Apology over sea defence distress

The government agency behind proposals to surrender a large area of the Broads to the sea has apologised for the alarm and distress it has caused.Natural England has also denied it was “callous” in suggesting plans.

The government agency behind proposals to surrender a large area of the Broads to the sea has apologised for the alarm and distress it has caused.

Natural England has also denied it was “callous” in suggesting plans.

However, its principal specialist in climate-change evidence, Dr David Viner, said the agency understood the concerns of people who fear their homes may be lost, indicating that they should be compensated by the government if the scheme went ahead.

But he said difficult choices had to be made over the future of the Broads in response to climate change, and that Natural England had been right to start a debate on the subject.

Under the proposals coastal defences between Eccles and Winterton could be abandoned after 50 years or sooner, allowing 25sq miles of countryside - including at least six villages, thousands of acres of farmland and some internationally important wildlife sites - to be flooded.

This scenario was one of four options for the northern Broads set out in a draft Natural England report discussed at a climate change conference in Norwich in February.

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A government minister is due to be questioned on the subject today at a parliamentary debate called by Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson. North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb is also involved and is writing to Natural England to formally ask them to withdraw the option of surrendering the 25 square miles to the sea.

Speaking in his first extensive interview since details of the proposals emerged, Dr Viner admitted Natural England had anticipated they would cause controversy.

“We were fully aware of the impact of presenting a scenario - I must stress they are scenarios, not plans - that would appear to, without much consultation, deliberately lose villages and homes,” he said.

“In terms of this project, it was a research exercise. There are other scenarios in place where, as it's part of a managed action, compensation measures would be in place. The social justice issue would be high on the board because we know how unacceptable it is.

“I can totally understand the concerns of the local population and that's something we've got to hold our hands up to and say, 'Look we're very apologetic about that'.

“We weren't looking at this from just a callous perspective. We were hoping - and it's still planned - to talk to the local communities involved and explain that the Broads are going to change.

“The plans were to adapt the Broads area and weigh up the fact that change can happen quicker than we anticipate. Cost issues will come into it in terms of how we manage this.

“But I would emphasise relevant government agencies are committed to protect that area for the next 50 years and maintain the sea defences accordingly.”

Eric Lindo, chairman of Stalham with Happing Partnership and a leading campaigner against the surrender proposals, said: “I still say it has been a very callous, almost off-hand approach from Natural England.

“Why have we had six weeks of stress, concern and worry? Dr Viner was offered the opportunity to come to a public meeting in Hickling and put a dampener on this but chose not to.

“However, I'm pleased to hear he acknowledges there are people issues that have to be considered along with the nature issues, and hopefully we will be considered as important.”