Suffolk: Coastal erosion scheme set for approval

A coastal defence scheme which could see the shape of Suffolk’s shoreline altered dramatically over the next century is set to be adopted by district leaders.

Plans to manage the 45 mile stretch between Lowestoft Ness and Languard Point in Felixstowe had been subject to opposition from inhabitants of communities denied investment for long-term defence against erosion.

Though flood risk would continue to be managed in all of the county’s main coastal towns and principal villages, areas with no proposed measures in place to slow erosion could be lost to the North Sea by as early as 2055.

Suffolk Coastal’s cabinet will be asked to formally adopt the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) next Tuesday and implement a policy of “no active intervention” in smaller communities including Covehithe, a tiny hamlet just north of Southwold, where residents face the inevitable loss of homes, a 15th century church and conservation areas within the next 40 years unless sea defences can be funded independently.

The plan, prepared in association with Natural England by Suffolk Coastal, Waveney, British Energy and the Environment Agency, aims to reduce environmental risks to people and developed, historic and natural environments, but does not protect areas lacking significant conservation or landscape quality interest.

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A blueprint was provisionally approved for adoption by Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) in February 2010, and more recently by Waveney in November 2010, but needed to be proved environmentally sound to Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), which required evidence that no feasible alternative existed and that compensatory measures were secured.

Residents of Covehithe joined members of the Alde and Ore Association and SCAR (Suffolk Coast Against Retreat) in speaking out against the adoption and called for an alternative approach to defending Suffolk’s coast and tidal rivers.

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Richard Steward, of the Blyth Estuary Group, meanwhile argued that any inland relocation would prove more costly to the Environment Agency’s coastal defence budget than preventatively protecting the whole of the coast from Southwold to Kessingland. He added that EU guidance declares abandonment and relocation “unlawful” unless for the overriding benefit of the public.

But Deputy Leader of Suffolk Coastal, Andy Smith said that, in the case of Covehithe, there was no viability for building expensive sea defences for such a small number of houses. However, he added that Waveney District Council was already looking into preferential planning solutions for residents. He added: “Defra and Natural England found no impediment and are content for us to adopt the plan.

“We will monitor and review the plan if circumstances make it necessary to do so.”

How Suffolk’s shores will be managed under the Shoreline Management Plan in the short (up to 2025), medium (2026-2055) and long (up to 2105) term:

Coastline defence protection will be maintained or upgraded throughout the next 100 years in Lowestoft. Pakefield will also be maintained or upgraded until 2105, when its coastline is set to be realigned. Kessingland village will also be maintained and upgraded Pakefield Cliffs will be abandoned, as will nearby Benacre Ness and Kessingland cliff.

The area between Benacre Broad and Easton Broad, in which lies Covehithe village, is not considered sustainable to attempt erosion management and will therefore be lost unless independently funded.

Southwold, and the area north of the town, will be subject to maintenance, upgrades and realignment, as will a stretch of the Blyth estuary between The Denes and Walberswick, excluding the upper estuary. Walberswick and Dunwich will also be protected or realigned.

Cliffs south of Dunwich, including Minsmere and Sizewell may be lost without long-term defence, but surrounding villages will continue to be protected.

It is hoped some properties between Thorpeness Haven and Aldeburgh will continue to be defended by the naturally-functioning shingle bank rather than man-made works which will be maintained or upgraded where required.

Since last February, more urgent works have been required in Thorpeness where a partnership between SCDC, local residents and the Environment Agency (EA) has enabled the repair and strengthening of damaged defences, reducing the immediate threat to homes from coastal erosion.

The emergency repairs began in October with 1,450 large geo-textile bags filled with sand and shingle being placed in front of the eroded cliff.

Sudbourne beach and Orford Ness will both be left to erode naturally, as will Orford beach, with realignment, maintenance and upgrades made going south as far as Bawdsey hill and cliffs which will be left. The coastline between Bawdsey Manor and Languard Point will continue to be managed and realigned where appropriate to maintain important flood defences.

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