Coast defence ‘ask first’ plan

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

Thousands of people could be given chance to contribute directly to a new version of the controversial Shoreline Management Plan.

Instead of simply being able to react to the current draft version, which has caused anger along vast stretches of the Norfolk coast, ordinary people would be able to take part in the process leading up to the creation of a new plan.

The suggestion comes from environmental scientist Prof Tim O’Riordan, who wants to head a year-long study into the issues, taking in “all coastal communities from Sheringham to Winterton.”

It effectively turns the usual process on its head – instead of writing a report and then consulting on it publicly, the consultation would come first.

The work would lead to a SMP which would be “fair, aimed at progressive long-term coastal change, and which tests current and possible new coastal management policies and financing arrangements.”

The study would include a series of workshops on a community-by-community basis, with ‘full reporting of each', taking place between October and March. It would mean community groups, parish councils, church parishioners, clergy and residents associations could take part.

And next May there would be a 'mega' workshop held at North Norfolk District Council’s offices in Cromer.

Prof O’Riordan, who works at the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, said the study would explore practical and locally acceptable ways of creating a revised plan for the district council area.

A final report ready for talks with national agencies involved in coastal defence and funding would be ready by July 2006.

Prof O’Riordan and his team have asked for £20,000 funding for the study from the district council, to be match funded by other bodies.

Although the basic idea of talking directly to all of the communities concerned has been wholeheartedly welcomed by coastal campaigners, they have raised concerns about what will come from it in the long run.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, said he was very pleased to hear “genuine and inclusive discussion” was being suggested.

“It would be a huge step forward to do it this way around.

“I would support this money being spent and this work being done if, and only if, the findings are acted on.

“Asking people what they think in this fashion and then effectively ignoring what they have said would be pointless, a waste of time and a waste of money.

“We need to know that whatever comes from this work will be carried to the heart of government.”

Mr Kerby said the danger was that any work of the nature being suggested by Prof O’Riordan could be steamrollered by government policy, which has shifted dramatically in recent years towards managed retreat.

Prof O’Riordan’s bid for the £20,000 from the council will be discussed at a meeting of the council Cabinet to be held on Monday.

Minister criticised for cancellations

Byline: Tom Smithard, Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners rounded on a Government minister last night after he pulled out of a series of Norfolk meetings to avoid protesters.

Environment minister Elliot Morley was 30 seconds away from a photo opportunity with the media at Somerton, near Yarmouth, yesterday when the call came through to cancel.

His failure to turn up at pre-arranged meetings prompted claims that he was denying local voters the chance to tackle him on a key local issue – and that he simply lacked “the bottle” to confront his critics.

The man responsible for the deeply unpopular Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) – which controversially advocates changing the coastal erosion policy from hold-the-line to managed retreat– was in the area to launch Labour’s rural manifesto.

Mr Morley had been set to meet reed cutters at a picturesque location at the edge of the Broads with Labour candidate for Yarmouth, Tony Wright.

However, just before he arrived, about 15 villagers – some of whom are members of the Countryside Alliance – and Malcolm Kerby, the prominent Coastal Action Group campaigner, turned up.

When Tory candidate Mark Fox also showed his face, Mr Wright made a telephone call and a ministerial car, seconds away from Somerton, made an abrupt U-turn.

The next meeting on the agenda, with Winterton villagers unhappy about the Government’s coastal erosion plans, was also cancelled at last minute after protesters again showed up at the parish hall.

And after a quick face-to-face with selected members of the Winterton and Scratby protest groups at Labour’s Yarmouth headquarters, Mr Morley was whisked away from the constituency.

Protesters were yesterday livid with the minister’s refusal to meet with them. Mr Kerby said the minister had avoided people from Norfolk since the divisive SMP had been announced.

“We’ve gone into an era of sterile politics,” he said. “Isn’t it about taking the bric-bats as well as the congratulations?

“This is a travesty for democracy. The minister either didn’t want to see us because he is utterly bereft of joined-up thinking or he’s got absolutely no bottle. These people have to be answerable for their actions.”

But Mr Wright said: “If I thought there was going to be a dialogue talking about the issues in a serious context I would have gone along with that.

