Fury as Suffolk coast 'abandoned' to sea

CAMPAIGNERS reacted with fury last night after it emerged the Environment Agency was pressing ahead with plans to abandon huge swathes of the Suffolk coast to the sea.

Jonathan Barnes

CAMPAIGNERS reacted with fury last night after it emerged the Environment Agency was pressing ahead with plans to abandon huge swathes of the Suffolk coast to the sea.

The agency has confirmed it still intends to enforce its policy of “managed retreat” on the Blyth Estuary - despite massive public opposition to the plans.

The council has responded by launching a £1.6million bid to heighten a stretch of the A12 at Blythburgh to stop the key link road between Ipswich and Lowestoft flooding.

The Environment Agency (EA) announced last year it could not afford to maintain river defences on the Blyth beyond five years - and that Southwold Harbour could only be protected for the next 20 years.

It said the estimated £35m cost of maintaining the defences could not be justified - but local people reacted with anger after it emerged that thousands of acres of farmland would be lost to the sea, while as many as 23 homes could be at risk of flooding.

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The policy is also likely to be repeated in other estuaries in Suffolk and Essex, starting with the Alde and Ore and the Deben.

Campaigners held huge protests against the plans - forming a human SOS sign on Walberswick beach in February and a human chain on Southwold promenade in August, timed to coincide with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's holiday in the area.

They said the plans would effectively cut off Southwold and cause the A12 to flood regularly where it crosses the estuary at Blythburgh.

But it has now emerged that, following public consultation, the agency has decided to go-ahead with its plans, which it will discuss at a meeting in Ipswich on September 26.

It is understood the EA has accepted it should continue to defend the northern river wall, which protects Reydon Marshes, and the A1095 road between the A12 and Southwold.

But it is committed to managed retreat along the Blyth, saying that maintaining the defences was “not a high enough priority”.

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for roads and transport and chairman of the Blyth Strategy Group, said: “I am frustrated that a sensible approach has not prevailed.

“The agency's cost-benefit analysis is fundamentally flawed. They have not taken into account the value of Southwold and its tourism industry.

“This should be a ministerial decision. The Environment Agency should not be allowed to put people's livelihoods in jeopardy and the economy of Southwold at risk.”

He added: “We have now got to find the money to protect the A12 from flooding - we have got to ensure the A12 stays open.”

Mr McGregor said he believed the agency had to protect Reydon Marshes otherwise it would have to find a substantial amount of money to find a new habitat for birds.

He said a stretch of “half a mile or so” of the A12 would have to be heightened to reduce the flooding risk and a £1.6m bid had been submitted to the Department of Transport.

The council should hear if the bid has been successful early next year and the work may start in 2010.

Richard Woollard, media manager with the EA, said the Blyth strategy would be discussed by the Eastern Region Flood Defence Committee when it meets in Ipswich on September 26.

“We have also planned other meetings both with councillors and community representatives to discuss the way forward,” he said. “We are really encouraged that the county council has submitted a proposal to raise the A12 and hope that they are successful.

“Regarding Reydon wall, we have always recognised that there is an economic case to maintain it but it is not a high enough priority when judged against other national priorities to attract national funding to rebuild the wall.”