Drainage authorities, farmers and the Environment Agency were this week squaring up for a battle over the need to maintain sea defences for key farming areas in Norfolk.
Norfolk is too valuable to be allowed to flood, despite rising sea levels, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) claimed this week.
"As far as engineering skills are concerned we could certainly carry out protection of that coast, in the long-term, and when we look at the assets there we may find that we need to," said ADA chief executive Jean Venables, who is also senior ICE vice president.
Her remarks followed a speech by Environment Agency chief executive Barbara Young to an internal climate change seminar. She stated that the Norfolk Broads were likely to become irrecoverably inundated with sea water.
"I think the Norfolk Broads will go. They will definitely salinate," she told delegates.
Farmers expressed concerns about such a scenario. "This is very worrying. The farmland in the Broads is some of the most productive in the UK. The soils are of a high quality and the farming systems are highly developed there," said National Farmers Union senior policy advisor Paul Hammett.
Venables supported this view. "We are in a land where we have to manage our land resources more carefully but equally we must look forward to climate change adaptation."
Norfolk residents have also voiced worries about the future of the Broads following the leaking of a draft report, devised at a workshop held by conservationist body Natural England.
It proposes strategies for managing the Norfolk coastline including the drastic step of allowing the coastal defences between the villages of Horsey and Winterton-on-Sea to fail.
This would make areas as far inland as Hickling Broad part of a new eastern coastline.
In this scenario 6,000ha of land, encompassing Eccles, Hickling, Horsey, Potter Heigham, Sea Palling and Waxham would be lost, in addition to an area of the Broads.
Norfolk County Council cabinet member for environment and waste Ian Monson, expressed opposition to surrender large areas of the county to the sea. "Over the next 20 years we will have to learn to adapt to changes in our climate, weather and sea levels, but that does not mean that we have to surrender.
This month, the Environment Agency became responsible for providing the UK's strategic overview for flooding and coastal erosion.
It will decide whether or not work on existing or new flood defences goes ahead.
"We have an ongoing strategy where we're working to strengthen and maintain existing flood defences," said Environment Agency Anglia
region project manager Steve Hayman.
"Beyond that 50 year period, it's clearly going to become more difficult to maintain those beaches [between Eccles-on-Sea and
Winterton-on-Sea] in the current location. So it looks more and more likely that we would look to land realignment," he said.
Paul Hammett says "We're seeing less and less maintenance in rural areas in terms of coastal protection, and that's not on large capital schemes, that's simply on low-key maintenance," he added. "We must maintain what we've got to buy time, so we will be looking to defend the farmlands on the Broads for as long as possible."
The ADA stressed that future coastal defence schemes for low-lying areas such as the Norfolk coast must be considered with
regard to their effect on the local community.
Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman told local government officers last week that they had to take a wider view on flood defences.
"Regarding managed retreat, we need to get used to thinking not just about single communities, but a whole coast," he said.