Politicians have clashed over the cost of maintaining sea defences protecting swathes of East Anglia’s highly productive farmland.
MPs from all three main political parties took to the platform at the Norfolk Farming Conference on Thursday (25 February) to answer questions from conference delegates. They were joined by Norfolk farmer and eastern region UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew.
Tory shadow farm minister Jim Paice, MP for Cambridgeshire South East, said it would be difficult for the next government to find any extra money for sea defences. “That is the simple reality we face, whoever is in government.”
Politicians needed to think laterally about the situation, said Mr Paice. In some cases, it would be cheaper in the long term to maintain sea defences that were on a different line from existing structures, he added.
“I take the view that the current coastline of Britain should be the default position. That doesn’t mean that nowhere should you allow any encroachment, but it should be carefully planned and thought out.”
Charles Clarke, Labour MP for Norwich South, said there was no easy or straightforward answer to rising sea levels. Rather than maintaining defences, it might be better to adjust the coastline.
But Mr Agnew condemned what he described as an air of defeatism over the issue. “We should replace sea defences – it doesn’t cost that much,” he said. “Sea levels have not risen over the past three years.”
Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, agreed that the first principle must be to seek to defend the region’s coastline, both its heritage and its productive agriculture. “We should be doing everything we can,” he said.