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Official grilled over Broads surrender

PUBLISHED: 10:07 24 June 2008 | UPDATED: 11:17 03 July 2010

A top official from an agency considering the surrender of a large swathe of the Broads to the North Sea walked into the lions' den last night to speak at a public meeting for the first time about the contentious scheme.

A top official from an agency considering the surrender of a large swathe of the Broads to the North Sea walked into the lions' den last night to speak at a public meeting for the first time about the contentious scheme.

Shaun Thomas, the regional director of Natural England, spoke directly to the representatives of communities that face the threat of being flooded in between 20 to 50 years' time.

And Mr Thomas told parish council leaders that more public meetings should be held over his organisation's leaked report which contained proposals to abandon sea defences from Eccles to Winterton.

While last night's composed meeting was in stark contrast to three highly-charged public debates in April, Mr Thomas faced a stern grilling over the economic ramifications of the scheme.

He was attending a special meeting in Somerton organised by the North-East Norfolk Coastal Parishes Group, which was formed to fight proposals to surrender 25 sq miles of the Broads to the sea.

Mr Thomas heard that people were still confused by the lack of information from Natural England.

Michael Walker, the meeting's chairman, said: “It has been absolutely appalling. Ninety-nine per cent of people believe this area will be flooded in a short time and there is nothing they can do about it. Whole communities are paralysed by fear.”

David Russell, from Sea Palling parish council, went one step further and demanded Mr Thomas visited villages in the area.

He said: “When are you coming to speak to them? That is what they want.”

Mr Thomas agreed that communication over the proposals should have been handled in a “different manner” and he would take on board the suggestions of having “open days” in the Broads and work with communities.

He was also keen to point out that Natural England only drew up its controversial plans as part of its responsibilities to inform government bodies on environmental issues and had no power to enforce them.

That decision rested with the Environment Agency and local authorities, he said.

Mr Thomas added: “It is not our job to make long term decisions about the future of the Norfolk Broads.”

Councillors quizzed Mr Thomas about the economic ramifications of surrendering the Broads and compensation to home owners. Mr Thomas replied: “It is not our role to assess economic value.”

The meeting also queried the data supplied by Natural England in its draft report, including a map showing the areas that would be affected by such a scheme, and Mr Thomas said further clarifications would be added to the on-going consultation.

One of four options for dealing with climate change suggested in Natural England's report was to allow areas as far inland as Stalham and Potter Heigham to be flooded, with the loss of at least six villages.

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