Minister plays down sea defence fears

THE Government has no intention of abandoning larges areas of East Anglia to the sea but it would not attempt to emulate King Canute, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said yesterday.

David Green

THE Government has no intention of abandoning larges areas of East Anglia to the sea but it would not attempt to emulate King Canute, Environment Minister Phil Woolas said yesterday.

Mr Woolas, who recently visited north Norfolk to hear local residents' concerns, was speaking during a BBC Radio 4 broadcast from the Latitude Festival at Henham Park, near Southwold.

He admitted that the Government had “very difficult decisions” to make on sea defence but said these would affect the margins of the coast, not huge swathes of land.


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“There has been a lot of unnecessary worry caused by some of the speculation but the Government is not going to abandon large areas. We are thinking about the margins - what we defend and what we don't defend,” he said.

The minister denied the Government was using the threat of sea level rise as a result of climate change as an excuse not to defend areas of the coast. However, he acknowledged that predictions for sea level rise had to be taken into account.

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“The idea that we are abandoning the coast is unfair. Huge amounts of taxpayers money is being used to defend land in this region,” he said.

Mr Woolas said defending one stretch of coast could have “knock-on” effects for other stretches. No Government was going to try to emulate King Canute, he claimed.

Turning to local issues, he said 23 properties would be at increased risk of flooding if defences in the Blyth Estuary were not maintained in future.

“I am advised that over the years £35million would be needed to protect them. It is a tricky dilemma,” he said.

He rejected a suggestion from John Fell-Clark, owner of land at Bawdsey, that if the Government had spent “a few thousand pounds” a year to defend the Suffolk coast in the past it would not now be costing millions of pounds to defend a very small stretch.

Mr Fell-Clark suggested that Prime Minister Gordon Brown could be facing a “hornets' nest” of protest over sea defence policy if he went ahead with his planned Suffolk coast holiday this year.

The Radio 4 programme also included a claim from artist Maggi Hambling, creator of the controversial Scallop sculpture at Aldeburgh, that the issue of defending the Suffolk coast was not being taken seriously enough.

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