Officials to discuss Broads defences

Officials from government agency Natural England will be in Norfolk this evening to discuss proposals to surrender 25sq miles of the Broads to the North Sea.

Officials from government agency Natural England will be in Norfolk this evening to discuss proposals to surrender 25sq miles of the Broads to the North Sea.

Tonight's meeting at Somerton village hall, near Stalham, will be the first time the government's conservations advisers have discussed the report at a forum in Norfolk.

A draft report outlining four options for dealing with the effects of climate change in the northern Broads caused outrage when it was reveaed in March.

These included proposals to abandon sea defences in between 20 and 50 years' time, allowing areas as far inland as Stalham and Potter Heigham to be flooded with the loss of at least six villages, thousands of acres of agricultural land and some top wildlife sites.

The proposals were first detailed by Natural England's predecessor, English Nature, and the Environment Agency in 2003 but were little-known until they resurfaced in this latest report.

The Environment Agency, which has overall responsibility for coastal defences, will be represented tonight, along with county, district and parish councils.

Most Read

The meeting, open to invited guests only, has been organised by the North-East Norfolk Coastal Parishes Group.

Chairman Michael Walker said he hoped it would help clear up confusion over Natural England's role.

“We're very pleased that Natural England and the Environment Agency are taking the opportunity to have this discussion. This is a positive step in the right direction,” he said.

“The blame that has been attached to Natural England for raising the possibility of letting us being 'inundated' by the sea in 50 years' time is almost completely inaccurate.

“The effect of the misunderstanding has been to cause widespread anxiety and people have lost confidence in their communities, believing that they will be lost to the sea in the near future. This is simply not true.

“It is vitally important that the agencies that are responsible for shaping and influencing policy on coastal management explain the current plans clearly and work with communities on helping to produce a shoreline management plan that is backed by the communities it covers.”

Natural England's delegation will include regional director Shaun Thomas, who said: “I am conscious of the concerns felt by communities who could be impacted by sea level rise, and the need for help to enable communities to adapt to climate change.

“Natural England recognises that environmental and social solutions need to proceed in tandem and, informed by the Broads report, we will engage with Government and communities to find an approach that allows successful and long-term adaptation to climate change.”

Steve Hayman, coastal manager for the Environment Agency in the region, said: “Through all our meetings and discussions with local people we are very aware of their concerns and worries about their future.

“Sea levels are rising along the coast and we've already seen the damage that winter storms can bring. Now, more than ever, it is important that we look at the options open to us, and the implications of these for the local communities.”

The group has also arranged a meeting with North Norfolk District Council chief executive Philip Burton on Wednesday to discuss the issue, and has invited environment minister Phil Woolas to visit the area on July 7.