Coastal communities need breathing space

Householders on the East Coast should pay more council tax to provide funds to compensate residents whose homes are threatened by the encroaching sea, says an expert on climate change

Meanwhile, he thinks the government should find the cash to maintain existing defences for two years to allow time for a coastal compensation fund to be set up.

Tim O'Riordan also suggests banning new development in the zone at risk from coastal erosion in the next 50 years.

And he says any compensation scheme for those with homes and businesses "blighted" by the threat should be funded partly by levies on offshore dredging and planning applications in the zone threatened by erosion in the next 100 years.

Prof O'Riordan, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, makes the radical suggestions in a report analysing the implications of the draft shoreline management plan (SMP) for the coastline from Kelling to Lowestoft.

The plan proposes abandoning conventional sea defences for all but major towns - which could condemn Norfolk clifftop communities such as Mundesley, Overstrand and Happisburgh to a watery grave.

The idea of "managed realignment" has caused uproar along the coast, with house values tumbling and residents complaining that they have been betrayed by the government.

Prof O'Riordan's team was asked by North Norfolk District Council to conduct the research. It sent detailed questionnaires to 500 householders and 100 businesses at Overstrand, Trimingham, Mundesley, Bacton, Walcott and Happisburgh.

Presenting the draft report to the council's coastal issues forum, he said: "People have spoken from the heart. Their peace of mind has been interrupted, their relationships have suffered.

"There is a deep sense of anger that they were not treated as respected human beings by the government. Houses up to a mile away from the coast were losing value by up to 25pc. And there's still chaos out there." He said communities should be given two to five years' breathing space before the SMP was progressed. "People will find it very difficult to negotiate if there's a gun pointing to their heads in the shape of coastal erosion. That why we recommend two years of continuing to defend the coast," he explained.

Jim Hutchison, from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), was at the forum session and promised that the government department behind the plan would analyse the report. He said: "We want to work with you all. You are at the sharp end. We will invite Tim to the next project board meeting."

Malcolm Kerby, from the Coastal Concern Action Group, said: "I like the report and the findings. Blight is an enormous issue. There's one way to stop it, and that's for the government to underwrite the threatened properties to the tune of 100pc."

Clive Stockton, deputy leader of the council, also liked the idea of a pause in the SMP. He said: "We have to buy time to allow people to move forward."