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)

Sea could swallow thousands of homes

Byline: Dan Grimmer, Evening News

THOUSANDS of homes could be swallowed by the sea if conservationists get their way and allow sea defences to be breached to create new wetland habitation.

English Nature and the Environment Agency believe it will cost too much to maintain the concrete wall near Winterton in the long term.

In a report which will send shockwaves throughout North Norfolk, they suggest it could be left to collapse, therefore allowing the sea to eventually engulf six villages and hundreds of isolated homesteads.

The study known as CHaMPS (Coastal Habitat Management Plan), which will be considered by planners responsible for protecting Norfolk’s coastline, concludes that in the long run it might prove too costly to keep maintaining the existing concrete sea wall.

The report states: “The saline flooding of northern Broadland resulting from a major breach of the dunes, would, of course, represent a major human tragedy involving six villages and numerous isolated house and farms.”

The villages most likely to be threatened include Sea Palling, Eccles, Waxham, Horsey, Hickling and Potter Heigham, while erosion could see between 70 and 260 metres of coastline at Winterton itself lost over the next century. The report added the area flooded could be restricted to 6,500 hectares if extra defences were built at Potter Heigham and Stalham.

It continued: “Given the fact that such a major change in the coastal landscape is not likely to occur for at least 100 years, it would be possible to consider adjustment to long-term planning objectives so that socio-economic interests would not be adversely affected.

“The conservation value of such a steep change in the management of this critical coastal area would be immense, while the alternative, in terms of continued and increasingly expensive and potentially unsustainable defences, is difficult to contemplate over a period of more than two centuries.

“It is clear though, that further study of the proposal would be required, particularly with respect to the viability of other long-term coastal defence options.

“In this context it is important that continued monitoring of the Winterton frontage is undertaken in order to determine the accuracy of the predictions made in this CHaMP.

“Only with additional and longer-term datasets can informed decisions on the future sustainability and strategic direction of coastal defence requirements be made for this stretch of the Norfolk coastline.”

Peter Lambley, English Nature’s conservation officer for the Norfolk coast, was quick to stress the ideas were still subject to a much wider consultation process.

He said: “The CHaMPS is a contribution to the debate on this length of coast which will be built into the Shoreline Management Plan which is in development.”

But families in Winterton have been rocked by the suggestion the sea could be allowed to swallow swathes of land and forever change the landscape of the Norfolk coast. Shirley Weymouth, Great Yarmouth Borough councillor for Winterton and Somerton, has called a meeting which will include representatives from English Nature, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and various local authorities.

She said there was concern in Winterton over the erosion of the coastline, with predictions that water levels could rise by nearly a metre in the next 100 years.

She said: “Until we have had this meeting, I do not really know the ins and outs. That is why I have called the meeting. One party is saying one thing and another says another thing. We have got to get everyone together.”

The meeting will be held in the village at 7.30pm on Monday, September 29.

Work on the concrete wall started in 1953 after a surge tide broke through the existing defences and seven people died. The current wall was built in stages between 1953 and 1989.

Gary Watson, coastal geomorphologist at Anglian Coastal Authorities Group, based at North Norfolk District Council, will take a lead role in drawing up the Shoreline Management Plan for the county’s coastline.

He made it clear English Nature’s views would not be the only ones taken into account when the policy was drawn up next year and submitted to the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs for funding approval.

Mr Watson said: “I do appreciate the environmental benefits, but English Nature do not take into account that thousands of people will be affected. English Nature’s report blatantly ignores the fact there are a lot of people who live there and we are probably talking about millions of pounds in compensation.”

Last month, several hundred protesters gathered on the rapidly-eroding clifftops at Happisburgh to spell out a human SOS to the Government.

Keith Harrison, parish representative of the Norfolk Coast Partnership, said the time to panic had not come yet. “There’s a new round of Shoreline Management Plans taking place at the moment which could say something completely different to what Champs say.”