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Essex: Coastal landowners want more freedom to manage the region’s flood defences

10:44 10 January 2014

Coastal landowners and farmers in Essex should have more freedom to help manage the region’s flood defences, a rural lobbying group has said.

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The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) wants regulations to be relaxed, so landowners are able to have more say in their local flood schemes and can make repairs to sea defences without going through complicated consent procedures.

It says in the face of funding cuts from the government, the Environment Agency is prioritising urban areas at risk of flooding and that rural areas and isolated villages are getting a “poor deal”. It argues that some of this is valuable agricultural land and that if the public purse can’t afford to defend it, then local groups should be given more leeway to do so.

While the figures have not been confirmed, it has been widely reported that the Environment Agency intends to cut its workforce by 15% by October. Earlier this week MPs from the region called on the organisation to review the cuts in the wake of storm surges at the end of last year that caused millions of pounds of damage along the East Anglian coast.

But the Environment Agency says it has already agreed that landowners in Essex can make small repairs to sea defences without consent while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says it has introduced a partnership funding initiative designed to involve more local organisations in flood defence projects.

At the CLA, East regional director, Nicola Currie, said rural businesses and communities want to plan with certainty that flood waters and coastal erosion are being effectively managed.

“We’re looking to get the amount of red tape and constraints that prevent innovation reduced so local solutions can be developed to manage water levels and reduce flooding,” she said.

“Defra is inadequately funding its management of flood and coastal-erosion risk in rural areas. Present priorities for spending are largely based on the number of houses at risk.

“It needs to be easier for landowners to maintain their own defences, and to do so speedily – a ‘stitch in time’ approach is essential.”

But a spokesman for the Environment Agency said it is already working closely with landowners.

She said: “ Such issues are discussed in long standing and regular meetings with Essex Coastal Landowners. Indeed at the most recent meeting agreement was reached to allow landowners to undertake minor works on sea walls themselves without the requirement of applying for any consent.

“Coastal realignment schemes are always sensitive and no scheme would ever progress if the landowner was not supportive.”

Charter surveyor, Michael Hughes, is a member of the Essex Coastal Landowners, a group formed to liaise with the agency. He says the recent agreement is a step in the right direction but that more can be done.

He said: “ Under the new arrangement landowners can now repair holes in sea defences that are less than 2m wide and 2m high. But there are still other regulations that could be relaxed to help landowners manage flood defences.

“For example, housing developers that remove soil from a site have to take it to landfill because it is deemed as waste. But we say it would be cheaper and helpful if some of it could be used to shore up sea defences.

“The old days when it was us against them are in the past but there are still things the government can do to empower landowners.”

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