Hunstanton councillors reject flood defence cash plea

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Town councillors in Hunstanton have rejected calls for them to put extra money into the cost of maintaining coastal flood defences.

The authority, along with four other neighbouring parishes, had been asked by West Norfolk Council to invest more than £100,000 between them in the defences between the south of the resort and Wolferton Creek.

But the plea was unanimously rejected on Friday, barely 24 hours after borough chiefs said they were close to securing additional regional funding.

Ian Devereux, the borough council’s environment portfolio holder, told Thursday’s borough meeting that sufficient money had been raised for the annual work to recycle the shingle banks in the area.

He said those funds also left a surplus that would help to meet the shortfall in meeting the costs of the larger project to rebuild the banks.

He continued: “The leader has been able to negotiate significant funding with regional flood control and it looks like we’ve got a further £300,000, which will go a long way to closing the gap to what we need.

“We think we’re close to closing that gap.”

But Friday’s town council meeting was told that the borough had asked them and the parish authorities in Heacham, Snettisham, Dersingham and Ingoldisthorpe to contribute £108,000 between them towards the project.

The meeting heard that, although the borough cannot impose extra charges, it can ask for “voluntary contributions”, which it had suggested should be drawn from the grants the parish councils currently make to community groups.

And town clerk Lisa Powell said borough leader Brian Long and chief executive Ray Harding had said they were willing to discuss the issue with them.

But Richard Bird said anything the parishes contributed would be “off-setting” the borough’s responsibilities if it contributed.

He said: “Heacham has turned it down flat. We should not be part of it.”

He said he was unconvinced by current claims for the costs of the work.

He also argued that the area was losing out because of its position within the central flood defence control region, rather than the Eastern one, which he said had much greater financial resources.

Deputy mayor Adrian Winnington said: “This £108,000 wouldn’t be anywhere near enough. What’s the point of asking us?”

And Geoffrey Smith said the town’s defences were no different now from those which were battered its last major flood in 1978.

The debate came barely a week after the area, like much of Norfolk’s coastline, had been placed on alert ahead of an expected tidal surge.

Borough leader Brian Long praised the emergency response to the warnings.

And he condemned suggestions, which he stressed had not been made in this area, that the agencies had over-reacted to the threat.

He said: “To hear reports its the EA ‘crying wolf’, I find despicable. They should be applauded for what they’ve done.”