Fears for coastal communities

CONCERNS have been raised over a blueprint to manage Suffolk's ever changing coastline - with claims that one of its most prestigious resorts could be left vulnerable to flooding.

CONCERNS have been raised over a blueprint to manage Suffolk's ever changing coastline - with claims that one of its most prestigious resorts could be left vulnerable to flooding.

The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), which covers from Lowestoft Ness to Landguard Point in Felixstowe, has been drawn up to suggest how flood and erosion risk should be tackled in the future.

The blueprint has now been given the thumbs up by Suffolk Coastal District Council, which has taken the lead in the project in consultation with other interested parties.

But last night concerns were raised that it did not go far enough to protect some areas - including the resort of Aldeburgh.

David Andren, chairman of the Alde and Ore Association, said the plan suggested allowing a breach to the south of the town at Slaughden - leaving the area liable to flood.

His concerns were echoed by Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer and district councillor Marianne Fellowes, who said she would like to have seen a decision deferred so more information could be considered.

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However Andy Smith, cabinet member for coastal protection at Suffolk Coastal District Council, labelled the concerns 'alarmist'.

The SMP looks at how the Suffolk coast should be managed in the short (up to 2025), medium (2026-2055) and long (up to 2105) term.

Options available include everything from doing nothing to strengthening and maintaining defences in areas which are believed to be more important, such as Lowestoft, Southwold and Felixstowe.

At Slaughden it suggests that the area be left to a breach by the sea - much to the concern of Mr Andren and the rest of his group.

The report states: 'The main pressure for a breach arises from the persistent erosion of the coast. If this were to be managed to prevent a breach into the estuary considerable effort would be needed over time to prevent this...From a shoreline management perspective this would not be recommended.

'As well as the large resource needed, there would be significant adverse effects on both the landscape and nature conservation values. The alternative is to allow a breach, which the plan suggests, subject to the conclusion of a the broader scale integrated approach being developed through the Alde and Ore Futures initiative and the Aldeburgh Coast and Estuary Strategy.'

Mr Andren said a breach could be catastrophic for the local area, particularly Aldeburgh.

'If there is a breach at Slaughden this will almost certainly lead to flooding in Aldeburgh,' he said. 'There will be a great flow of water into the river at that point and this will cause levels to rise, creating a breach of the river walls protecting Aldeburgh marshes - as in 1953 and as almost happened in 2007.'

He said he would have liked to have seen a final decision delayed until all the information from the Alde and Ore Futures initiative was available, a view shared by councillor Fellowes.

She said she would have also liked the wording of the document to be more flexible, which would recommend future defence work should the need arise.

'There's a statement in the SMP which indicates that defence work may not be supported in the future that will protect against a breach at Aldeburgh,' she said. 'I would like to see that option left open. There are examples elsewhere in the UK - including at nearby East Lane - where projects have been privately funded by the local community. The Alde and Ore Futures Group is particularly looking at projects which involve the community - it would have seemed sensible that any decision was postponed until that work is complete.'

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer praised the district council for their efforts in producing the management plan but said he shared the concerns.

'I'm very worried about the Slaughden issue,' he said. 'We don't know what would happen of there was a breach. I think we should be very cautious - that seems the sensible way to work.

'A breach at Slaughden is historically one of the things we have tried to stop. I would want to see some very considerable, carefully worked through evidence before I was happy about this.'

The SMP will be discussed by Waveney District Council's cabinet on February 11 ahead of a special meeting of the Environment Agency Flood Defence Committee on February 26.

If approved it will then go to the Secretary of State for an environmental assessment, before being submitted to the Environment Agency director - a time scale which should see it given full approval in the summer.

Mr Smith said the concerns raised by members of the community were 'alarmist' and that the short term plan for the next 25 years was one of 'hold the line.

'The first thing to emphasise is that the SMP proposes to continue to prevent a breach at Slaughden for the next 25 years, during which time it is anticipated that current review of the Alde and Ore estuary will have had its recommendations implemented,' he said. 'The SMP is solely about the coastline and indeed includes measures that would help safeguard Aldeburgh from the threat of coastal flooding for the next 100 years. What the SMP cannot, and did not, do is look at the risk of future flooding from within the estuary as that is covered by the separate review being conducted by the Environment Agency.'