“I’ve been in politics for a very long time and I know the signs. The event was going to be hijacked – I wanted the minister to meet members of the community but that was going to be restricted.

“I do think people have a right to protest, but some elements would have loved to see the minister jostled.

“If the minister would be under threat I’m not going to place him in that position.

“I’m highly disappointed but I’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.”

And speaking to the EDP later while touring Lowestoft, Mr Morley said: “I was running half-an-hour late, but it is fair to say the Countryside Alliance turned up with the local Conservative candidate.

“He associated himself with people more interested in abusing animals rather than allowing local people to talk about real issues in this area.

“The people of Winterton came and had the opportunity to talk to me at Tony Wright’s headquarters. I’m glad they did.”

Mr Fox denied any association with the Countryside Alliance protest. He said: “How can we have a democratic political debate if he refuses to come close to anyone who may have a different opinion?”

Simon Peasley, a protester from Somerton and member of the Countryside Alliance, said: “It’s pathetic he’s running away from less than 20 gentle villagers.”

Meeting held to defend dredging

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners yesterday demonstrated outside a meeting about the safety of dredging.

Hanson Aggregates Marine held the public consultation at Yarmouth Racecourse to dispel concerns over its bid to renew its dredging licence for an area in the North Sea 22km east of the town.

Norfolk communities affected by coastal erosion are convinced the process has been accelerated by years of dredging removing millions of tons of sediment.

Among the audience were Malcolm Kerby, chairman of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group, and around a dozen residents from Scratby near Yarmouth.

The clifftop village is predicted to lose more than 50 properties in the next half century under the Government’s proposed shoreline management plan (SMP) strategy of not bolstering sea defences.

Andrew Bellamy, a spokesman for the dredging industry, claimed there was no scientific evidence to link controlled dredging to erosion.

He said the dredging took place too far out to sea to affect the processes of longshore and inshore drift.

What were being extracted were fossil deposits, not part of the coastal sediment.

And he insisted the trenches created by dredging were not being filled in with sand and gravel from adjacent banks – a claim made by campaigners to explain the disappearance of coastal sediment.

David Harding, a spokesman for Hanson, said the issue had been clouded by misinformation – dredging was not to blame for erosion.

However, the campaigners left the meeting unconvinced and urged people to write to their MP about dredging.

David Archer, 60, from Scratby, said: “When I was growing up, Scroby Sands were protruding above the water a lot more than they are today. Where has all that sand gone? What we need is independent, professional advice.”

Mr Kerby said the uncertainties of dredging were recognised in an official EU report and far more widely recognised on the Continent.

And he said a document leaked to him from Westminster admitted there needed to be a greater understanding of the links between coastal erosion and dredging.

Happisburgh ‘an awful warning’

Byline: Stephen Pullinger, Eastern Daily Press

People in villages near Yarmouth are to be warned that Happisburgh’s plight today could be theirs tomorrow.

The stark message will be delivered on Thursday at a public meeting at Ormesby St Margaret Community Centre.

Malcolm Kerby, chairman of the Coastline Concern Action Group battling for better sea defences in North Norfolk, will discuss the Government’s proposed new shoreline management plan (SMP) in “layman’s terms”.

The meeting follows one at nearby Hemsby last month when families were horrified to discover the predicted impact of the sea defence strategy of “managed retreat”.

SMP consultant engineer Halcrow has estimated that hundreds of homes and businesses are likely to be lost to the sea over the next century along the coast from Winterton to Caister.

And in Scratby – part of the parish of Ormesby St Margaret – it is predicted dozens of properties could go inside 50 years.

Ahead of next week’s meeting, Mr Kerby said: “In 1992 Halcrow produced a map with a line showing what land would be lost around Happisburgh in 60 years’ time – we reached that line two years ago.

“That shows the unpredictability. I will tell people that it is possible they might not lose any land in the next 100 years, but equally it is possible they might lose it five times as quickly as it is being predicted.

“I have been saying for six years, if you want to see where you will be tomorrow, look at Happisburgh today.

“Unless people stand up to be counted, they risk sleepwalking into disaster.”

