Finding cash for coastal protection

Coastal villages with crumbling sea defences could be thrown a lifeline as a council juggles its finances to find £2m for temporary repairs.

Early budget planning in north Norfolk is earmarking £200,000 a year for coast protection to answer engineers' calls to "buy time" while a longer battle rages over shoreline management.

It means a string of seaside communities who were in danger of being abandoned under controversial new policies, can at least have their defences bolstered.

Happisburgh, which has lost a string of clifftop chalet homes to accelerating erosion in recent years, would get extra rock defences.

Groynes and walls would be mended at Mundesley, a retaining wall renewed at the east end of Sheringham, sea walls shored up at Overstrand, and the promenade and splash wall refurbished at Walcott and Bacton.

The money would be switched from North Norfolk District Council's reserves which means a loss of earned interest of £85,000 in the first three years.

But resources portfolio holder Peter Moore said: "It is a hit we are prepared to take, so we can look after coastal communities in a way no-one else seems prepared to."

The council can spend revenue cash on coastal schemes, but is not allowed to carry out major capital spending projects without Government approval from Defra.

All along the north Norfolk coast villages with long-standing defences face the threat of having them swept away - along with homes and businesses - by a new Government-inspired shoreline management plan which favours a more natural coastline.

The council's head of coastal strategy Peter Frew said the latest move was "brilliant news. "It cannot prevent everything from falling down, but it will buy us 10 years."

During that time coastal officials, councillors and campaigners would be battling to change the SMP, seek compensation and introduce a new coastal action plan aimed at helping seaside communities with problems.

The idea is mentioned in a financial strategy for the next three years which will be discussed by a special cabinet meeting next Tuesday.

Mr Moore said the council was keen to keep to its commitment of a local council tax rise of no more than 2.5pc.

Resources director Sheila Oxtoby said there were pressures on the £14m budget, including losing £50,000 worth of business rates from the closure of RAF Coltishall, having to find another £70,000 towards workers' pension funds and elections costing £110,000.

It would be possible to peg an increase to 2.5pc if there was no growth, but the council wanted to invest in a range of ongoing and one-off improvements, including upgrading computers and customer service.

They would have to be paid for by measures such as a review of beach huts, lifeguard services, and vacant posts - or to look again at whether the improvements were essential.

The council is also looking at £1.1m worth of capital schemes, including £500,000 for a new data management system.