Boost to flood defence hopes

Hayley Mace Controversial plans to abandon flood defences along a vulnerable stretch of the north Suffolk coast should not go ahead if local people disagree, a government minister said last night.

Hayley Mace

Plans to abandon flood defences along a vulnerable stretch of the north Suffolk coast should not go ahead if local people disagree, a government minister said last night.

East of England minister Barbara Follett met council leaders yesterday to discuss the Environment Agency's plans to stop repairing flood defences in the Blyth estuary.

She said said she would give their fight a voice at Westminster.

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The agency decided last September that defences at Robinson's Marsh, which separates Walberswick from the River Blyth, would be maintained for the next 20 years but that nearby Tinker's Marsh could be left to deteriorate much sooner - a move that could spell disaster for Southwold harbour. The policy would leave 40 homes and thousands of acres of land at major risk, alter important wildlife habitats and leave the A12 road between Lowestoft and Ipswich at risk of increased disrup-tion from flooding at Blythburgh.

The talks at Felixstowe yesterday followed a letter to the government from key figures at Suffolk County Council and Suffolk Coastal and Waveney district councils voicing urgent concern about the plans.

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Mrs Follett said: "The government, its agencies and local councils must work together for an integrated solution to the dangers of flooding. You can't do something if locals disagree, especially in the context of a shoreline management plan.

"We have to listen to local people and work with them to decide the best way forward. I see myself as an electric cattle prod, ensuring that everyone works together to ensure joined-up thinking."

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for roads and transport, said: "The message has come back loud and clear that the minister understands our concerns and where we are coming from. This approach to estuary management has serious implications: for the Blyth itself, for the rest of Suffolk and for low-lying coasts and estuaries nationally. I hope the minister will be in a position to argue our case for government intervention."

Simon Tobin, Waveney councillor for Southwold and Reydon, was pleased the cause had government backing. He said: "It has been made clear by Mrs Follett that the agency needs to consider the overall implications of such strategies, not just the financial issues. Managed retreat would be devastating for this area and seriously affect the £320m from tourism which comes into Waveney each year. The A12 would be left to flood about 12 times a year, and the harbour mouth at Southwold would completely disintegrate."

Andy Smith, Suffolk Coastal's deputy leader, said: "Our attention is now firmly on the apparently uncertain future of much of the East Suffolk coastline, and particularly its estuaries, which has been put firmly in the spotlight with the agency's proposals for the Blyth."

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