Letter from Elliot Morley: "Let's get the facts straight"

MALCOLM Kerby's determination to demonstrate government bias against the coast (Stop moving the goalposts, February 2) is bewildering. Despite having been provided with better information by this department, he continues to quote the same inaccurate figure of £47 million as the total government investment in flood and erosion risk management on the coast. This is such an important point for people at risk of coastal flooding and erosion and such a gross inaccuracy that I feel I must correct the record.

Mr Kerby is right that the figure of £570 million is the total (this year alone) for the country as a whole and includes inland flood risk management. However, the funding position on the coast is not nearly as bleak as he would have us believe.

Of that £570million, more than £5Omillion will be spent by the Environment Agency specifically on coastal and tidal flood risk improvement. A further £47million was set aside at the beginning of the fmancial year for local authority projects. We now expect local authorities to spend some £60million this year on coastal erosion projects. Total forecast government expenditure on coastal capital improvement works alone will therefore exceed £1l0million this year.

Maintenance and operational costs represent further expenditure and are funded from the balance of the £570million. Again, coastal maintenance gets a share of that.

The simple point being that the Government does not give one or other group priority. It considers every case and every demand on its funds on merits alone. We must give priority to those in greatest need.

I can wholeheartedly agree with Mr Kerby on one point. There is no room for misleading information. The threat to our coastal areas is important, to Mr Kerby, to others who have an interest because their property might be at risk, and to the Government. Its very importance makes it crucial that we should listen to each other, take account of the arguments and the science and try to understand what might be practical and sustainable in managing our coast and what might not. Muddling the issue by alleging discrimination where none exists helps no one.

Finally, I should just mention some locations on the North Norfolk coast that have benefited from Defra grant-aided investment in recent years, works costing several million pounds in total and carried out by the Environment Agency at Hunstanton, Heacham, Brancaster, Happisburgh to Winterton and currently at Blakeney and Salthouse. Many people in Cromer will understandably be disappointed that demand elsewhere means we do not have funding for the North Norfolk District Council project in Cromer in 2006-07. However, there is no need for them to follow Mr Kerby's advice to "kiss it goodbye".

There is no moratorium. It would appear the proposed works have a high priority in our scoring system and I hope that it might prove possible for us to provide funding in the not too distant future.

Elliot Morley, Minister of State for Climate Change and the Environment

DREDGING DISMAY: Happisburgh-based coastal campaigner Malcolm Kerby reacted this week with alarm to a report that said an area of seabed off the Norfolk coast where dredging had taken place had been lowered by five metres In the past few years.

But the company responsible, Hanson Aggregates Marine, insists there is no cause for concern. And Hanson is seeking to extend its licence for dredging Area 202, a 3 sq km patch of seabed 7km off Great Yarmouth.

To help win the extension from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), the company commissioned a detailed environmental statement. It read: "The overall lowering is concluded to be part of the natural evolution of this part of the sea bed.

"Since no adverse changes between 1999 and 2005 have been found, there is no cause for concern, from the viewpoint of coastal impacts, related to the proposed future dredging." But Mr Kerby, of the Coastal Concern Action Group, said: "I'm not sure how this can possibly not affect the coastline "Between 1989 and 2002, 162 million tonnes of sand was dredged in the Humber Estuaries and off the East Coast.

"When I heard that I was almost speechless. How can we be this stupid? It's absolute madness - but no one has done a report into the long-term implications of dredging off our coast. This new report is not comprehensive enough."

Yarmouth Borough Council's executive is due to decide this week whether to object to the application. Hanson operations director Ian Selby denied the dredging application was controversial and said his company had conceded permission to dredge a further 1.2 million tonnes from the adjacent Area 436.

Action plan for the unlucky 13

THREATENED coastal communities look set to receive special treatment in a new planning blueprint.

It will aim to achieve the balancing act of stopping new homes being at risk from crumbling shorelines while trying to keep the seaside villages vibrant. And the new North Norfolk masterplan aims to concentrate development in a smaller number of key communities. Cromer, Holt, North Walsham and Fakenham are earmarked for the lion's share of new building because of their facilities, job opportunities and needs, while Sheringham, Wells, Stalham and Hoveton are tagged secondary centres. The new Local Development Framework is also looking to single out a dozen larger villages that could take further expansion.

And 13 communities are included in a coastal issues area action plan that recognises the special pressures on places in danger of losing homes and facilities to the sea. North Norfolk District council deputy leader Clive Stockton said the Government wanted to ensure that some of the problems now being faced by coastal communities were not repeated.

Campaigners were fighting plans to abandon longstanding sea defences under a switch to more natural coastline management, but future planning policy would need to take the increased risk into account. That could mean some restrictions, but also things like replacement homes, roads, libraries and churches on safer ground.

"It is an awful balancing act. We need to keep communities alive, but it would be wholly irresponsible to allow development in areas under threat," said Mr Stockton. Council head of regeneration Steve Blatch said housing was the other key issue, and the new plan would be more responsive to the council's key policy of promoting affordable housing.

The council is, however, trying to get the number of new homes it is allowed by regional Government chiefs upped from 6400 to 8000.

Full public consultations on the options will begin in September. The document becomes a draft, and carries weight, from March, 2007, before being officially adopted in 2008.

A "BACK DOOR" that could allow the sea to inundate the Broads - destroying the environment and wildlife and taking a huge chunk out of the tourist industry - will be kept shut for another year after the Government agreed to hand over £2.6 million to build up beaches.

The move is an about-turn by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which last year withdrew funding for the key protection work in north-east Norfolk.

Now the Environment Agency has had a "good indication" that £2.6 million will be available for work between Eccles and Winterton in 2006-07. But campaigner Malcolm Kerby claimed ministers had been let off lightly because of a year of relatively calm weather.

Mr Kerby, of the Coastal Concern Action Group, said: "They thought they would get away with not providing the money. They have got away with it because it has not been the worst year, weather-wise. But they really had no choice this year. Imagine the scenario if they had withdrawn the money for two years and in the second year we had another 1953 flood and the sea broke into the Broads."

The money is likely to go to the Environment Agency to maintain battered groynes and pump sand on to beaches.