Changes in climate pose major threat

The vulnerability of the region's sea defences was displayed all too starkly at the end of last year, when a devastating storm on November 1 led to several breaches along the Suffolk coast between Dunwich and Walberswick.

The vulnerability of the region's sea defences was displayed all too starkly at the end of last year, when a devastating storm on November 1 led to several breaches along the Suffolk coast between Dunwich and Walberswick.

The EA agreed to pay £20,000 to repair the breaches, but said it would be a one-off project. Meanwhile, a major consultation exercise to consider the long-term flood management of that section of the Suffolk coast is due to report back later this year.

Last week, there was fury when the decision to cut £5m from East Anglia's flood defence budget was announced. It means projects to recharge - build up - beaches between Eccles and Winterton will not be carried out for at least a year. Particularly intensive work was planned for the Horsey area as part of the package of work valued at £5½m.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb described the funding decision as scandalous and the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group said villages like Hickling, Waxham and Sea Palling, as well as 6,000 hectares of the Broads, would be put under threat.

However, in a visit to the region earlier this week, Ian Pearson, the minister for climate change and the environment, stressed the Government funding to the Environment Agency was actually being increased from £413m to £430m and that the resources going to the region were being cut by the agency.

Steve Hayman, project manager for the Environment Agency, said: “We are under no illusions. We are well aware if we get a problem with the sea defences, there is the potential for water to spread a long way inland. There are 14km of sea defences from Eccles to Winterton and obviously we regularly monitor there conditions.

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“It's never easy because we don't even know what's going to happen next week, but I think we can say with a fair degree of confidence that the defences are in a good condition at the moment and it would need an exceptional event to break through them.

“At the moment we don't see a problem but we would have been much happier if we had been able to progress with the work. The last thing I want to do is give out an image of complacency, but at this moment in time the risks are manageable.”

However, with scientists saying that climate change and rising sea levels will put even more pressure on vulnerable coastlines, Mr Hayman admitted difficult times could be ahead.

“We are being told by the scientists that the challenge of keeping the North Sea at bay is going to increase in the medium and long term so we need to keep making the point to the government that there is going to need to be an increase in funding for work to protect the coast and keep people safe from flooding.”

Mr Hayman said a sea wall was built along the coast between Eccles and Winterton, but that intact beaches were needed as a strong first line of defence.

“It's a good strong wall, but the first length was built after the 1953 floods. It has been there for 50 years so there is going to be wear and tear. For the wall to be fully effective, it needs a nice, healthy beach in front of it.

“It's been made clear we are not going to get the finances in the next 12 months so our role now is to do whatever we can to maintain the defences and keep pushing our case so we get the go-ahead in 2008/09.”