'We will fight to save our homes'

A SMALL community has told of its determination to protect its homes against coastal erosion after learning it is set to be abandoned to the ravages of the North Sea.

Craig Robinson

A SMALL community has told of its determination to protect its homes against coastal erosion after learning it is set to be abandoned to the ravages of the North Sea.

Residents in the tiny hamlet of Covehithe, just north of Southwold, face an uncertain future if Suffolk's Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) is given the green light.

The scheme has been drawn up to suggest how flood and erosion risk should be tackled along the coast from Lowestoft Ness to Languard Point in Felixstowe.

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At Covehithe it recommends a policy of “no active intervention” for the next century - meaning that within 30 to 40 years the entire hamlet, including homes, the historic 15th century church and important conservation areas, will be lost.

But in a move that could be mirrored along the Suffolk coast the community is planning to pay for its own sea defences.

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The settlement of Covehithe falls within the Benacre Estate, which has been run by the Gooch family since 1746 and is currently owned by Lady Gooch.

Last night her son-in-law, Edward Vere Nicoll, estate manager, said he had already met with representatives from Natural England to discuss the possibility of funding their own sea defences.

“We are not just going to sit here and do nothing,” he said. “The Benacre Estate loses 16 acres every year- that's a minimum. What we would like to do is take an area and see how we get on for two or three years. We're not going to stop the erosion but we might be able to slow it down.

“Covehithe is a beautiful village with a wonderful church and community. There are homes and there is a farm. We have to try and protect it. Otherwise it will all be lost.

“I have had some very positive discussions with Natural England and I am hoping we will be able to pay for our own defences - which would be similar in design to what has already been done at Dunwich and which has just been agreed for Thorpeness.

“It was a wish of my dear late father-in-law Sir Timothy Gooch that we try to protect it and that is what we will do.”

The SMP is due to be discussed by the Environment Agency Flood Defence Committee on Friday. Its recommendation for Covehithe reads: “The historically important village...and areas of internationally designated habitat would be lost. Despite this, it is not considered sustainable to attempt to manage the erosion.”

It suggests finding alternative sites for nature conservation and investing in further research to record valuable information before it is lost.

If approved the plan will go to the Government for an environmental assessment, before being submitted to the Environment Agency director - which should see it given full approval in the summer.

A spokesman for Suffolk Coastal District Council, which has led the SMP project, said any proposed scheme would have to be submitted to Waveney District Council. However, he added that the recommendations do not prevent local small scale schemes so long as they do not impact on coastal processes such as sediment supply, affect conservation interests or the landscape quality of the area.

A spokeswoman for Waveney District Council said it would be happy to talk with representatives from the Benacre Estate, discussions which would also involve the Environment Agency and Natural England.

“We await the adoption of the SMP and it will be challenging to tick all their [the Benacre Estate] boxes and satisfy the environmental constraints of the plan,” she said.

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