North Suffolk DIY coast defence scheme ‘blocked’

A TINY North Suffolk hamlet which faces being abandoned to the sea claims it is now being prevented from proceeding with its self-funded DIY coastal defence scheme.

Residents in Covehithe, just north of Southwold, face an uncertain future if Suffolk's Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) is given the green light.

The scheme has been drawn up to suggest how flood and erosion risk should be tackled along the coast from Lowestoft Ness to Landguard Point in Felixstowe.

As revealed earlier this week, Suffolk Coastal District Council's cabinet will be asked to formally adopt the SMP on Tuesday (November 1), while Waveney District Council's cabinet will be asked to do the same the following week.

At Covehithe it recommends a policy of 'no active intervention' for the next century – meaning that within 30 to 40 years the entire hamlet, including homes, an historic church and important conservation areas, will be lost.

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The settlement falls within the Benacre Estate, which has been run by the Gooch family since 1746 and is owned by Lady Gooch.

Last night her son-in-law, Edward Vere Nicoll, estate manager, said they would be willing to fund their own defence project but the SMP, which has been drawn up with the help of the Environment Agency and Natural England, prevented it.

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'It is so blinkered,' he said. 'They haven't allowed us to put forward plans for doing it ourselves.

'We have told them countless times that we would be willing to fund our own defences. We wanted to do a trial area, to leave it for five years and watch it.

'The reason given for why we couldn't was sediment shift from Southwold beach. That opinion is without modelling or independent peer-review and is contrary to a previous opinion.

'Why should we be sacrificed? People's homes are there – there is a 14th Century church. We are sick and tired of talking to a brick wall. The landlord should not be precluded from putting forward their own plans.'

Mr Vere Nicoll said the type of defences they had hoped to install were similar to those further down the coast at Dunwich and Thorpeness.

'We wanted to be extra special and environmentally clever with it,' he said. 'It's only really to stop storm damage. We just want to be able to protect the cliffs. We are losing about 18 acres of land every year.'

Although the SMP would continue to manage flood risk in all of the county's main coastal towns and principal villages, areas with no proposed measures in place could be lost to the North Sea by as early as 2055.

The plan suggests finding alternative sites for areas of internationally designated habitat, while investing in further research to record valuable information before it is gone.

Mr Vere Nicoll said about 390 hectares of vitally important and protected countryside would be lost – a move contrary to EU law because it was being abandoned with no public benefit.

And he believes the cost of moving the wildlife areas inland would be more than the amount required to protect the whole of the coast from Southwold to Kessingland with rock groynes for 100 years and to rebuild all the walls in the Blyth Estuary.

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal and Waveney district councils said no formal proposal for sea defences had ever been submitted for consideration so it was wrong to say anything had been rejected.

'The SMP has been approved by Defra and the Environment Agency, and we have taken legal advice while drawing up the plan and before sending it off for approval, and our view is that it is legally sound,' he said.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Agency also said they would be happy to meet with Mr Vere Nicoll and discuss any proposals.

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