Coast living on a floods timebomb

COASTAL communities in Suffolk are living on borrowed time.

The odds on a major storm which will wreak havoc along our coastline – and that of Norfolk and Essex – are shortening all the time.

Scientists believe climate change is increasing the number of extreme weather events and global warming has a severe impact on the state of our oceans.

Sea levels are rising as Arctic ice fields melt and its permafrost warms up.

Predictions are that sea levels could rise 50cm by 2050 – and currently appear on course to do so – but some experts say previous similar worldwide temperature rises have seen as much as a metre rise every 20 years.

Back in 1953, the surge caused by severe weather raised sea levels by a staggering three metres – and it wasn’t even a high tide – inundating low-lying communities, causing more than 300 deaths, still our worse peace-time disaster.

In Felixstowe, 41 people died as the water swept through the south of the town.

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Langer Road, where the memorial stands to ensure they are never forgotten, was six feet deep in water.

Some people may see it as doom-mongering to talk about when there will be another flood. Britain though has been hit by serious floods many times before – at least ten times in the last 1,000 years.

It’s not a case of if, but when. And with global warming adding more uncertain factors, the big question has to be: Are we prepared?

At Felixstowe, millions of pounds has been spent to ensure vulnerable cliffs are protected and beaches do not fall victim to erosion which would make flooding more frequent as sea levels rise. But is it enough.

I have had many interesting conversations with my friend Norman Thompson, a former civil engineer who has worked on east coast sea defences and is passionate about protecting our shores. He is convinced the current schemes to load our beaches with rock groynes will not stop flooding.

If a storm surge comes which is higher than 1953, says Norman, it will simply sweep over the rocks, our prom and sea walls – nothing will stop it.

I can’t disagree. But is building higher and higher sea walls the answer? How high is high enough? Whatever we build at Felixstowe creates a weak link somewhere else which the sea will attack – protection has to be co-ordinated.

It is like living on a timebomb, but the engineers are doing their best with limited funds to stop it from going off.

? Give me your views – write to richard.cornwell@eveningstar.co.uk or Your Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

? Read Richard Cornwell’s full column every week in FX – the eight-page pull-out all about the Felixstowe area in the Evening Star every Wednesday.

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