Coastal erosion could claim hamlet

A HISTORICALLY significant hamlet could be wiped off the map unless immediate action is taken to protect East Anglia's coastline and a Martello Tower perched on rapidly eroding cliffs.

A HISTORICALLY significant hamlet could be wiped off the map unless immediate action is taken to protect East Anglia's coastline and a Martello Tower perched on rapidly eroding cliffs.

Defences at Bawdsey have failed, putting the coastline in danger, with the inhabited Martello tower "W" at East Lane at risk of falling into the sea after only one severe storm.

Suffolk Coastal District Council has warned that if the tower disappears it will also remove all hope of a government grant for its frontage - leaving the coast undefended against devastating erosion.

As a result, the coastline could change as the sea carves into the region, putting Shingle Street in danger in as little as 20 years and the three other Martello Towers in the unique chain.

Communities at Bawdsey Manor, Bawdsey Quay and Felixstowe could also be affected as East Anglia changes shape, with coastal flooding endangering many acres of agricultural land and other heritage assets.

John Fell-Clark, owner of the Martello Tower "W", said: "The knock on effect of East Lane disappearing would be catastrophic for other areas of land behind it and in the following years flooding would stretch to the Deben Estuary.

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"It would change the mouth of the estuary and the knock on effect to Felixstowe.

"There is a huge impact involved and it has been muddied over and covered up by waffle. It is only now that people are saying that it's not just the Martello Tower that is effected, which is bad enough in itself, but if the tower goes that whole point would be going afterwards.

"If you look at the map, East Lane juts out of the shoreline and holds back the sediment coming down from the north. If you take it out of the equation the point would be reduced back in land by about 200m, if nothing is done.

"It is calculated that Shingle Street would also be completely cut off and eroded in 20 years of East Lane going. It will be uninhabitable.

"If it is allowed to disappear that would also affect the mouth of the Alde then it goes on eating away right up the river estuaries."

An examination of the coastline by Suffolk Coastal District Council's consultants, Royal Haskoning, showed that, despite maintenance efforts over the last six months at East Lane, the seven-year-old defences had failed.

The erosion is now accelerating. About 2m of the soft cliff material can be lost over a tide and the 10m between the cliff edge and the Napoleonic Martello Tower "W", could be lost over the period of a single, more severe storm.

Mr Fell-Clark called it a "desperate situation" and has stopped living at the Martello Tower, which he bought in 1985 when there were about 40m between it and the high-water mark, preferring to rent it rather than watch the sea destroy it.

And with the bi-centenary of the Martello Towers' creation coming up next year he said it would be a "historic tragedy" if it was lost to the sea.

In 1997 an emergency coast protection scheme was carried out at East Lane to protect the Martello Tower and the two cliff-top houses after the year's massive storm triggered the erosion.

Last September urgent maintenance of the defences was completed but earlier this year they were showing signs of wear and tear, as their expected life-span ran out.

Suffolk Coastal District Council and the Environment Agency had plans in place for major protection work to be carried out to coincide with the deadline, with funding mainly coming from the government.

However, just as the scheme was about to be given the go ahead the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) changed its system and downgraded the scheme to a low priority, scuppering the plans for about five years.

It has said that even in urgent and emergency situations, the priority score threshold would need to be met in order to gain a grant.

Despite efforts by local residents to raise money for the essential coastal defences, it looks unlikely that their efforts will yield sufficient funds in time to protect the tower, which was put on English Heritage's Buildings At Risk Register three weeks ago.

Residents have requested that the council's allocated £100,000 towards the £470,000 for the long-term Defra grant-aided defence scheme is combined with the £20,000 2004 and 2005 revenue budget allocation and any more money they can raise - so that substantive maintenance works can be carried out this summer.

At a meeting on July 20, the district council will decide how to deal with the problem, facing three options - either to do nothing, to carry out limited revenue funded maintenance or to complete the major capital funded maintenance.

District councillor Andy Smith, cabinet member for the natural and built environment, said the situation Defra had put the council in was "totally unjust" and was born from the government's concentration on inland flooding rather than coastal.

He said that if the council spends the money set aside for the project now to combat the situation in the short term then there would be no money left for the full scheme.

And with the council's annual revenue budget sparing only £20,000, there would not be enough money carry out the scale of the work needed.

"It is a terrible question of you're damned if you do or your damned if you don't," he said.

"We have to deal with the situation we are in and try to decide if we can find a prudent and feasible way to hold things long enough to get a chance to undertake the big scheme."

John Gummer, Suffolk Coastal MP, has been pressing Defra, ministers and the Secretary of State about the issue.

He said it was a "very serious position" and he is now looking for a public commitment to the piece of land and for Defra to have a warning system in place should a severe storm arrive.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "To attract Government funding, projects must meet technical, economic and environmental criteria; and must meet priority scores.

"Spending Review 2004 provides consolidated increases in funding at 2005/6 levels for the Spending Review period. Over time, the priority scores should reduce as a result.

"However, prioritisation remains a necessity to make sure the most important schemes in terms of risk reduction are done first.

"The valuation of benefits derived from protection of the Martello Tower could be included in the cost benefit analysis which feeds into the priority score."

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