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.

March 2008 Comments

Comments on the press article Erosion victory is good news :

This report brings us news of what could be a landmark decision for many coastal inhabitants and communities.

Personally I feel it absolutely vindicates and underlines the comments and judgement made in my letter to the then Minister, Elliot Morley MP, of 7th August 2005.

Without doubt this fires a considerable shot across the bows of Government’s policy and thinking on how stakeholders should be treated when a decision is made to discontinue or withdraw from protecting the coast.

Central Government continually refuses to bring the management of the coast up to 21st century standards. They absolutely cling to that probably most outdated of all statutory instruments, The Coast Protection Act 1949, simply because that act gives them the right to walk away from protecting much of the coast and it’s communities at absolutely no cost to Government itself. That fact alone makes the path being trod by the whole Making Space For Water (what an unfortunate name) project and the Second Generation Shoreline Management Plans completely unsustainable.

I have been, and remain, astonished that any Government department can actively persue a policy which utterly disenfranchises so many people and renders so many of them penniless. Even using it’s own quangos to attempt to prevent individuals from protecting their own homes and property.

This judgement reinforces my unshakable belief that if Government policy dictates that we have to stop defending previously defended parts of the coast in the wider National interest then that cost must be borne by the wider Nation in whose name it is being perpetrated, not by individuals alone.

It is extremely gratifying to see the Human Rights Act 1998 actually working for good honest citizens as much as it seems to have been used over recent years for those who many of us feel should have relinquished it’s protection by their own unlawful and sometimes horrific actions.

Malcolm Kerby (13 March 2008)

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.

January 2008 Update

My comments this time concern the statement released by DEFRA on the 13th December 07:

Government blueprint to deliver better protection for people on the coast

“A blueprint to help deliver improved protection for people and property nationally, from coastal flooding and erosion has today been set out by Phil Woolas, Minister for Climate Change and Flooding” (Full statement)

In the statement the Minister speaks of the need to protect ourselves from the ” impacts of our changing climate “, I would wholeheartedly concur with that.

The problems arise from the manner in which that need is funded and managed in reality on the ground. The measures outlined in the statement will actually render both the built and natural environment more vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change and substantially increased risk.

At some point there will have to be a change in political thinking and priorities. Firstly there is a desperate need for a substantial increase in funding, without such an increase it simply will not be possible to achieve even minimum levels of protection around this country’s coast .

It is the coastal zone which is now and will continue to be in the front line of the effects of Climate Change yet year on year Central Government have reduced funding.

We have some 19000kms of coast with app. 16.9 million people living and working in that zone. Why then does Government continually allocate annual funding of less than 50 million pounds to be shared between the 92 Maritime Authorities (MAs) charged with the responsibility of protecting their coasts and the Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs)?

There can be no better example on record than the official figures ( supplied by a previous Minister) for the financial year 2005 to 2006 when from a total allocation of 570million pounds only 47million was allocated for coast protection schemes from the MAs and other works by the IDBs.

At about the same time a scheme to protect app 3kms of coast at Scarborough was completed at a cost of more than 53million pounds. That is app 6 million pounds more than the entire national allocation!! so it is certainly incorrect to say there has been “record levels of investment” in “coastal erosion work”. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

The Minister also speaks of “a responsibility to taxpayers who need to know that this funding is being used to best effect”. Absolutely right Minister, so can we expect you to stem the systemic waste of taxpayers money in the current and historic management (if it can be called that) of our coast? Currently my contacts within the system tell me that only about half the annual budget allocation for Flood and Coast Protection goes in to work on the ground (actual protection measures) and half is lost in constant reviews, internal audits and structure changes, abortive strategies and studies etc. for schemes which often never come to fruition. Should anyone need confirmation of this take a look at the almighty cock up the Environment Agency (EA) ably assisted by Natural England (NE) have made at Jury’s Gap in East Sussex.

So what is really required is not tinkering around the edges of a very cumbersome system that plainly is not fit for purpose but an absolute root and branch rethink to achieve better control, management and application of significantly increased funding of the coast.

In short the current level of funding and lack of effective management are neither cost effective or sustainable and most certainly not in the wider taxpayers interests.

DEFRAs intention of “closer working with the Regional Flood Defence Committees” (RFDCs) could be beneficial although the way Government achieves this could be extremely detrimental.

If, as I believe they will, they force the MAs to submit all applications for capital scheme funding or grant in aid to the RFDCs for thier approval or otherwise ( the RFDCs will then decide whether any application can be put forward for funding) it will probably be a disasterous move.

Climate Change is upon us now, that is self evident, and most experts believe it’s effects will become more intense as we proceed through the coming century. We have no control over the weather which Global Warming and Climate Change will bring, our only option is to effectivelymanage our way through it. That will cost money, probably a significant amount of it, but what alternative is there!!

