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Campaigners united over sea defences

PUBLISHED: 13:01 15 June 2008 | UPDATED: 20:37 05 July 2010

GROUPS fighting plans to abandon coastal areas to the waves have resolved to work together to convince the government to drop the controversial proposals.

GROUPS fighting plans to abandon coastal areas to the waves have resolved to work together to convince the government to drop the controversial proposals.

Councillors from across Suffolk and Norfolk coastal areas and from all levels of local government met for a conference in Southwold yesterday. Also among more than 100 delegates were coastal pressure groups, Natural England, Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer and Euro MP Geoffrey Van Orden.

They were united in wanting to stop the Environment Agency's policy of “managed retreat”, or letting nature take its course as sea levels rise and coastal erosion continues. The conference focused on the Blyth estuary, one of the areas which will be most affected by the policy, but also heard of concerns elsewhere on the Suffolk coast and in Norfolk. Delegates decided that co-operation and communication were the key to persuading government to drop the plans and instead invest in flood defences.

Guy McGregor, Suffolk county councillor for the environment, who chaired the meeting, said: “There is no longer the feeling that the government agency will have its way and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Simon Tobin, district councillor for Southwold and Reydon and vice-chairman of the Blyth Estuary Group, said: “We were shown a map of what would happen in 20 years' time with a policy of managed retreat. It was frightening. Large chunks of the Suffolk coastline would have disintegrated.

“The consensus is communication. There are many splinter groups, but we are beginning to pull everything together, making sure that the message is the same.”

Campaigners are due to meet with the Environment Agency in Ipswich on July 26 and environment minister Phil Woolas is due to visit the Suffolk coast next month. It follows on from a meeting in Felixstowe on Monday with Barbara Follett, minister for the east of England.

Mr Tobin said that the opposition was having an effect.

“We were getting a message from the Environment Agency of 'we are walking away from the Blyth estuary, managed retreat, we are not going to do anything.' They have been getting robust messages from the communities and from ministers that is not acceptable and they have got to come back and work with everyone concerned. It may be that some of the communities have to put money into flood defences but they are going to work with us.”

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