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.