Monday, June 2, 2014
Are we prepared? Six months after the night of the tidal surge where hundreds of homes and businesses were flooded. In the first of our week long special, political editor Annabelle Dickson asks the Environment Agency regional boss what happens when the waters rise again.
Not all sea defences will be replaced in Norfolk and Suffolk, the regional Environment Agency boss Charles Beardall has said.
The area manager for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex said discussions were still taking place about whether the defences in Brancaster would be fully restored.
While the wall has been rebuilt so people using the golf club and the beach are able to safely get back to the village, Dr Beardall said they were still in discussions about whether a full repair will be made.
But he said they were hopeful a scheme at Blakeney Freshes could be found to protect the freshwater marshes, at least in the short term.
In Suffolk, it has been decided that barriers in Hazlewood Marshes will not be restored. Dr Beardall said: “There was quite significant to a number of sites, not just in Norfolk, but in Suffolk too. We are not repairing them all. We have done a lot of consultation with Natural England and communities, and there are some sites where we are not looking to repair.” But he added: “At Blakeney, it might be a wildlife site, but it is hugely valuable for the economy aswell.”
It is not a questions of if, but when.
Tidal surges are a way of life for those who live on our beautiful, but vulnerable coastline.
But on the night of December 6, the conditions conspired to see water levels rise to the highest levels ever recorded on some parts of the East Anglian shoreline.
Hundreds of homes and businesses were flooded, and cherished houses were lost.
The Environment Agency has been left with a £10m clear-up bill and 130 projects to complete to get the barriers back to where they were before the surge last year.
Environment Agency area manager for Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Charles Beardall thinks that the work, identified with the help of the military, will be done by the time the storm season arrives this winter, and in some cases the protection could be better,
“Rest assured that they are well protected,” he said. “We are proud of the fact that the defences held up really well”.
But his confidence does come with caveats.
Defences are only built to a certain level, and there are always more defences that could be built, but not a limitless pot of money.
There are 800kms of defences around Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex - nearly a quarter of all flood defences in England - and with a coastline, which he says is eroding very fast, the Environment Agency faces a big challenge.
Budget cuts will take their toll on other parts of the agency in the East, but feared staff cuts in the flood and coastal management department have been averted after the government wake up call and pledge of more money.
But Dr Beardall acknowledges there is never going to be enough money for all the schemes that people want to do.
Currently the agency uses modelling techniques to find out which areas are most at risk. Priorities are drawn up taking into account how many people and properties are affected.
A hierarchy of schemes is drawn up, but it also requires third party money from those who will benefit.
Dr Beardall said there were very few scheme that would not get any money through the central government grant - delivered through the Environment Agency - but the issue was really how much was required from the community or the beneficiaries of a scheme.
“There are quite a few schemes that communities really want that might protect a handful of properties, but are expensive. When they go through the system to identify how much public money can be justified, there are quite a few that come out with a very low percentage from us.
“There are some communities that have come together and been very successful in finding money to contribute to the little bit of money we have. Other areas where it is such a large amount of money – in the millions – it is very difficult to get that money together.”
He cited Scratby, near Great Yarmouth, where he said the community had found they had to generate a lot of money, but it has been very difficult.
So how often could we see these floods. Dr Beardall said: “We have surge tides all the time. Some are small and some are big. We have them every winter. The big ones are inevitable. It is not if they happen, but when they happen. We need to stay alert and continue to invest money in our defences and we need to protect the areas where there are big centres of population – Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft – because there will be other big tides that will come.”
“And we need to keep our defences in good condition,” he added.
Last December, we launched a flood appeal to help raise much needed funds to help the many people and businesses which suffered as a direct result of the storm surge.
We were overwhelmed by the scale of the response from our generous readers, and over a six-month period the appeal raised more than £330,000.
Donations were put to speedy use in the vital period soon after the damage, with money spend within hours.
Thanks to the appeal, hundreds of people and businesses in communities right around our coastline were helped.
The Norfolk and Lowestoft Flood appeal brought together readers, businesses, local authorities and voluntary groups, and we also received donations from across the country.
Prime Minister David Cameron praised the appeal when he visited Wells to see the damage first hand.
The remaining money will be used to improve flood defence projects on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.
To everyone who so generously contributed, thank you very much.