Communities face battle to keep rising seas at bay if budgets slashed

COAST protection work along Suffolk’s shores may fall victim to deep public spending cuts – leaving people to repair their own defences to guard against storm surges and rising sea levels.

Landowners and residents are being warned they may need to “make do and mend” because multi-million pound “Rolls Royce answers” will be put on the back-burner.

John Gummer, president of Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR), said new local initiatives – such as the community effort to provide the funding for the Bawdsey defences – and alternative strategies such as tyre walls and using willow may have to be considered.

The former MP for Suffolk Coastal who has now taken on a new role as an environment and climate change consultant, said there would be “no absolutes” any more and organisations such as Natural England and the RSPB would need to agree compromises to allow coastal defence and renewal energy schemes to proceed as well as saving wildlife and habitat.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Alde and Ore Association, Mr Gummer deplored the current way in which defences were designed with 100-year plans and three-year budgets arguing that there needed to be more immediacy to deal with problems occurring now.

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“We have a system which says where we will be in 100 years’ time and then look at building something we expect to last 50 years, which is ludicrous – and we have a budget for three years, which is manifest nonsense,” he said.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in 100 years and to base our policy on that seems to me to be plain balmy and we don’t have accurate enough information to make those decisions.

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“Twenty years is far enough away the longest period in which you could make a reasonable assumption. That’s a sensible long-term.

“Communities will have to be more active, too in the future. It will be our duty to find practical ways of doing things because at the heart of it will be cost-effectiveness.

“I think we are going to have a period where make do and mend will be very important – the Environment Agency’s Rolls Royce answers to things are not going to happen.

“I can see people handing sandbags to each other to fill gaps and landowners will have responsibility to protect their own river walls in the way they can afford to do without people coming along to say you must do it this way.”

Mr Gummer, a former environment minister, said there would still be a need to protect fragile biodiversity but organisations such as Natural England and the RSPB should not have the right to simply say no when nature is threatened.

“I don’t want to lose the great-crested newt but I cannot agree that there should be no no-go areas – there should be compromise to find ways to keep the biodiversity but also have the energy scheme or best defences,” he said.

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