We already have a system which is bogged down, as intended, by too many fingers in the pie which actually spends millions of pounds avoiding doing anything constructive. The latest blueprint will undoubtedly perpetuate this and afford yet more opportunity for more of the same.

We inherited this beautiful country and I am absolutely commited to doing all I can to ensure we pass it on to future generations in at least as good a condition as we were fortunate enough to inherit it.

I truly believe our current approach to managing our coast is unsustainable, extremely poor value which will pass on a huge and wholly unacceptable cost to future generations. A cost which will not be measured in financial terms alone.

There are alternatives some I have previously outlined please see Alternative Governance for Living With a Changing Coastline and my paper Adaptive Management and Local Specificity Within ICZMpresented at a conference in Edinburgh 2005 the problem is time is of the essence. If we continue underfunding and managing by default we will make the effects of any Climate Change much, much worse.

Malcolm Kerby (13 January 2008)

November 2007 Comments – Near miss

Much has happened in recent weeks, not least the weather which conspired to create a huge tidal surge in the North Sea over the 8th and 9th of November. A surge tide which took us perilously close to another 1953 disaster along the eastern flank of this country. Mercifully the weather itself ‘let us off the hook’. What defences remain took a fearful battering and some damage but they held. There were however some localised problems particularly at Walcot where the much extolled Environment Agency (by them of course) warning system failed miserably resulting in extreme threat to life and limb for many residents.

A widespread disaster was avoided solely because the wind direction did not shift more northerly. Had it done so the outcome would have been very different indeed.

Unfortunately Central Government will now consider there are few lessons to be learned from this near miss simply because it was precisely that, a near miss. In other words not enough happened to force the ‘gnomes of Whitehall’ to advise Ministers that the current and proposed policies and low levels of funding for managing the coast significantly increases the risk to the built and natural environment as well as public safety.

The second generation Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) may well be “Plans” of what Government wants to do with the coast but in no respect are they “Management Plans” for they actually ‘manage’ nothing, not even the consequenses of their own proposals. They ignore completely the enormous Social Justice problems they create and the possible (or more likely probable) adverse effects of Marine Aggregate Dredging on the coastal process.

Make no mistake these SMPs were intended to be a means to ‘legitimise’ the massive underfunding of coast management. It was assumed (wrongly) that no longer defending much of our coastline would be a zero cost option for Central Government. Only now are they beginning to realise there is a huge cost and significant price to pay for “no active intervention” in many areas.

Contained within the Treasury’s recent Comprehensive Spending Revue is a commitment to make available ten million pounds each year for the next three years to “help communities adapt to climate change where defences are no longer considered viable”. Quite what this will mean and how it will be applied few if any people know or understand as yet. It is hoped that North Norfolk can be used to pilot any mitigation measures for if it can be got right here then it will work anywhere.

There is a real danger that some will wish to get their hands on a slice of that annual ten million to fund yet more strategies and studies etc. I have no doubt that various individuals, academics and institutions,cosultants et al are already working toward obtaining funding from the Adaptive Toolkit package. This I believe must be avoided at all costs, over the next three years that money must be used to help real people, real communities to adapt for that is the only way the SMPs will ever become acceptable to the people.

Thanks yet again to the tremendous efforts of our local MP Norman Lamb we had a meeting with the new Minister, Phil Woolas MP on the 21st of November. Clearly the Minister is a very busy man and we are most grateful he afforded us the time. The meeting was very cordial and we were able to discuss the substantive issues with both the Minister and senior staff. Only time will tell if it was as constructive as we felt it was on the day.

I was disappointed that the new Head of Flood Management, Chris de Grouchy, was not present.

Therein lies one of the major problems at the heart of the British way of doing things, every three or four years it seems there is a great shuffle round of top personnel. New people are brought in usually with no experience or understanding of coastal process or coast management. The nett effect of this is to promulgate talk, talk and more talk. Then just as those individuals begin to get a grasp of the situation they are moved on and new blood is brought in and we start all over again! This is great for perpetuating talking but it does seem to inhibit decision making (action on the ground)

Over the past four years I have met with three different Ministers holding responsibility for coastal strategy. the first was Elliot Morley, to put it mildly he was about as much use as a chocolate teapot. The second was Ian Pearson, a very bright individual for whom I have the greatest respect. He recognised and identified many of the problems very rapidly and was quietly very effective.

The third of course is Phil Woolas whom I thank very much for meeting with us and who I think could make a significant and positive contribution coming as he does from a DCLG background. Unless of course the British way of doing things impedes him as well !!

Malcolm Kerby (26 November 2007)

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.”