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Coastal Erosion

Volume 402: debated on Thursday 3 April 2003

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If she will make a statement on her policy on coastal erosion. [106692]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

The policy aim is to reduce the risks to people and the developed and natural environment from coastal erosion by encouraging the provision of technically, environmentally and economically sound and sustainable defence measures.

I thank the Minister for that reply, which raises a concern about another part of the north Norfolk coast, in addition to the one about which I have already written to him, Happisburgh. I refer to Cley and Salthouse, where over a period of five years the Environment Agency developed a multi-objective scheme along the lines that the Minister described to benefit people, property and conservation. A massive sum was spent on developing the scheme. Last year, it seems that DEFRA suddenly pulled the rug from under the Environment Agency and determined that instead of a multi-objective scheme, only conservation would be covered, and people and property would be dealt with separately. Now we are back to square one, after a massive investment—

Order. That is turning into a speech. The Minister has probably got the drift.

The Cley and Salthouse scheme is well known to me, although the hon. Gentleman's interpretation is not correct. The approach that we take in DEFRA is an integrated approach, whereby environmental factors are considered alongside issues of people and property, as they are in Cley and Salthouse. The delay there arose from the fact that there was one preferred option, which was a clay bank scheme. English Nature raised some reasonable objections to that, relating to the loss of fresh water, the balance between preserving freshwater lagoons and saline lagoons, and whether a scheme could involve the retreat of the shingle bank to a lower profile, which may overtop more but would nevertheless provide adequate levels of defence. It is that detail which is currently under discussion, and that is the reason for the delay.

My hon. Friend is only too aware of the tremendous investment that the Government have made in the stabilisation of the Yorkshire heritage coast. Many people in our community welcome that. Has the additional request for support for that scheme been considered? In the light of his earlier answer, will my hon. Friend reaffirm the Government's commitment to all members of local communities being able to have their say in such schemes, which may sometimes be controversial?

I confirm that. With any flood or coastal defence scheme, the Environment Agency or the local authority takes great steps to involve local people. We want to take their views into account. I am familiar with the details of the Scarborough scheme, which involves a major financial commitment on the part of the Government to protect the people of Scarborough. I know that there are issues of cost overrun. Cost overruns are not unique in any kind of major scheme, and we will of course examine the details of the overrun. I should make it clear that we do not automatically provide the additional cost, but if there is a valid reason for the additional expenditure, we will consider it carefully.