Public opinion sinks coast defence plan

Byline: By Richard Batson (Eastern Daily Press, 16 February 2005)

Coastal defence experts have been urged to go back to the drawing board to work out ways of defending Norfolk’s shoreline.

The call comes from a coastal campaign group which says the weight of public concern over a new sea defence policy, poised to abandon even long-standing defences, means it should be scrapped immediately.

And a local MP, who says people feel as abandoned as their defences, says the issue is so important there should be a Parliamentary debate on it.

About 1000 people have attended public meetings in villages in the front line of the draft shoreline management plan – and have vented opposition to a blueprint which would sacrifice £250m worth of property to the sea between Kelling and Lowestoft over the next 100 years.

Malcolm Kerby chaired the sessions at Mundesley, Overstrand, Bacton and Happisburgh on behalf of the Coastal Concerns Action Group.

He said the SMP had to be rejected when the public consultation deadline ran out at the end of April.

The plan, which would continue if the new SMP failed, provided hold the line policy for many areas, but it too was unworkable because proposed schemes were blocked by lack of funding.

There had to be a middle way between total defences and total abandonment, and experts needed to “go back to the drawing board” – but this time getting local people involved from the start.

Creative thinking could even look at defences that had other uses, such as tourist attractions or harnessing wave energy.

Mr Kerby said the meetings highlighted concerns about blight, which was hitting the value and saleability of homes in the area affected by the SMP.

He had approached the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs over the issue of the Government underwriting the value of property but was still awaiting a response.

While the £250m worth of property loss was large, it was “peanuts” in government funding terms, especially when spread over 100 years.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who attended all the public meetings, said the turnout showed the strength of feeling, adding “people feel abandoned.”

It was wrong for the goalposts to be moved, penalising the generation who happened to own coastal property at the time.

Compensation would remove blight, keep communities alive and help the Government realise that abandoning defences was not the no-cost option it was currently thought.

As well as doing a joint consultation reply with the CCAG, he would seek a Parliamentary debate and tackle Ministers over the whole issue of coastal defence.

Consultation responses can be done on line via the website