Red tape surrounding the upkeep of coastal and flood defences should be cut in order to make it easier for farmers and landowners to take control of vital repair work, according to a landowners’ group.

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The call comes following last night’s tidal surge hit the east coast, leading to the Environment Agency (EA) issuing a raft of severe flood warnings. The surge saw major flooding from Lincolnshire down through Norfolk into Suffolk and Essex.

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) East regional eirector Nicola Currie said: “The situation is far from ideal with EA withdrawing from previous levels of spending. Coasts and rivers need sufficient resourcing and management to ensure the impacts of flooding and erosion are kept to an absolute minimum to safeguard rural businesses. Farmland inundated by seawater can take some time to recover and also puts livestock at risk.

“In terms of food security, there is an essential need to protect an important asset for the future particularly with climate change. Defence of fine arable land is for the public good, and if the Government isn’t going to do it then it should be made as easy as possible for the landowner to do it, as long as he doesn’t compromise his neighbour’s land.”

Andrew Blois, who owns the Hinton Estate, near Blythburgh, sits on the CLA’s Suffolk Branch Committee and Environment Committee, and is involved in the Blyth Estuary Group, said: “Even if the EA are not going to carry out schemes because Government spending isn’t what it was, they should be seen to be not actively hampering land owners who want to protect their land.

“In some cases landowners are being told not to defend their land, and if you want to defend it the hoops you have to jump through are prohibitive. You need planning permission and flood defence consent – but why do you need planning permission to repair a river wall? You don’t need planning permission to repair the roof on your house.

“Generally speaking, landowners and farmers have the knack of coming up with innovative ideas that work twice as well for half the money. This is generally quite effective and we need to harness this.”

Chairman of The Alde and Ore Estuary Partnership (AOEP), which manages defences along the Suffolk estuary, Sir Edward Greenwell said: “There have been examples of ‘self-help’ by individual farmers and landowners in terms of flood defences, and what we (AOEP) are trying to achieve is formalisation of that. We have recruited the EA to be on side with us and they are contributing. We know what our strategy is for the estuary, we know pretty much what we need to do length by length of the wall, and the two hurdles are the regulations and the money.

“I’m chairman of the East Suffolk Internal Drainage Board (IDB) too and we are working so that the IDB is the delivery agent for the AOEP. The partnership will decide what will happen, it will raise the money as a charity, and the IDB would get the thoughts of a locally retained engineer and he would decide what needed to be done. The IDB would hone that and get a contract together and oversee it. Therefore we will be saying ‘we (AOEP) have got a million pounds to spend on this defence, we know what we want to achieve, will the IDB please draw up a contract and go out to tender and manage the whole thing’.”

Sir Edward, who is also the honorary vice-president of the CLA’s Suffolk Branch Committee, added: “The CLA would like to see the IDB take control, because it is local control and a return of control to the people on the ground who know much more about what is going on and have a far greater interest in making sure things get done.”