He said a much more immediate impact of the SMP would be a detrimental effect on house prices, with people finding it increasingly difficult to sell their homes. And he warned that as well as homes and businesses being lost, the freshwater environment of the Broads would be in peril.

Mr Kerby is convinced of the link – disputed by the Government – between coastal dredging and accelerated coastal erosion.

He said: “A lack of sediment means we are losing our beaches and yet at the same time 40pc of the national take of marine aggregates is being dredged around Yarmouth.”

He claimed the Government was making £1m a week out of taxation from dredging off Yarmouth – and yet it was still refusing to provide sea defences.

Ormesby parish clerk Alan Smith urged as many families as possible to attend the meeting at 7.30pm.

He said councillors had already agreed to write official letters objecting to both the SMP and the renewal of offshore dredging licences.

Residents have the chance to comment on SMP plans by writing to Terry Oakes Associates, PO Box 186, Lowestoft NR33 0WY by April 29.

Stokesby Parish Council has written to Yarmouth MP Tony Wright and the borough council urging that no approval be given to the SMP until costs and assessments have been carried out on areas that could be affected.

They fear that if the sea is allowed to breach defences several homes in Stokesby could be flooded.

Council says no, minister

Byline: (North Norfolk News, 17 March 2005)

North Norfolk District Council has taken a double swipe at a Government minister and the controversial new sea defence policy for Norfolk.

The council says environment minister Elliot Morley has been “disingenuous” in saying the new Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) has nothing to do with him. Council leader Simon Partridge said officers were following strict parameters laid down by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr Morley refused an invitation to visit North Norfolk to face critics of the plan, saying it was “pointless” because it was locally led. But Mr Partridge said the minister was being disingenuous, and council chief executive Philip Burton said Mr Morley was taking an “interesting line” as the SMP was one of three pilot schemes being funded by Defra, which also laid down the guidelines.

Under the draft SMP, £250 million of property would be lost between Kelling and Lowestoft in the next century as longestablished sea defences were abandoned under a policy of managed retreat. The plan would threaten villages including Mundesley, Overstrand, Walcott and Happisburgh. Public consultations on the plan run until the end of April, but the council has now issued a statement on where it stands because of pressure from councillors and the public.

Mr Partridge stressed that a formal view would not be lodged until the full public views were known, but the weight of hundreds ofletters and feedback from meetings was so far virtually unanimously against the plan. Meanwhile, a demand made by the Liberal Democrat’s shadow chancellor this week for the SMP’s withdrawal may be the highest-profile confirmation so far that the storm has finally reached a wider audience.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and coastal campaigner Malcolm Kerby been striving to highlight the issue, including a Westminster debate where environment minister Elliot Morley was quizzed on the plan and its effect on Norfolk communities.

This week Mr Lamb and his Lib Dem colleague, shadow chancellor Vince Cable, stated the party’s position, saying the SMP “should be withdrawn because it is a fatally-flawed document”. The statement said the SMP failed “to assess the full cost of abandoning the coastline” by failing to include costs including utilities, highways and recreation.

This made a “nonsens”e of the whole plan because it was “unacceptable to reach a decision to abandon a stretch of coastline, affecting whole communities, without a proper assessment of the economic impact”.

There had also been an over-arching failure to address the issue of compensation for those people set to lose homes to the sea.

The issue will undoubtedly become a political hot potato in the run-up to the expected general election in May, particularly in North Norfolk.

The constituency’s Tory candidate, lain Dale, has joined the fray in recent months and will welcome shadow environment minister James Paice to Norfolk next week for a public meeting.

Mr Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, welcomed Mr Cable’s stance as “seemingly the first bit of common sense” on the issue from politicians outside Norfolk.”

Points from the statement

The joint statement, agreed by all North Norfolk council’s political parties, calls for the SMP to be halted to look at a range of issues not covered by the document. They Include:

  • The Impact of dredging on coastal erosion, which takes 12 million cubic metres of sediment from an area already suffering a shortfall of sand for its beaches. Ironically, more than half the dredged sands Is sold to shore up beaches elsewhere In Europe. Multi-million pound dredging income could also be used to help fund sea defences or compensation schemes.
  • A full cost analysis of what would be lost. The SMP looks at lost buildings but not roads, utilities, recreation facilities and the economy. Including tourism.
  • Comparing the full cost with the price of sea defences, which could make them more justifiable.
  • Looking at a compensation scheme to remove blight ensure social justice and maintain confidence in coastal communities.

