'Protect us' plea to government

Reassurance is being sought from the government that Norfolk's battered coastline will be closely monitored following £5m cuts to the flood defence budget.

Reassurance is being sought from the government that Norfolk's battered coastline will be closely monitored following £5m cuts to the flood defence budget.

In a letter to ministers, Norfolk county councillors also want a commitment to funds to allow the Eccles/Winterton beach recharge scheme to be reinstated together with other priorities shelved because of the cuts.

Speaking at a full council meeting yesterday, Ian Monson, cabinet member for waste and the environ-ment, said: “Most of you will have read the headlines in the EDP about the £5.2m budget cuts to Anglia's Eastern Area flood defence budget, closely followed a few days later by the minister for climate change and the environment, Ian Pearson, stating that there may be hope of compensation for householders at Happisburgh and Trimingham threatened by cliff erosion.

“The statement from the minister may appear optimistic, but we cannot yet assume that it represents a change in government policy on the matter of compensation.

“The very real cut to the local flood defence budget is, in practice, the only clear signal we have of the government's intentions towards flood protection and the management of our coastline.

“The beaches are our most effective front line of defence against the sea and to disregard their loss is foolish. Environment Agency officials say that this scheme is 'pencilled in' for next year (2007-08) but we need greater reassurance that the scheme will actually happen, and that it won't keep slipping from a scale that is no longer economically viable.”

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The EDP reported that the Environ-ment Agency (Anglian Eastern) regional flood defence committee had received details of its budget, which had been agreed by Defra nationally on a priority basis set this year at £33m - £5.2m less than last year.

In Norfolk and north Suffolk, money will continue to be spent on the private-public partnership Broadland Flood Alleviation Project, and another £250,000 will be made available for smallscale developments in Yarmouth.

A further £1m will go to improving flood defences along the River Wensum in Norwich, though this is from money raised by a Norfolk County Council levy on council tax rather than through funding from Defra.

But a £2m scheme deemed essential by experts to protect the Broads from being breached at their most vulnerable stretch between Eccles and Winterton has been culled.

A motion passed by county councillors states: “We seek reassurance that the state of our coastline will be closely monitored over the forthcoming year and a commitment to provide sufficient funds to allow the Eccles/Winterton beach recharge scheme to be reinstated in the following year, alongside other priorities on the East Anglian coastline which have had to be shelved.”

Councillors also expressed concern about a general lack of maintenance of the rivers and flood protection inland.