Monday, July 07, 2008

Minister's pledge to protect the Broads

Strong hints that some of Britain's finest pike fisheries could be saved for future generations came today, as Floods Minister Phil Woolas visited Norfolk.
Anger erupted in March when proposals to allow the Upper Thurne and its broads to be flooded by the North Sea became public.

They emerged in a leaked report from Government conservation quango Natural England, which said sea defences protecting Horsey Mere, Hickling Broad, the Martham broads and Heigham Sound should be abandoned.

Whole villages would be lost under the plan, while thousands of acres of farmland would be turned into salt marsh.

But as he toured the area today, Mr Woolas said the so-called Option Four, which officials said would send out the right message to the public about the affects of climate change, was "as likely as Oldham Athletic winning the European Cup".
Mr Woolas said Natural England had been asked to provide different "scenarios" outlining different responses to rising sea levels.

He told BBC radio Norfolk: " I have asked the Environment Agency to provide reports on what can be done for a 50 to 100 year period because it is no-one's intention to allow this area to flood.

"Of course we value this beautiful area. This is people's livelihoods as well. This is where they have lived with their families for many, many generations and the government's duty is to protect it and that is what we are going to do."

Two-thousand people have signed an online petition on Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 10 Downing Street website. Thousands have also signed petitions launched by parish councils in some of the villages threatened by the proposals.

North-East Norfolk Coastal Parishes Group, said Mr Woolas's announcement was "extraordinarily good news". The group is now calling for clarification over whether sea defences will be maintained for longer than the 50 years the Environment Agency believes it can sustain them.

The Upper Thurne is protected by a narrow strip of sand and shingle beaches between Eccles and Winterton. Mr Woolas said £100m would be committed over the next 50 years to help maintain them.

Three record pike, each over 40lbs, were landed from the Thurne system, inspiring generations of pike anglers to visit Norfolk.

Pike fishing remains an important revenue earner for the county, along with bird watching and other forms of water-based tourism.

To sign the PAC's online petition, click here.

For more on today's visit click here.