Attempt to reduce flooding risk

ENVIRONMENT Agency officials are talking to the owners of 23 homes in the Blyth Estuary over possible ways to reduce the risk of their properties flooding and minimising damage if they do flood.

ENVIRONMENT Agency officials are talking to the owners of 23 homes in the Blyth Estuary over possible ways to reduce the risk of their properties flooding and minimising damage if they do flood.

The move follows proposals to phase out maintenance of flood defences in the estuary in order to release more funds to help protect populated areas.

At first 40 properties in the Blyth estuary were expected to be at increased risk of flooding if the proposals went ahead but a further, more detailed study has established that only 23 of them are protected by the existing walls - in a deteriorating condition and, according to the Environment Agency, likely to cost £34million to re-build.

Officials are now talking to the owners about ways to protect their properties on a local basis - by creating small earthbanks in strategic locations.

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The officials are also giving the owners advice on making their properties more resilient to floods - by using new products which can more effectively seal doorways, air bricks and waste pipes through which floodwater can penetrate.

Dr Charles Beardall, Environment Agency area manager for Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, said it might be possible to use some local levy funds maintained by the agency but third party finance might be needed.

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“We are talking to all the landowners and local aurthorities involved and looking at all the options for working together on a collaborative basis,” he said.

Dr Beardall said £64million would be spent on flood defences along the East Anglian coastal belt this year - more than in any other area of the UK. A large part of the money would go on schemes at Felixstowe, Great Yarmouth, Jaywick and Ipswich.

Dr Beardall said £100,000 was being spent on the Blyth Estuary's north walls this year on top of £130,000 spent last year.

“We will maintain it for the rest of its viable life which we believe to be about five years. However, the work is difficult because the structure and ground conditions are not good. When you try to build up the top it tends to slip way at the bottom,” he said.

Environment Agency estimates suggest it would cost £34million to rebuild the wall and £6million to £7million to build a new wall further inland, neither of which it can justify on a cost-benefit basis.

Dr Beardall said there had been about 100 responses to the public consultation over the Blyth Estuary proposals and while these were still being examined, it was already clear that Government rules would allow no significant change to the strategy.

“We have been able to increase the cost benefit ratio in some areas but not enough to make a difference,” he said.

Similar proposals - to phase out maintenance of flood walls in the Alde, Ore and Deben estuaries are expected to come forward in 2009.

“Our money has to be spent where it gets best value in terms of protecting people and property,” Dr Beardall added.

Sue Allen, chairman of the Blyth Estuary Group, said: “We don't agree with the strategy but we have no option but to work with the agency and natural England and get the best deal we can.”

Emergency flood sirens on the Norfolk coast are to be tested on Saturday. The annual exercise, co-ordinated by Norfolk Constabulary, will take place between 9.30 and 10.30am at more than 50 sites along the coastline.

Dr Beardall said he believed the Suffolk warning system, in which people in flood risk areas can sign up to receive warnings by email, text, telephone or “fax, was preferably to a siren system which, he claimed, could cause confusion in the event of an emergency.

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