Council says no, minister

North Norfolk District Council has taken a double swipe at a Government minister and the controversial new sea defence policy for Norfolk.

The council says environment minister Elliot Morley has been "disingenuous" in saying the new Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) has nothing to do with him. Council leader Simon Partridge said officers were following strict parameters laid down by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr Morley refused an invitation to visit North Norfolk to face critics of the plan, saying it was "pointless" because it was locally led. But Mr Partridge said the minister was being disingenuous, and council chief executive Philip Burton said Mr Morley was taking an "interesting line" as the SMP was one of three pilot schemes being funded by Defra, which also laid down the guidelines.

Under the draft SMP, £250 million of property would be lost between Kelling and Lowestoft in the next century as longestablished sea defences were abandoned under a policy of managed retreat. The plan would threaten villages including Mundesley, Overstrand, Walcott and Happisburgh. Public consultations on the plan run until the end of April, but the council has now issued a statement on where it stands because of pressure from councillors and the public.

Mr Partridge stressed that a formal view would not be lodged until the full public views were known, but the weight of hundreds ofletters and feedback from meetings was so far virtually unanimously against the plan. Meanwhile, a demand made by the Liberal Democrat's shadow chancellor this week for the SMP's withdrawal may be the highest-profile confirmation so far that the storm has finally reached a wider audience.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and coastal campaigner Malcolm Kerby been striving to highlight the issue, including a Westminster debate where environment minister Elliot Morley was quizzed on the plan and its effect on Norfolk communities.

This week Mr Lamb and his Lib Dem colleague, shadow chancellor Vince Cable, stated the party's position, saying the SMP "should be withdrawn because it is a fatally-flawed document". The statement said the SMP failed "to assess the full cost of abandoning the coastline" by failing to include costs including utilities, highways and recreation.

This made a "nonsens"e of the whole plan because it was "unacceptable to reach a decision to abandon a stretch of coastline, affecting whole communities, without a proper assessment of the economic impact".

There had also been an over-arching failure to address the issue of compensation for those people set to lose homes to the sea.

The issue will undoubtedly become a political hot potato in the run-up to the expected general election in May, particularly in North Norfolk.

The constituency's Tory candidate, lain Dale, has joined the fray in recent months and will welcome shadow environment minister James Paice to Norfolk next week for a public meeting.

Mr Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, welcomed Mr Cable's stance as "seemingly the first bit of common sense" on the issue from politicians outside Norfolk."

Points from the statement

The joint statement, agreed by all North Norfolk council's political parties, calls for the SMP to be halted to look at a range of issues not covered by the document. They Include:

  • The Impact of dredging on coastal erosion, which takes 12 million cubic metres of sediment from an area already suffering a shortfall of sand for its beaches. Ironically, more than half the dredged sands Is sold to shore up beaches elsewhere In Europe. Multi-million pound dredging income could also be used to help fund sea defences or compensation schemes.
  • A full cost analysis of what would be lost. The SMP looks at lost buildings but not roads, utilities, recreation facilities and the economy. Including tourism.
  • Comparing the full cost with the price of sea defences, which could make them more justifiable.
  • Looking at a compensation scheme to remove blight ensure social justice and maintain confidence in coastal communities.

Plan fails to count real cost

Thr Government's proposed sea defence strategy of managed retreat has been attacked by Norfolk's longest serving planning officer for failing to take account of the real cost to people.

Yarmouth planning officer Mike Dowling described the draft Shoreline Management Plan, currently out for public consultation, as "purely an engineering study".

He said: "One of its weaknesses is that it has notlooked at the costs of managed retreat. It is not just the cost of losing your houses and bungalows, but the cost to the coastal trade, the Broads system, footpaths and what's left of the fishing industry."

He addressed some 250 people at a meeting at Hemsby on Saturday and most were horrified after examining maps - many for the first time showing the impact on their communities of the preferred option.

They heard an estimated 55 seafront properties at Newport and Scratby would be lost within the next 50 years, holiday developments and infrastructure would be hit 100 years down the line, and Caister would have lost its seafront holiday centres and caravan parks and 50 commercial and residential properties. It was also possible problems might crop up as few as 10 years down the line, with property values hit.

Steve Ashton, a parish councillor from nearby West Somerton, said the plan included no balance sheet to show the true costs.