Funding fear over coastal defences

YEARS of work defending a stretch of coastline could be wasted because of a lack of Government funding to fight erosion, a district council has warned.

By Sarah Chambers

YEARS of work defending a stretch of coastline could be wasted because of a lack of Government funding to fight erosion, a district council has warned.

Suffolk District Council said it will lobby the Government for a greater share of funding for flood and coastal protection defences after expressing concern at a decision to change the way funding is allocated nationally.

Rae Leighton, the council's cabinet member with responsibility for the environment, warned the changes could "thwart" years of work by the authority and the Environment Agency to come up with a long-term solution to coastal erosion and flooding at Bawdsey and Shingle Street.

He said that if work was not done at Bawdsey soon then large areas of the coast from Aldeburgh to Felixstowe would change "dramatically" and come under threat from coastal erosion and flooding.

"Suffolk Coastal District Council is very concerned about the potential impact of Government decisions on our coastline and our efforts to protect it," he said.

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"It would appear that the Government is turning away from integrated coastal management strategies in preference for short-term economic expediencies that, through a lack of investment, do not take into account the longer-term ramifications of allowing large sections of coast to erode and to flood."

But he said the people of Bawdsey "would not take this lying down" and were working with the council and Environment Agency to find ways of raising money to build new defences.

"We only have a limited time to achieve this as the Government is pressing the council to review its Shoreline Management Plan, using guidance based on its new economic priorities," he said.

"Even if we as a community are able to raise sufficient funds, it is within the Government's power to prevent these works going ahead, by denying the council the necessary national consents for sea defence work."

Mr Leighton said English Heritage had recently made a bid for the protection of East Lane, Bawdsey, with its chain of four Martello Towers and Second World War military defences that are currently at risk.

"In a year when we are celebrating Nelson's efforts to prevent a French invasion and the 60th anniversary of the end of the last world war, we hope to be successful in persuading the Government that these historic monuments to those times are worth saving," he said.

He argued that the cost of the defence work would be "relatively small" in national terms.

"Other recent announcements point to the Government seeking to reduce local councils' involvement in deciding what works are needed on their coasts," Mr Leighton said.

"This would be undemocratic, as it would deny local people a say in safeguarding their communities."

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "We are aware of the problems at Bawdsey but there are pressing problems elsewhere in the country relating to both coastal erosion and flood risk which also require attention.

"Many of these have a higher priority in terms of the risk to people and their property and the Government must direct finite resources from the taxpayer to best effect.

"The Government certainly has no hidden agenda with respect to Bawdsey and would not seek to block the works by using legislation in a manner for which it was not intended."

The Government was in the process of developing a new national strategy and was committed to effective management of flood and coastal erosion risk, he said.

It had increased funding in England significantly from £310 million in 1996-7 to £570 million in 2005-6, the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said that under the prioritisation scoring system, Bawdsey had scored nine out of 32 was therefore below the current priority threshold for central government funding.

But works were being carried out under local levies approved by its Eastern Regional Flood Defence Committee.

"There has been a marginal case for improvement works at Bawdsey for some years. However, recently English Heritage have provided further advice about the Martello tower and its value to the nation," he said.

"Consequently, the potential for a scheme at Bawdsey may now be more economically justified.

"However, further work is need with DEFRA, English Heritage, Suffolk Coastal District Council and ourselves to take this forward."

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