

The report says there is a danger of ignoring the wealth of local knowledge and understanding employed by local people who have “lived and worked with seas and rivers all their lives”.

Mr Frew adds: “The EA is seen by local communities as remote and unfeeling and inclined to take decisions on theoretical understanding without taking local knowledge into account.”

He concedes that the present system – where the agency looks after low-lying coastlines susceptible to flood risk, while councils protect cliff areas from erosion – can cause confusion and says he appreciates why the government wants to unite the two functions.

But he says it is also important to look at wider coastal issues such as planning, economic and tourism – something to council is doing through its new local development framework by having a special action plan for the coast.

His report also highlights fears about job prospects for people used by the council for coastal protection works and services, with a further loss of local knowledge and skills leading to increased costs and lower standards.

An Environment Agency spokesman said the council was entitled to its views in the consultation process but insisted there was a need to simplify the system and gave an assurance that it would work closely with the council.