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Let's unite on coast erosion

PUBLISHED: 13:21 27 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:38 05 July 2010

COASTAL communities across the country are being urged to unite in a single strong voice as they battle for Whitehall help to fight erosion problems.

The initiative comes from a Norfolk MP who is calling a Westminster-based conference to put the issues faced by threatened seaside towns and villages on a national stage.

COASTAL communities across the country are being urged to unite in a single strong voice as they battle for Whitehall help to fight erosion problems.

The initiative comes from a Norfolk MP who is calling a Westminster-based conference to put the issues faced by threatened seaside towns and villages on a national stage.

Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb says it is unfair that such communities are facing the brunt of picking up the bill for the impact of climate change - when the whole nation is responsible for causing it.

His calls came as the true cost of abandoning north Norfolk's sea defences was highlighted in a report seeking to help campaigners battle to get a better deal for people who homes, businesses and communities are on that front line.

Under a controversial government Shoreline Management Plan nearly 1,000 homes, 1,400 caravan and chalet parks, six hotels and guest houses, seven historic buildings, 3.5km of road, seven golf course holes and three community halls would be among the property lost to the sea over the next 100 years.

On top of the £100m price tag, another £357m of tourist income would be lost - all to save £41m worth of sea defence spending says a report for North Norfolk District Council, which is fighting to get the SMP changed including compensating people affected.

Mr Lamb, who is chairman of an all-party coastal and marine group of MPs, told a weekend discussion on the challenges of coastal living: “Norfolk is on the front line for climate change in this country.

“But you cannot expect people on that front line to bear all the consequences of climate change caused by all of us. It would be unjust.”

Afterwards he said he hoped to hold the conference just before or after Christmas to give communities - mainly from the south and east coasts of England - a “national voice.”

But the aim was to be more than just a one-off meeting. It was important for coastal communities to remain united, and have direct access to national talks about issues such as compensation.

The conference move was welcomed as “brilliant news” by Malcolm Kerby of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group.

He has already helped other communities from Yorkshire, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Somerset facing similar problems, who were now linking via a national website.

And he added: “The bigger the voice, the more likely we are to get the right response.”

North Norfolk District council is playing a leading role nationally in pressing for social justice for those affected by a change in coastal policy which is veering from “hold the line” to “managed re-alignment” which means gradually letting defences crumble to seek a more natural coast.

Coastal issues cabinet member Clive Stockton said the figures in the latest report were far higher than in the original SMP which failed to take into account intangibles such as the economy and tourism, and infrastructure such as the possible loss of the coast road between Trimingham and Mundseley.

“It shows that doing nothing is not a no-cost option, and strengthens our case for compensation,” said Mr Stockton, who is on a national group of coastal councils in talks with Defra officials about “adaptation” measures.

The report says scheme such as buying at-risk properties and leasing them to the current or new residents could give people back their investment equity, remove blight and see the homes enjoyed until they had to finally be demolished.

“If you buy a property at somewhere that is undefended and eroding with a limited life, you have made your choice and should live by it.

“But if people invested when there were defences there, and they are now being removed it is different.

“If the government is seeking a more natural coastline over 100 years it is perverse not to allow people the same timescale to adapt to it,” said Mr Stockton. “You cannot expect them to put up and shut up and disappear without a grumble.”

North Norfolk was working with fellow councils at Yarmouth and Waveney in a bid to get a jointly-agreed SMP that was acceptable to Environment Agency bosses, whose feedback was “encouraging” he added.

During the weekend coastal challenges meeting Eric Lindo, from the Stalham and Happing Partnership and who was heavily involved in opposing a Natural England scenario to abandon part of the Broads to the sea, said government spending on sea defences, at £110m, was relatively low, set against against £21bn for Eurofighters, £11bn for the 2012 Olympics and a Northern Rock bail out that would have paid for 600 years of coastal defences.

The meeting heard there was some good news on the sea defence front however, with a long-planned £9m scheme to repair breakwaters and walls at Cromer having been given the go ahead.

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