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Agency to draft in more staff

PUBLISHED: 10:58 10 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:28 05 July 2010

THE senior official at the sharp end of protest over the Environment Agency's plans to abandon some of the flood defences in Suffolk's estuaries has moved to a new job overseeing the region's response to the threat of inland and coastal flooding.

THE senior official at the sharp end of protest over the Environment Agency's plans to abandon some of the flood defences in Suffolk's estuaries has moved to a new job overseeing the region's response to the threat of inland and coastal flooding.

Dr Charles Beardall has moved from his job at Ipswich as the agency's area manager, covering Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, to become regional flood and coastal risk manager for the east of England, based in Peterborough.

It was also revealed yesterday that extra staff members are being drafted in to the agency's Suffolk-based team to help deal with coastal issues, including engagement with a public which has proved hostile to plans for “managed retreat”.

Dr Beardall, who lives close to the Suffolk coast, has been defending the agency's proposals to abandon some earth sea defences along the Blyth Estuary - on the grounds that they are not economically or environmentally sustainable in the face of current erosion and climate change forecasts of sea level rise and increased tidal surges.

He has also been overseeing the formulation of plans - still in outline form - for a similar strategy in Suffolk's other estuaries.

These are being formulated in line with updated guidelines from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) aimed at ensuring there are sufficient funds to protect centres of population.

However, Dr Beardall has now become responsible for co-ordinating the management of both inland and coastal flooding in the eastern region, initially on a 12-month assignment.

The Environment Agency has created similar roles in its other seven regions but the eastern region is thought to be the most vulnerable in terms of coastal flooding.

Dr Beardall said yesterday that creation of the new roles was in response to the widening of the agency's responsibilities.

Until recently, district council had been responsible for putting forward flood defence plans for the cliff-fringed areas of the coast and obtaining funds direct from Defra. The agency had only been directly responsible for low-lying stretches of the coast.

Now, however, the agency had been given responsibility for the entire coastal strategy and would respond to funding applications from district councils.

“The local authorities will still identify and deliver schemes but Defra has devolved responsibility to ourselves,” he said.

Dr Beardall also revealed that extra staff resources were being allocated in Suffolk to help deal with coastal issues, including the need to engage with the public.

The need for extra staff has become clear as a result of the public response to the Blyth estuary proposals.

“Public engagement is an important part of moving forward. We need the extra resources because engaging with the public is a massive job,” Dr Beardall added.

Sue Allen, chairman of the Blyth Estuary Group - set up to campaign for the continued maintenance of flood walls - said: “The arrival of staff in Suffolk to handle the flood defence issue suggests the agency is listening to the local community. We shall continue to work with them.”

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