Coastal erosion aid scheme dropped in North Norfolk

A planned 'buy to lease' scheme aimed at helping seaside homeowners and communities threatened by erosion is being dropped by a coastal council.

But officials in North Norfolk are looking at other options and a campaigner says there are better ways of boosting blighted communities.

Buy to Lease was being investigated as a way of an authority purchasing properties in danger of being lost to erosion between 2025 and 2050 - and leasing them back to the owners or someone else.

It would give the householders more security and scope to decide their future and remove the wider blight caused by lack of investment in doomed properties.

But officials have now say the council should not proceed with the scheme because of a raft of problems including that the long term risks and liabilities were too great.

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Council cabinet member for coastal issues Angie Fitch-Tillett said Buy to Lease was one of the options to help householders. It could work in areas not affected by erosion but the certainty of loss meant properties had not been maintained and were not up the standards needed by a social landlord such as a housing association.

'We are not a social landlord, we would not get a return and the homes are not up to standard,' she explained.

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The �170,000 budget for Buy to Lease meant it would only be able to used on one or two properties.

It would be disappointing for the owners affected but the council would be looking at other options said Mrs Fitch _Tillett, who has recently been made the lead on coastal erosion in the national special interest group of the Local Government Association.

Other schemes helping coastal communities adapt to erosion issues were pressing ahead, she stressed.

Coastal campaigner Malcolm Kerby said Buy to Lease was not an option he personally favoured. He preferred a different approach - property value underwriting - which is among the council's alternatives.

Ever since 2004 he has called on the government to underwrite properties affected by the abandonment or removal of existing sea defences.

'Our island has been eroding for millennia. Our first priority must be to defend. We need a 21st century solution - a socially just alternative. Where the private sector fears to tread the angel of government should walk,' he added.

Ministry officials fought shy of the underwriting idea because they feared it was writing a blank cheque.

But with only around 250 properties affected nationwide the multi-million bill was still much smaller than other government spending such as fighting wars in Afghanistan, added Mr Kerby.

There is positive news with other initiatives under the Pathfinder scheme, which saw �3m of a �11m national pot given to North Norfolk to tackle issues arising from coastal erosion.

Ninety businesses have been helped under a business support scheme stretching from Cromer to Happisburgh.

And now the council is moving towards providing more grants and loans to help ventures needing to adapt to their coastal circumstances but struggling to get help through private finance.

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