Plan fails to count real cost

Thr Government’s proposed sea defence strategy of managed retreat has been attacked by Norfolk’s longest serving planning officer for failing to take account of the real cost to people.

Yarmouth planning officer Mike Dowling described the draft Shoreline Management Plan, currently out for public consultation, as “purely an engineering study”.

He said: “One of its weaknesses is that it has notlooked at the costs of managed retreat. It is not just the cost of losing your houses and bungalows, but the cost to the coastal trade, the Broads system, footpaths and what’s left of the fishing industry.”

He addressed some 250 people at a meeting at Hemsby on Saturday and most were horrified after examining maps – many for the first time showing the impact on their communities of the preferred option.

They heard an estimated 55 seafront properties at Newport and Scratby would be lost within the next 50 years, holiday developments and infrastructure would be hit 100 years down the line, and Caister would have lost its seafront holiday centres and caravan parks and 50 commercial and residential properties. It was also possible problems might crop up as few as 10 years down the line, with property values hit.

Steve Ashton, a parish councillor from nearby West Somerton, said the plan included no balance sheet to show the true costs.

Planning officer blasts sea defence plan

Byline: By Stephen Pullinger (Eastern Daily Press, 14 March 2005)

The Government’s proposed sea defence strategy of managed retreat was attacked by Norfolk’s longest-serving planning officer for failing to take account of the real cost to people.

Yarmouth planning officer Mike Dowling described the draft shoreline management plan currently out for public consultation as “purely an engineering study”.

He said: “One of its weaknesses is that it has not looked at the costs of managed retreat.

“It is not just the cost of losing your houses and bungalows, but the cost to the coastal trade, the Broads system, footpaths, what’s left of the fishing industry. The whole area will be impacted.”

He addressed some 250 people at a meeting at Hemsby on Saturday and most were horrified after examining maps – many for the first time – showing the impact on their communities of the preferred option.

They heard an estimated 55 seafront properties at Newport and Scratby would be lost within the next 50 years and holiday developments and infrastructure would be hit. One hundred years down the line, Caister would have lost its seafront holiday centres and caravan parks as well as 50 commercial and residential properties.

Mr Dowling said he was surprised by the lack of public response so far, adding: “We have got to have community involvement. Malcolm Kerby, in Happisburgh, proves that, if you make yourself a thorough nuisance, you will get noticed.

“I hope you tell the Government these proposals are inadequate because they have not taken into account everything that will be lost and the serious implications for the Broads as a freshwater environment.”

Mr Dowling said it was possible problems might crop up as few as 10 years down the line, with property values hit and families finding it difficult to sell their homes.

Steve Ashton, a parish councillor from nearby West Somerton, told the meeting the plan included no balance sheet to show the true costs in rates and rents from lost businesses, in rehousing people and on tourism, sailing and fishing rights.

“Why would you destroy what has taken centuries to build up?” he asked.

New blow for coastal residents

Byline: Adam Gretton, Eastern Daily Press

Coastal communities received a fresh blow yesterday as another major report called for the abandonment of sea defences.

As campaigners head to Westminster today to protest against a controversial draft Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), English Nature will lend its full support to “managed retreat” of the Norfolk and Suffolk coastlines.

The Government agency responsible for conservation today publishes a set of nationwide proposals aimed at saving our seas and coasts for business, recreation and wildlife.

The Maritime Strategy champions coastal management over “hold the line” policies and recommends new legislation, including a network of Marine Protected Areas and better offshore planning.

English Nature hopes the document, which took two years to complete, will reverse declining seascapes by boosting fish stocks, improving water quality, protecting environments and helping seaside communities adapt to long-term change.

But Malcolm Kerby, from the Coastal Concern Action Group, who today takes a coach-load of campaigners to London for a parliamentary debate, said the timing of the report was “hugely suspect”, with protests over the Kelling to Lowestoft Ness SMP and two other UK schemes

“English Nature is the biggest Government quango and all they care about is little furry animals – they are working hand in glove with Defra [the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs],” he said.

