Sirens battle goes to Parliament
The battle to save Norfolk's flood sirens will be taken to parliamentary level after repeated attempts to resolve the row at county level failed.All three coastal MPs and their South Norfolk colleague Richard Bacon have committed to backing their communities in the dispute, which has been fought since January 2007.
The battle to save Norfolk's flood sirens will be taken to parliamentary level after repeated attempts to resolve the row at county level failed.
All three coastal MPs and their South Norfolk colleague Richard Bacon have committed to backing their communities in the dispute, which has been fought since January 2007.
County councillors have decided to turn to the MPs, who represent all three major political parties, because they have been continually frustrated by the deadlock between what they and coastal communities want - to keep the sirens - and what the Environment Agency and police say - that they are unnecessary, old and unreliable, so will not be used.
Members of the council's fire and community protection review panel met yesterday amid some angry scenes and accusations that the police and Environment Agency should be “shamed” into changing their stance.
Asked by Wells campaigner Marie Strong if the panel of democratically elected representatives were being forced to accept the dictates of the unelected, panel chairman Steven Dorrington answered: “I suppose the answer at the moment is 'yes'.
“We have reached the limit of what we can do; we have to go to the MPs.
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“The police and Environment Agency have made their position absolutely clear a number of times and that's the dilemma. That is why we need the MPs to take this on.”
The panel heard that North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham had given the panel his full support, as had Mr Bacon.
In a letter, Yarmouth MP Tony Wright said: “It is important to keep them as a general warning system which can supplement the Environment Agency's telephone warning system.
“In these times of climate change, flooding has become a reality and it would be foolhardy to eliminate one warning system for the small outlay.
“I believe it to be money well spent and sincerely hope the sirens are seen as an important part of the warning system.”
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the way the issue had been dealt with, attracting support from elected representatives and the opposite from appointed officers, was “an aberration of democracy”.
The county councillors also made a key pledge yesterday, saying they would continue to pay for the maintenance contract for the flood sirens into the future until the matter was resolved.
Mr Dorrington said the contract, which is due to come to an end next July, would be paid for from council coffers for as long as necessary, although he warned there might be further official scrutiny of that decision if it was felt the taxpayer was funding something “which is not going to be used”.
During the debate, councillor David Callaby said: “This committee wants 100pc to retain the sirens. This is anti democratic and shows total disregard of the elected members and the public.”
And colleague Shelagh Gurney added: “We should shame the police and Environment Agency for not having the common sense to use the sirens, it is about time they woke up.”
Senior panel representatives hope to meet the MPs at County Hall before Christmas.
The committee also said it would write to Stephen Bett, chairman of Norfolk Police Authority, to seek his support in altering the constabulary view.
After the meeting, Dr Strong said she was “comforted” the contract could be extended beyond the summer, but she wanted assurances about how long that extension might be.