Minister's defences pledge

Dominic Bareham A GOVERNMENT minister has reassured villagers living on the coast they will not lose their homes, even though a government body has put forward a plan to allow the sea inland.

Dominic Bareham

A GOVERNMENT minister has reassured villagers living on the coast they will not lose their homes, even though a government body has put forward a plan to allow the sea inland.

Instead, Floods Minister Phil Woolas said the government had called on the Environment Agency to provide a report on how the coastline can be protected from erosion over the next 100 years.

He also pledged £100m of government funding would be spent on bolstering defences over the next 50 years during a visit to some of the threatened villages where he met parish councillors and residents faced with the prospect of losing their homes under a Natural England option.

One of the options it has put forward is to allow a 25 square mile area and six villages to be swallowed by the sea over the next 50 years.

But Mr Woolas said: “I think that because of the circumstances locally, people have been unduly worried and I have come today to allay their fears and to say the government is not going to allow this area to be flooded.”

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During his whistlestop tour on Monday, arranged with the area's MPs Norman Lamb and Tony Wright, he visited some of the beleaguered villages, including Sea Palling, Hickling, Somerton and Scratby.

At Sea Palling, Steve Hayman, senior engineer at the Environment Agency, told him although the reefs that protect the area were fine acting as breakwaters, further erosion could happen with more storm surges.

Mr Hayman said the sea was “gradually migrating landwards” and without the sea wall the situation would be worse.

He added that for reasons of cost effectiveness and environmental concerns the decision had been taken to maintain the groynes protecting the coastline rather than the reef.

Mr Lamb invited the minister to meet villagers following a debate on protecting the UK coastline in the Houses of Parliament two months ago, discussing the situation privately after the debate.

He emphasised the importance of getting social justice for the threatened homeowners, which could involve compensating them to the market value of their homes before the value decreased because of the coastal erosion threat.

Mr Lamb was also concerned about Natural England's plans which could result in Sea Palling, Horsey, Hickling, Potter Heigham, Waxham and Eccles.

And the strength of feeling about Natural England's plans was displayed when petitions with 15,000 signatures were handed over to Mr Lamb.

Richard Starling, chairman of Somerton Parish Council, discussed the furore over the Natural England proposal with Mr Woolas.

He said: “Our local parish councillors were pleased to welcome the minister on his visit to us. We were pleased with his reassurance both to us and the media, which we hope will get the message across, that the area does not suffer a long-term blight as a consequence of the draft Natural England report.”

Jim Bratton, chairman of Scratby Coastal Erosion Group, said: “It was a very worthwhile visit and the minister showed great interest in the problems we are facing.”

Coastal erosion is threatening 22 family homes in Scratby within the next two to three years and 150 in total in the longer term.

Mr Wright said: “I wanted Phil down here in person so he could meet and discuss these pertinent issues with local residents face-to-face. We had a lot to discuss and there is a lot for Phil to take back and digest. I will be requesting a follow-up meeting to ensure the issues we face in Great Yarmouth remain in the spotlight.”

Robert Stephenson of the Scratby Coastal Erosion Group, said it was a great opportunity to discuss the situation at the highest level,

and he was hopeful that on-going talks between all parties would make further progress to secure the future of the community.

In the meantime the group is in discussion with the borough council regarding the project preparation for a rock berm extension from California to Newport. Once this work has been carried out it will enable backers to press ahead to seek financial approval from the government.

Eric Lindo, chairman of the Happing Partnership and Hickling Parish Council, presented the 1250 signature Happing Flood Defences Petition against the proposals when the north Norfolk MP visited Hickling with Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg last week.

Further petitions against Option 4 were presented by the Coastal Action Group, the Lib Dems and the Save Our Broads coalition.

These campaign groups have been calling for money to be spent bolstering the sea wall between Eccles and Winterton to provide an effective barrier rather than allowing the 25 square miles to be flooded.

A call was also made for ongoing flood defences to protect both the coastline and river system.