March 2003 Comments

Comments on the Flood and Coastal Defence debate, House of Commons 13-3-03:

Having read and reread the Hansard transcript of the debate I am extremely pleased to note that the Minister for Flood and Coastal Defence, Elliot Morley MP, is ” sympathetic to the situation in which people in that community” ( Happisburgh ) ” find themselves.” I also note that at least one major insurer is ” concerned ” over recent changes to the cost/benefit evaluations for the funding of capital schemes. It is interesting to see that the Minister was made aware by his shadow on the opposition benches that ” We can all disagree over the causes of Global Warming. However, what is indisputable is that the spectre of coastal and inland flooding looms increasingly large. The exercise of those forces of nature is out of our control, but the minimisation of their impact lies in the hands of Government. Although they cannot turn back the tide, stop the rain or reverse rising sea levels, they can do much to protect us from what is foreseeable today and may become a catastrophe tomorrow.” Then looking to Government for ” the delivery of a policy that looks beyond sandbags to a long term preventive strategy is essential before the next disaster catches us as unprepared and underfunded as we were in 1953.” This is precisely the message Coastal Concern Action Group has been promulgating for the past four years.

Personally I am very pleased that Mr. Morley will be ” happy to meet the Hon. Member for North Norfolk ( Norman Lamb ) and discuss the problems.” Mr. Morley then went on to express his desire to deal with another problem: ” there has been misinformation about Happisburgh” he said. How right he is, however he omitted to tell the House that the misinformation has come from DEFRA !!

More than once he referred to the “lead authority” ( NNDC ). DEFRA have repeatedly said it is the responsibility of the District Council to identify what is required in their area for effective coastal defences, formulate those requirements into a proposal for funding and submit it to DEFRA for Capital Scheme Grant Aid. Indeed it is the bounden duty of the local authority to do precisely that for the long term safety and well being of its residents as well as securing the commercial viability of affected communities in their area. NNDC have done that on more than one occasion, all entirely without success. They have consistently identified the need for capital expenditure on coastal defences yet Government has consistently put obstacles in their path to obtaining grant aid. The net result has been no funding therefore no effective coast defences !!

It is high time Central Government applied some joined up thinking as well as co-operation with the local authority, that is the only way forward.

The latest changes to financial criteria forced upon us by DEFRA mean that it will be virtually impossible for NNDC to meet the threshold for capital scheme grant aid, so it will not be possible for them to fulfil their coast defence obligations to the people.

I firmly believe in the face of such Government intransigence and folly our District Council should submit plans and a request for funding to construct what we all know is required here, that is the continuation of solid defences (sea wall) from Cart Gap to Ostend/Walcott. This would protect the northern broads from inundation along with Happisburgh and it’s environs. This would have the joint effect of NNDC fulfilling their obligations and revealing where the true responsibility lies with DEFRA.

The United Kingdom is the fourth richest Nation in the world, as such we know that money is not a barrier to our protection from the sea, indeed the cost of joining up the hard defences here would appear positively minuscule when compared to Government wastage in any given year. So we as a Nation undoubtedly have the money to create proper sea defences, we also have the technical ability to create proper sea defences, we have a Local Authority that repeatedly asks for proper sea defences. So where you may ask is the problem?

It is true we have the same two Objectors throwing their spanners in the works every time causing delay after delay for any and every scheme at Happisburgh, however Central Government could sideline them and nullify their effect at any time if it chooses to. Thus far these two Objectors have aided and abetted Central Government by giving it reason to inject delay.

There are no excuses, the vulnerability of the Northern Broads to inundation by the sea and property losses at Happisburgh are without doubt the direct responsibility of Central Government’s lack of joined up long term thinking. If Central Government put as much effort into creating effective sea defences for this area as it does into creating artificial barriers to providing funds for sea defences we would all be safe and secure behind a superb defensive line.

Malcolm Kerby (17 March 2003)