Broads abandonment now a reality

IF the people of Happisburgh have demonstrated one thing, it is that unless you stand up and shout loudly enough and over a long enough period of time, there is every likelihood you will be ignored.

IF the people of Happisburgh have demonstrated one thing, it is that unless you stand up and shout loudly enough and over a long enough period of time, there is every likelihood you will be ignored.

Whether that lesson will be learned by the thousands of people who could be affected, made homeless even, by a proposal to allow the North Sea to flood 6,500 hectares of Norfolk, remains to be seen.

Although the essence of the news that this could indeed happen was not new and has its basis in a 2003 report, things have changed overnight in the minds of many people. The feeling is that the prospect of a Broads abandonment is nearer than it ever has been and has gone from pie in the sky to genuine threat.

Barb Hewitt, landlady of the Nelson Head, in Horsey, said: "The subject of sea defences is one which comes up regularly in the pub. But it always tends to be quite vague; there is not a lot of detail discussed; it is simply the wider issue which is raised.

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"Now we read this sort of thing and it makes it come closer. It would be a devastating shame if it were to happen; people take so much joy in coming out to this part of the world.

"We are not panicking yet, but what happens when we want to sell up and retire? What will the value of our home and business be then?"

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Her husband Andy said: "This is one of the prettiest areas you could find in the country; to let it go would be criminal. There are parts of the coast where problems like this have been addressed and defences bolstered, so why not here?

"The trouble is, so many people have lost faith in this government; we feel the public is not listened to anymore."

At Sea Palling, a community which knows plenty about the power of the sea, lifeboat chairman Sam Sheldon said he had heard of such a plan before "in different guises".

He said: "Frankly, it smacks of faceless bureaucrats sitting behind closed doors, not having to answer to anybody and making decisions about people's lives and livelihoods - and we have no recourse.

"We all know that rising sea levels are a problem and something has to be done, but this plan seems to be beyond the pale. This is not just about land, it is about people's future, homes and businesses."

Several miles inland it may be, but at Potter Heigham the risk to livelihood could turn out to be as real as it is on the coast.

Rita Sharp, landlady of the village's Falgate Inn, said: "I think as a country we need to take care of ourselves financially first and we don't always do that. A few people locally realise Potter Heigham could be involved in all of this, but most do not."

Back to Happisburgh, and Coastal Concern Action Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby is typically bullish in his summary of yesterday's news: "It is what we have been saying for years now and perhaps people will now start to realise this could actually happen. The point the governmental mafia is missing is that predictions for the coast are so often wrong.

"We need to change the attitude and realise it is naïve to simply say 'well, it's going to happen sometime anyway because of climate change'. There is no guarantee the predictions are right and if we throw it away now for no good reason, there will be plenty of regret down the line.

"This piecemeal mismanagement of the coast needs to stop, the government needs to be far more clever about it."

There was a typical level of Norfolk humour afoot during yesterday's reaction, as Mr Hewitt, sitting next to the roaring open fire in the Nelson Head, said: "We are a little higher here at the pub than the rest of Horsey, so I suppose we could have moorings for the boats outside the pub!"

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