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East Suffolk: Alde and Ore Estuary Partnership mark major milestone in safeguarding the future of flood prone communities

08:42 12 May 2014

The Ale and Ore Estuary Partnership is seeking ways to fund flood defences such as this one at Minsmere nature reserve

The Ale and Ore Estuary Partnership is seeking ways to fund flood defences such as this one at Minsmere nature reserve

Flood-prone communities in east Suffolk have celebrated a major milestone in their ground-breaking project to raise millions of pounds for coastal defences.

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The Alde and Ore Estuary Partnership (AOEP) held its annual meeting when around 100 members gathered to make final alterations to their plans to safeguard the future of the area until 2050.

Among the plans discussed was the news 40 landowners in the estuary area had offered to sell sites for development to help fund the project.

Partnership chairman Sir Edward Greenwell said: “Throughout the estuary there are many features that people value - property, land, walking routes, sailing and more - all of which depends on the current shape of the estuary remaining as it is.

“As such, people are gradually coming to realise that there’s a much broader purpose behind defending the coastline and growing levels of support for this project.”

Faced with declining government funding for flood defences and the “wake up call” of last December’s storm surge, the partnership has been investigating innovative ways to raise the £5-7m required to bring sea defences up to standard.

Sir Edward reported to the meeting that all of the landowners approached had agreed to sell off their land for development - making encouraging inroads towards the task at hand.

The land has been offered through the pioneering Enabling Development scheme under which Suffolk Coastal District Council permits agricultural land, not usually eligible for development, to be sold for such purposes because of its wider community benefits -in this case to achieve flood defences that would not be possible otherwise.

Previously the Environment Agency had allocated all funding for flood defence schemes but, faced with decreasing budgets, it has been forced to prioritise areas where the cost benefit ratio (CBR) is highest. Many areas of the estuary, because of their low population densities have very low CBR scores and are therefore ineligible for EA funding.

The partnership, however, has looked at the importance of the estuary - with its £76m tourism draw, valuable agricultural land and precious nature reserves - as a combined entity worth preserving in its entirety and stepped in to raise the money.

EA officer Karen Thomas, speaking at the meeting, praised the inroads made by the partnership.

“I want to say how amazing the partnership has been in this part of the world,” she said.

“This work has been going on for a very long time now and we have been building up a very successful relationship and so I’m very pleased that we are here tonight to get that final piece of the jigsaw in place so that we can protect the people and property and landscape of the estuary.”

Thursday’s meeting was held primarily to fine tune the flood defence strategy to protect the estuary and preserve its current shape and character.

Each local group or “flood cell” - from Shingle Street and Bawdsey up to Aldringham cum Thorpe in the north - used the session to highlight local knowledge from their particular area about what is most valuable in their local area or lacking from the plan so far.

Sir Edward, concluding the meeting, said the contributions had been “very important” and a “big step forward.”

“It’s a major milestone but there are many more miles to go and each one with a major stone to accompany it,” he added.

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