Money for flood defences will run out

Controversial proposals to abandon flood defences along a vulnerable section of the north Suffolk coast will leave 40 homes and thousands of acres of land at major risk, it has been revealed.

Controversial proposals to abandon flood defences along a vulnerable section of the north Suffolk coast will leave 40 homes and thousands of acres of land at major risk, it has been revealed.

People living around the Blyth estuary in Southwold, Reydon, Walberswick and Blythburgh will today be told that the Environment Agency (EA) only has enough money to protect the defences against rising sea levels, sparked by climate change, for another 20 years.

The EA is consulting with residents and farmers about its flood defence strategy and has pledged to try to assist them with protecting their homes and land where possible, but has also admitted that some areas of the flood wall may have as little as six months to five years left.

The policy will also leave the main A12 between Lowestoft and Ipswich at major risk of frequent flooding and Environment Agency officials are consulting with traffic chiefs to look for a solution.

David Collins, the EA's project executive for the Blyth Estuary Strategy, said: "We've got a 20-year period where we are doing as much as we can, but we've got to be realistic and honest about what we can promise local people beyond that. There is no more we can offer in terms of repairing and rebuilding defences.

"Over the next 100 years, sea levels are going to rise and we have to be realistic about what we can do."

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The eventual disintegration of the estuary's flood defences will also have a major impact on local beauty spots, with the Hen Reed Bed succumbing to the rising waters while Tinker's Marsh will moved from being freshwater to saltwater. Mr Collins said the agency would work with conservationists to build a replacement for the Hen Reed Bed elsewhere.

The Environment Agency's consultation document shows:

t It will maintain defences downstream of the Bailey Bridge for about 20 years;

t Over the next five to 20 years, the agricultural defences fronting Reydon and Tinker's marshes are likely to fail, meaning flooded farmland will become tidal;

t There will be increased flows through the harbour impacting on its use for recreation and business;

t Failure of the defences will result in significant changes to the network of footpaths around the estuary;

t Buss Creek may be strengthened to help protect Town Marsh;

t Town Marshes, which houses Southwold caravan park, is likely to be flooded within 20 years.

Mark Johnson, the Environment Agency's area flood risk manager, revealed £100,000 had been spent on repairing the estuary's flood defences during the past year and that an outlay of £2m over the next 10 years was predicted.

He said the agency received national funding from the government, but that not enough money was available to fund every flood defence across the country. “We simply can't afford it and difficult decisions have to be made,” he added.

Sue Allen, a Waveney District and Southwold Town councillor, said: “This is a very special area and I cannot believe the Environment Agency will let this area go just like that.

Mrs Allen is also a member of the Blyth Estuary Group, which works to maintain the estuary and harbour areas, added the possibility of self-funding projects would be investigated.

People can hear more about the plans at two public drop-in sessions today and tomorrow. Today's event will take place from 2pm to 7pm at Walberswick Village Hall, off The Street, Walberswick. Tomorrow's session will take place from 10am to 4pm at Reydon Village Hall, in Lowestoft Road.

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