£5m cut from flood budget

A Norfolk MP yesterday branded a decision to cut £5m from East Anglia's flood defence budget - threatening the future of the Broads - as scandalous and potentially as bad for the government as New Orleans was for the US.

A Norfolk MP yesterday branded a decision to cut £5m from East Anglia's flood defence budget - threatening the future of the Broads - as scandalous and potentially as bad for the government as New Orleans was for the US.

Leading Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb said that the government's budget cut, which means that work recharging the beach between Eccles and Winterton will not go ahead, was "ludicrous" and "could be disastrous".

And even the Environment Agency, normally too diplomatic to criticise its bosses at Defra, described the funding settlement as "particularly disappointing".

The Environment Agency Anglian (Eastern) Regional Flood Defence Committee yesterday received details of its budget, which had been agreed by Defra nationally on a priority basis, set this year at £33m - £5.2m less than last year.

In Norfolk and north Suffolk money will continue to be spent on the private-public partnership Broadland Flood Alleviation Project, and another £250,000 will be made available for small-scale developments in Yarmouth.

A further £1m will go to improving flood defences along the River Wensum in Norwich, though this is from money raised by a Norfolk County Council levy on council tax rather than through funding from Defra.

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But no longer on the table is a £2m scheme deemed essential by experts to protect the Broads from being breached at their most vulnerable stretch, between Eccles and Winterton.

It is claimed that the decision to stop paying for beach recharge between those two villages, which protects the under-threat cliff just 1½ miles from the edge of the Broads, could see Norfolk's famous waterways breached, damaging the area's ecology and threatening the homes of thousands of villagers.

North Norfolk MP Mr Lamb said: "The Environment Agency has told me that not recharging the beaches there would cause a significant threat to the Broads.

"To hear that this is happening is just unbelievable, absolutely scandalous. You can draw comparison to New Orleans, where the scandal came after the event when it emerged the US government hadn't done what they should have done to protect the defences.

"Defra may think that the Norfolk coastline is a soft target now but there will be widespread scandal if the defences are breach-ed. This is short-sightedness at its worst and we will be the ones that pay for it."

Malcolm Kerby, spokesman for Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group, added: "This decision will put villages like Hickling, Waxham and Sea Palling under huge threat, not to ­ mention 6,000 hectares of the Broads.

"It is another example of Defra's total inability to manage the coastline. By massively underfunding flood defence works they are putting thousands of homes at risk."

Anthony Coe, chairman of the flood defence committee, said: "The East of England still has one of the largest flood defence budgets in the country with an important programme of work, but we are disappointed that the funding falls short of what we would have liked."

Money will instead be going to fund massive flood defence programmes in Carlise and Weston-super-Mare, but Mark Johnson, Anglian flood defence manager, said the Environment Agency would lobby Defra hard for more funding in the next budget settlement.

Last night a Defra spokesman said: "There is not a limitless pot of money for funding flood risk management and there will always be schemes which cannot be taken forward as quickly as some would like.

"However it is important that the large amount of funding from taxpayers is targeted to address our national priorities. The government looks to the Environment Agency to prioritise its flood risk management programme across the country to address those priorities."