Farmland at risk from 'tidal surge'

LARGE areas of prime agricultural land will be lost to the sea if a future tidal surge hits the east coast, an MP warned yesterday.Farmers and landowners claim the Government has abandoned sea defences in Essex, said John Whittingdale, MP for Maldon and East Chelmsford, who took a delegation to meet Elliot Morley, Minister for Environment and Agri-Environment, to discuss sea wall maintenance.

LARGE areas of prime agricultural land will be lost to the sea if a future tidal surge hits the east coast, an MP warned yesterday.

Farmers and landowners claim the Government has abandoned sea defences in Essex, said John Whittingdale, MP for Maldon and East Chelmsford, who took a delegation to meet Elliot Morley, Minister for Environment and Agri-Environment, to discuss sea wall maintenance.

Mr Whittingdale said in recent years little maintenance work has been done on Essex sea walls. He called for regulations restricting farmers from maintaining their own sea walls to be reduced.

Mr Morley told the delegation, which included Tollesbury farmer Andrew St Joseph and farmer and landowners representative Michael Hughes, that landowners would be given two years' notice of abandonment but there would be no compensation.


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The Minister promised to see if red-tape around sea wall maintenance by farmers could be reduced.

Mr Whittingdale said: “The meeting was useful and I am glad that the Minister was very willing to listen to our concerns. However, it is clear that the Government have decided that they are willing to see large areas of agricultural land lost to the sea when a future tidal surge occurs.

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“I will continue to press the Government to make clear those areas which they intend to abandon and to ensure that there is a full and open analysis of the costs and benefits of maintenance of the defences before a decision is taken.”

Andrew St Joseph, a scientist and farmer, would lose part of his farm in a tidal surge if sea defences are abandoned. His neighbour would lose his home.

Mr St Joseph is calling for farmers and landowners to be able to carry out like-for-like maintenance of sea walls on their land without having to get permission first.

“At the moment only small-scale repairs are needed. If they could be addressed there would be very little problem for 20 to 30 years. It's the stitch in time approach.”

Mr Hughes, a chartered surveyor for Whirledge and Nott, said the Government should pay a fair price for land and control sea wall breeches.

“That way they can be sure environmentalists can get environmental benefits, yachtsmen aren't silted out, walkers aren't washed over sea walls, fishermen and oystermen can adjust, farmers get fair compensation and nobody gets a nasty surprise flood.”

A Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said £100 million of Government flood and coastal defence funding has been allocated to the Anglian Region by the Environment Agency for 2005/06 for flood risk management work.

“It is the threat to life and property from flooding that are uppermost in our consideration when making the case, successfully, for increased investment in flood defences and when deciding how that investment should be targeted to best reduce the risks.

“This of course means taking hard decisions about what we do and do not defend in the face of climate change and our desire to ensure sustainability for the future.”

He said the Environment Agency is currently preparing Essex estuary strategies which will be used when making further decisions.

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