Brandon Lewis was until last month leader of Brentwood Borough Council and is the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Great Yarmouth. He raises here an issue close to the heart of his prospective constituents, and features in a YouTube clip at the bottom of the article, filmed on site at one of the affected areas.
Coastal erosion is affecting a huge swathe of our country and is especially prevalent along our East coast. The odd thing is that Gordon Brown seems determined to do nothing about it. When you consider how many coastal towns that are affected are marginal seats this seems even more surprising. Instead the Government has managed to create a huge swathe of agencies and organisations to sit between them and the people that are most affected – residents.
In Great Yarmouth, for example, we have a stretch of coast from Scratby through Hemsby and to Winterton-on-Sea with no adequate sea defence. It would only need the continuation of the rock burr to give it suitable protection in the short term. In this area there are many resident groups and Parish councils campaigning for action. They have to deal with North Norfolk Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and the Environment Agency.
The Government has given none of these organisations enough money to undertake the job properly, hence a big gap in the protection provided. The Government has created a “buffer zone” of other agencies that local residents have to argue their case with in the first place. The Government has managed to sit back and pretend it is not their fault. But, guess what… it is!
We have the first government in history to simply walk away and not protect our shores. This is a huge dereliction of duty and one that simply is not getting enough national coverage. Many in the media and Whitehall may well feel it is an issue affecting only coastal areas and why would anyone else care? Well, it does matter. The tourist economy of Hemsby alone is worth, between £80 to £100 million per year to the Great Yarmouth economy, and during these bleak economic times we simply cannot do without that.
This is before we consider the issues of residential property, value of life, the social justice of relocation and managed retreat. After all, what does managed retreat really mean? It is our Government running away from a national issue. People from across the UK visit these areas for holidays and business. They are important environmental areas with a rich diversity of wildlife. Above all they are thriving rural communities. We simply must do more to hold the line.
If the Government faced huge compensation bills it may be more inclined to solve the problem, but at present it has accepted no responsibility. How must it feel for the people who live in areas, like Scratby, to live in a home that in the years to come will be under the waves and no one in their Government seems to care about it, let alone actually want to do something practical about it?
In an effort to address the issue a barrage of consultations, surveys and reports have been commissioned and completed. All the agencies argue over the plans that predict where the sea will encroach up to in 20, 50 and 100 years' time! It is possible, over many years, that more has been spent on consultants and reports than it would actually cost to fix the problem.
It is difficult to predict, with any certainty, what will happen in 100 years' time, even more so when considering the environment. We need action to protect the coast for the next 5 to 20 years, beyond that technological advances may provide different solutions. Right now we have residents with homes at risk and they need protection.
The cost benefit analysis for improvements adds up. It is estimated that the area affected is worth £200 million to the economy. That compares to a cost of around £2.5 million for Scratby.
Why do we need more reports? We need action. Our government has a duty to protect our country, right now that means we must defend our shoreline. We need them to do more… in fact we need them to do something!
Below is a video clip of Brandon Lewis highlighting the coastal erosion at Scratby