Compensation hope for home owners

Home owners who face losing their East Anglian properties to coastal erosion were offered the hope of receiving proper compensation last night.

The chairman of the Environment Agency has suggested that the government sets up a buy and lease scheme along the region's coast.

Lord Smith said that authorities such as North Norfolk District Council should be given funding to purchase and then lease back up to 250 homes that are likely to fall into the sea in the next 20 years.

Last night Lord Smith's high profile comments were described as the biggest step forward in the long running campaign to see homeowners properly compensated for losing their homes.

The government's Coastal Change Policy has suggested that homeowners should receive up to £6,000 if they lose their homes because sea defences are given up.

But under Lord Smith's new suggestion councils would buy properties at their original value and then lease them back to the owners until they become uninhabitable.

He says the move is necessary as the Environment Agency will not be able to defend large stretches of the coast from the growing threat of global climate change.

The coastal village of Happisburgh, near Cromer, has been at the forefront of trying to secure social justice for people who are unable to sell their homes because of the blight of coastal erosion and surrender of sea defences.

Malcolm Kerby of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group said Lord Smith's comments were momentous.

He said: "This is the biggest step forward that I have seen in my ten year's of campaigning. I am absolutely delighted that Lord Smith is talking about this.

"This clearly has the stamp of social justice on it and is very welcome indeed.

"But it is not time to dance on the streets yet - it is only a suggestion. We have to make sure that we all keep the pressure up to ensure it becomes policy."

Lord Smith of Haringey, the former Labour culture secretary, told the Times on Saturday that up to 250 homes are likely to fall into the sea in Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire in the next 20 years due to a speed up in climate change.

Another 2,000 properties are at risk across the country - mostly in the East - because it is impractical to defend them.

The Environment Agency estimates that it would cost the government £400m to purchase all the homes.

Lord Smith was quoted as saying: "I would very much like to see the government develop a sale and lease back scheme.

"You are talking about the permanent loss of someone's property through no fault of their own, sometimes the property has been in a family for several years.

"We estimate there are 200 to 250 properties. The local authority would purchase property from the current owner then lease it back to them.

"Then if it gets to a stage where they can't live in it anymore because of the erosion they would have the funds to move somewhere else."

Norman Lamb, the MP for North Norfolk, has championed the fight for proper compensation for people of Happisburgh and other threatened coastal communities.

He said: "Lord Smith is the highest profile person to talk about lease back. I think that is highly significant.

"I regard him as good ally on this. Collectively we have got to push on and keep it on the public agenda."

In March Defra minister Huw Irranca Davies told a cross party group of MPs that the government should give financial assistance to homeowners who lose their properties.

The pledge came after coastal campaigners launched a vociferous fight against a 2005 shoreline management plan which recommended that long standing sea defences at popular holiday villages such as Mundesley and Overstrand be abandoned in favour of defending key spots such as Cromer.