A community fundraising scheme for West Norfolk’s coastal flood defences is being monitored to see if it could be adopted across the country, officials have revealed.
Environment Agency bosses joined local political leaders at Snettisham yesterday, to see the annual beach recycling work that is currently taking place there.
For the first time this year, more than half of the cost of the work has been generated through local funding sources, instead of it all coming from national government.
The contributors include the Environment Agency, the borough council, Anglian Water and the East Wash community interest company (CIC), which was set up to co-ordinate local fundraising efforts.
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham said the CIC was a “highly innovative initiative to capture private sector funding.”
And Environment Agency officers said the scheme had been discussed at regional and national levels.
The agency’s chairman, Emma Howard Boyd, said: “It’s great to see members of the community come together, through the CIC, to help provide funding for an important project.
“That’s one of the reasons I’ve come here today to make sure I understand the structures that are being used to allow this to take place.
“This is the sort of model that could enable more communities to access government funding by bringing in some of their own to kick-start it.”
Around 57 per cent of the money needed for the current work, which is estimated to be around £80,000,has been drawn from the funding group.
Surplus monies raised through the CIC will be saved to help pay for emergency repairs, should they ever be needed, and the major beach recharge work, which project managers believe will need to be carried out in around 2023, based on current monitoring.
But the requirement for local funding has proved controversial, with several parish authorities recently rejecting pleas from the borough for them to make a financial contribution to the works.
Discussions on the issue are continuing and Sir Henry said that, while CIC bosses were keen to secure parish support, it would be a “challenge” to do so.
Ian Devereux, the borough council’s cabinet member for environment, stressed there was no requirement for the parish councils to pay towards the defences.
But, although he admitted there was a “polarisation” between the respective positions on the issue, he believes the “solid basis” that has been put in place will eventually help to break the current stalemate.
He said: “I think that will happen naturally. If we can engender the right confidence, I think we can make progress.
“I think we need to build trust and we need to demonstrate we have a solid process.
“Mike McDonnell (CIC chairman) has done a super job. We’ve secured funding for the foreseeable future, providing all the agreements are in place.”
Agency officials said the efforts to raise cash locally had helped them to make the cash to the government for the money that had been provided.
And council leader Brian Long emphasised that the reduction in national cash for the defences had been known about for several years before it actually came into effect.
He said: “We could have kept saying there’s no funding and there would be nothing happening here today.
“My attitude was to find a solution that at least kept the defences in place and then you have a no regret policy.”
Around 6,000 cubic metres of sand and shingle is being moved into position to rebuild the defences.
The recycling work, which is expected to take around three weeks to complete, is usually done at around this time of the year so that it doesn’t interfere with bird breeding patterns and the main tourist season.
The defences protect around 5,000 homes and static caravans between Snettisham and Hunstanton.
Ryan Bly, the agency’s flood and coastal risk advisor, said: “It’s a very, very cost-effective way of maintaining the sea defences.
“It keeps that material in the system and stops it from being lost further out to sea.”
The agency has also been working with Natural England and the RSPB to reduce its own environmental monitoring of the area, in order to reduce the costs of the project.