Ian Clarke’s article (Courier 5 December) on sea defence makes some excellent points. Sea level rise will indeed mean erosion rates increase as the underlying clay at the base of our cliffs loses its strength whenever it gets wet causing the overlying sandy crag cliffs to collapse.
Unfortunately, as Mersea Island is the only part of the coast in Colchester City Council’s area, it is clearly not a priority. However, the real decision-making power lies with the Environment Agency. That situation was made worse by the 2010 Flood and Water Management Act rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny in the last weeks of Gordon’ Brown’s government. This gave sweeping powers to the Environment Agency, even allowing them to create coastal erosion or flooding for a wide range of reasons.
When it came into effect I was a district councillor for an area of the Suffolk coast which had very similar erosion issues to Mersea. A local farmer who was losing several acres of land to erosion each year offered to pay up to £200,000 for sea defences, but was not allowed to do so by the Environment Agency. When, as his local councillor, I challenged them on this, the Environment Agency replied that they actually wanted the farmer’s land to erode in order to provide sediment for a beach a few miles south. They seemed not to understand that it was the farmer’s land – not theirs! When I pointed out to them that the published scientific research suggested that less than 5% of eroded sediment ended up on nearby beaches, they responded “Yes we accept that point – but we still want that sediment for the beach down the coast”. Eventually, I managed to get a letter personally signed by a government minister stating that there was “no objection in principle” to sea defence works being constructed on that small section of coast.
It is clear that the whole process by which decisions are made affecting sea defence needs urgent reform.
Dr Martin Parsons