Sea defences to be saved where possible

AREAS of the Suffolk coast will not be abandoned “unless it is absolutely necessary”, the chairman of the Environment Agency said yesterday as he held a series of meetings with groups concerned at plans to stop maintaining some of the estuary defences.

AREAS of the Suffolk coast will not be abandoned “unless it is absolutely necessary”, the chairman of the Environment Agency said yesterday as he held a series of meetings with groups concerned at plans to stop maintaining some of the estuary defences.

Lord Smith, who was flown by helicopter up the coast from Bawdsey to Easton Bavents, said he wanted the agency to work with local communities to identify the best solutions and find funding from a variety of possible sources.

“We want to make sure we protect as much as possible. We need to agree solutions for each individual estuary. I certainly don't want to abandon anything unless we absolutely have to,” he said.

Lord Smith arrived at Felixstowe by car and was taken across the Deben by boat to meet members of Suffolk Coast Against Retreat.

He later visited East Lane, Bawdsey, where new sea defence work is scheduled to get under way soon - part-financed by the proceeds from the sale of “greenfield” land for housing development - before boarding a helicopter for a flight along the coast and a meeting in Southwold with the Blyth Strategy Group and the Blyth Estuary Group.

Campaigners urged him to find more money to help to “hold the line” along the cost for at least the next 20 years to enable more knowledge about coastal trends and climate change to be accumulated.

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They also urged him to help relax some of the restrictions which make it difficult for landowners and local authorities to get together to undertake local public-private schemes.

Lord Smith said the national flood defence budget would be rising over the next couple of years from £600million to £800million.

“We obviously have to look at the needs of the whole of England and Wales but Suffolk is a very important part of that and we will try to make sure we deploy the funds we have available for Suffolk as best as we possibly can,” he said.

Lord Smith said there was certainly a case for looking at ways to help communities take action themselves. “However, I don't think we can tear up all the planning laws and I don't think we can remove some of the important environmental protections which are in place. But what we can do is try to work with the grain rather than against it,” he said.

“I very much want to see the Environment Agency working with local communities, not coming in with pre-conceived ideas but sitting down with people to talk seriously about what the options are and how we can go forward and provide the best possible protection for people.

“I want to do our very level best to protect as much as we possibly can. How we can do that has be the burden of conversation over ht next few years.

“There is some money available but there will never be the amount of money I would like to have at our disposal. So we also need to explore ways how we can tap into other sources as well. That might come from developers, other public sources and private contributions. Let's see how we can put together the funding that might make things possible,” he added.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, who was involved in yesterday's talks, said he hoped Lord Smith would act in a way which would not portray the agency as an arm of government but as an independent assessor.

“He clearly understands the issues and I have high hopes. We'll do what we can do locally and but in the end we've got to get sufficient money from the Government to protect the coastline of England,” he said.