December 2006 Comments

In recent years I have tried to convince the UK coastal world that the erosion problems we suffer here in Happisburgh are not Happisburgh specific.

The truth is that Happisburgh is but part of a national problem which is going to get much, much worse as a result of mixed messages from the scientists and the perpetuation of the massive underfunding of coast protection in this country. There are now press articles from all around the country flagging up coast defence issues, see the latest addition to the press articles elsewhere on this site.

What we are witnessing is a rapid slide into coastal chaos for it will not be long before the situation becomes irreversible in many areas. I really thought there was an opportunity to get some common sense and joined up thinking when DEFRA launched the Making Space for Water project however I now feel history will show it as a wasted opportunity of mammoth proportions.

Along with that the only tangible change that seems to have come out of that project with any haste is the handing of overall strategic control of all coast defences to the Environment Agency (EA). Many key staff within the EA do not feel that is the best way forward. Many key players in coast defence around this country also feel it is not the best way forward. Personally I feel it is a huge mistake and can only lead to an already confused situation becoming much worse. Many believe it is something the DEFRA civil servants have wanted to do for a considerable time.

Over recent times we have seen significant changes in both the political management of DEFRA and the Civil Service staff. With the moving on of the ex Minister Elliot Morley there was a sigh of relief out here in the real world, who could forget his abysmal performance in the adjournment debate on March 8th last year which really underlined his lack of understanding and knowledge of the subject to hand.

We now have a new Minister, Ian Pearson MP, whom I have had the very real pleasure of meeting on three occasions. This man impresses me enormously not just because he had the courage to come to North Norfolk at his own behest on a fact finding visit but because I sense we are dealing with a very genuine man. He has resisted the temptation to make any early promises and has consistantly called for constructive dialogue. Now if only this man can get to see the real picture and not the one that is presented to him by his civil servants we might just get some progress in the right direction.

On the Civil Service side we have seen the retirement of the DEFRA Chief Engineer, to the immense relief of many of the Operating Authorities where he was intensely disliked. In my view we are now free of a very dogmatic individual who did coast protection overall in this country no favours at all.

I should add I have the greatest respect for many of the DEFRA Flood Management team and understand something of the enormity of the problems they have to wrestle with, not least the Treasury and it’s Green Book and Multi Coloured Document. However there is an urgent need to move on from the way things have always been done and a need to REALLY listen to what we are saying out here. It would also be extremely useful if the second generation Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) are not pushed into other areas of the country until the problems thrown up by the pilot SMPs are fully resolved. I have travelled the length of the country and spoken to many coast dwellers, those in areas where a new SMP has been announced are already seeing adverse effects on property values and viability both in terms of Insurance and open market.

As far as North Norfolk is concerned, in the wake of the absolute rejection of the second generation SMP for this area, North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has recognised and is acting upon the absolute need to buy some time for it’s coastal communities by investing in some defences which hopefully will get us through ten or so years while we wait for a more sustainable coastal policy and SMPs to eminate from central government.

It would be extremely useful if DEFRA, whose change of policy and direction without addressing social justice has caused immense social and economic problems, would match fund NNDC in their efforts. If they do match fund we can all take heart that DEFRA is sincere in it’s approach and would be a clear sign that we are all working together to achieve an effective proper outcome to the problems the SMP has thrown up. If they choose not to match fund then they run the very real risk of perpetuating the adversarial approach that has bedevilled the situation for years and is so counter productive.

Malcolm Kerby (13 December 2006)

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.