“The report seems wonderful but it ought to be under the fiction section of a library. You cannot make management plans without addressing the offshore dredging issue – it is pie in the sky.”

Gareth Dalglish, area manager for the Suffolk branch of English Nature, said coastlines needed a “fresh approach” and it was “unrealistic” to keep pumping money into defences.

“If you stop erosion on one part of the coast, you remove sediment from another. It is difficult, but we feel that people need to get their heads round the fact that coastlines are changing.”

Peter Lambley, conservation officer for the Norfolk branch, said the agency would work closely with local authorities to avoid development on floodplains and clifftops.

Minister mobbed over coastal plan

Byline: By Chris Fletcher, EDP Political Editor, Adam Gretton (Eastern Daily Press, 08 March 2005)

Angry campaigners branded a Government minister a “disgrace” tonight after he refused to answer key questions on the future of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.

Environment minister Elliot Morley was given a police escort out of Westminster when he was mobbed by protestors following a parliamentary debate on the controversial draft Shoreline Management Plan (SMP).

Mr Morley, who heads the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), told local MPs and seaside residents that the controversial 100 year plan, which will see a loss of hundreds of homes between Kelling and Lowestoft, was not his responsibility.

He added that it was “pointless” going to North Norfolk or meeting the 46 people who travelled to London today.

“I have not seen the details of the SMP because I am not involved in it. It should be a local process involving local consultation,” he said.

“There is no point in people lobbying me.”

But coastal campaigners argued that Defra controlled local authority purse strings on sea defences and issued strict government guidelines on shoreline management.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who tabled the parliamentary debate, said he was “angry” over Mr Morley’s response and would continue to lobby his department.

He added that there was a “chink of light” after the minister did not rule out compensation for homeowners and businesspeople who lose their properties to the sea in the future.

“I never expected to have all our problems to be resolved today. It is a long battle, but it was a useful exercise to demonstrate the strength of feeling about this plan,” he said.

Mr Morley walked through a gauntlet of protesters who shouted “disgusting”, “absolute rubbish” and “come and see for yourself” after he left the Westminster Hall debating chamber.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, accused the minister of being “misleading” and said he was “dumbstruck” and “staggered” by his answers.

“If I had the power I would sack him tomorrow, he is not worthy of a minister of the state, because he has no clue about what his department is doing,” he said.

“We did not expect to come away with answers, but this meeting has renewed by energy and appetite for this campaign.”

Residents in the North Norfolk, Yarmouth and Waveney districts have until April 29 to air their views on the SMP.

Local politicians will then decide whether to decide on the four options of holding the line, advance the line, do nothing, or managed realignment, which is being recommended by the plan, despite an estimated £250m loss of property over the next century.

Shoreline Management Plan fight heats up

Byline: Edward Foss & Tom Smithard, Eastern Daily Press

Tories and Lib Dems said yesterday they plan to move the battle against the deeply unpopular Shoreline Manage-ment Plan up a gear in the campaign to save coastal communities.

The SMP will be given a high- profile airing next week, with North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb securing a half-hour parliamentary debate on the issue.

And shadow environment minister James Paice will visit Mundesley on March 21 with North Norfolk candidate Iain Dale for a public meeting that will finalise the Tories’ coastal defence policy.

Mr Lamb’s adjournment debate, at 4pm on Tuesday in Westminster Hall, will allow him to speak for 15 minutes, after which he will be given a ministerial response.

“This is an opportunity for local people to have their input into the debate through me and have their specific points addressed to the minister,” said Mr Lamb.

But he said he would not use the debate to announce Liberal Democrat policy on coastal management – and admitted last night that a policy might not be in place before the general election.

“We have a difficulty in that we have a policy-making procedure that goes through a number of stages. I will use this debate to present my position and that of the coastal action groups,” he said.

Mr Dale, on the other hand, has promised to produce national Tory strategy on dealing with coastal defences before the election is announced.

The meeting will be held at the Manor Hotel from 11am to 1pm.

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