Coastline campaigners vow to fight on

CAMPAIGNERS trying to protect a vital stretch of the Suffolk coastline warned last night they would not give up their fight despite losing an important battle.

Richard Smith

CAMPAIGNERS trying to protect a vital stretch of the Suffolk coastline warned last night they would not give up their fight despite losing an important battle.

The Environment Agency has been given approval to submit a controversial draft strategy to stop maintaining the flood walls around Blythburgh, Southwold, Reydon and Walberswick.

These proposals were narrowly backed by the Anglian (eastern) regional flood defence committee meeting at the Environment Agency in Ipswich yesterday.

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The EA argues that it would cost �35million to do the maintenance and it is unable to find the funding.

But the Blyth Estuary Group says there is a viable alternative costing �2m and the group also point to a recently published report about sedimentation in the estuary. The significance of this report, which is still the subject of debate, hinges on whether the estuary accretes sediment or loses it.

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If accretion takes place then the river flow will be reduced and there will less impact on the estuary walls.

Mark Johnson, the Environment Agency's area flood risk manager, admitted: ''Our initial thought is that we accept that there is more sediment in the estuary than we thought.''

The Agency is waiting feedback from an independent analyst to assess the impact on the estuary and it was criticised for allowing the draft strategy to go the National Review Group (NRG) before the report had been fully analysed.

Andrew Blois, spokesman for the Blyth Estuary Group, said: ''When the strategy for the Blyth was put forward, we suggested that the EA's assumptions did not appear correct and the sedimentation survey supports our conclusions.

''This means that the existing river walls are more than up to the job if the proper maintenance is carried out, and we believe the work can be done for a fraction of the costs quoted by the EA.''

John Goodwin, a member of the regional flood defence committee, warned that there was an ''unseemly haste'' in pushing through the draft strategy to the NRG when the sedimentation study was still being assessed.

Tony Coe, chairman of the committee, warned that it was imperative that they made a submission to the NRG. ''If we do not, then it may be perceived that there is some split in the views of the Environment Agency and the bodies working together.

''The longer we leave sending it to the NRG then the longer we leave the estuary at a greater risk of serious deterioration.

''If we have the misfortune to have an inappropriate surge we could suffer serious damage in the short term and there are disbenefits in not sending it to the NRG,'' he said.

Richard Steward, a member of the Blyth Estuary Group, said after the meeting: ''We are very disappointed that they are passing this through to the NRG, a strategy which has been shown to be scientifically baseless.

''We think this will be rubber stamped which will lead to the eventual abandonment of the Blyth estuary.''

Guy McGregor, chairman of the Blyth Strategy Group, said: ''They have been determined to push this through.

''I'm obviously disappointed, but we're going to keep on fighting. These defences have been protecting the land for 300 years and there is still work going on, particularly work at Southwold Harbour, which has not been taken into account.''

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