MP backs farmers over sea defences

Members of The Wash Frontagers Group showing the height of the December 2013 tidal surge. ANL-140912-172033001
Members of The Wash Frontagers Group showing the height of the December 2013 tidal surge. ANL-140912-172033001
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Most Government cash for sea defences is focused on areas with big populations.

But the relatively sparsely populated land around The Wash – which grows around one-third of this country’s potato, salad and vegetable crops – relies heavily on farmers to maintain the sea defences.

The wider geographical boundary known as The Fens Strategic Area is home to 
agricultural and food firms that are worth more than £3billion to the national economy.

The Country Land Owners Association (CLA) is supporting The Wash Frontagers’ Group in its call for a strategic approach to flood defences – with more Government help and less red tape to get things moving.

The CLA says cash alone won’t get the job done – and regulations must change as farmers are currently restricted by costly environmental surveys and permits as well as having to coordinate with a multitude of agencies.

Nicola Currie, director of the CLA East, said landowners who want to repair sea defences must contact the Environment Agency (EA) – but the EA then charges them £180 to come out for a site visit to assess the work.

“That’s got to stop if we are going to help the Government agencies to do the work that’s technically theirs,” she said. “We don’t need extra charges put on top.”

The South Holland and The Deepings MP agrees. Mr Hayes said: “It should not be farmers paying the EA – it should be the EA paying farmers for doing their (the EA’s) job.

“The EA have got to realise that farmers have always played a key role in flood defence and drainage work and our drainage boards are a model of effectiveness in terms of the community working to protect our area from the risk of flooding.”

Mr Hayes is writing to the Environment Secretary and the EA to tell them The Wash sea defences must be preserved “particularly as the Government is willing to make more money available for flood defences”.

Boston was badly flooded in last December’s tidal surge and gets £73million from the Government’s £2.3billion package for patching up the nation’s flood defences.

But so far there’s nothing for The Wash and nothing for Sutton Bridge – the village was “two inches from disaster” during last year’s tidal surge as the River Nene came close to overtopping the banks.