Warning over sea defences rift

A leading coastal and climate change campaigner has warned of a potential rift among local authorities in East Anglia over controversial plans to manage sea defences, thanks to a "barmy" council decision.

The division between the various district and borough councils concerned with shoreline management plans (SMP) could leave victims of coastal erosion open to a postcode lottery when it comes to possible compensation in the future. It could also play into the hands of government officials keen on getting their own way, warned Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG).

The latest generation of SMPs propose that large sections of coast under go "managed realignment" rather than "hold the line", leaving communities at the mercy of the North Sea and thousands of properties at risk.

Although CCAG is based in the coastal erosion hotspot of Happisburgh, it has become involved at a national and international level on the issue of coastal defence, having its voice heard from Westminster to Europe. Yesterday Mr Kerby described a recent decision by Waveney District Council to accept the SMP governing the coast between Kelling and Lowestoft as "utterly barmy and without reason".

While on the face of it the Waveney decision to accept the SMP might appear to be the same stance as that taken recently by North Norfolk District Council, it is vastly different, said Mr Kerby.

"Both councils have in some eyes accepted the SMP, but North Norfolk has been very clear in the fact they are only accepting it with a string of key conditions," said Mr Kerby.

"That conditional acceptance is a world away from the non-conditional acceptance which Waveney are guilty of.

"Most important of the North Norfolk conditions is social justice and the debate about compensating people who suffer wholesale losses of their properties, losses they never expected to face until the change in policy was suggested.

"What Waveney has done in accepting without conditions demonstrates a complete lack of foresight.

"What is stopping Defra turning round in the future and saying 'the communities of north Norfolk wanted compensation, so they can have it, but the people in Waveney didn't want it, so they can't have it'. What an unmitigated disaster."

Mr Kerby said Waveney would realise their "dire mistake" once the next SMP, for the section of coast from Lowestoft to Felixstowe, started to be discussed in earnest.

"If anyone thinks there is a problem now, wait until that SMP comes out - then the muck will really hit the fan. A few people might need to duck."

Julian Walker, Waveney's principal service manager for coast protection, said: "There is not sufficient development and economic value in that area to justify government funds to undertake very high-cost coastal defences in the future.

"It is a government requirement that you do not spend more money to protect than the value of the houses.

"There are heavy constraints and we have got be realistic."