My scoop opened floodgates to a tide of angry readers

After I wrote a story about plans for a flood barrier across the river Yare, I heard something from a contact that stopped me in my tracks. He said that, during a workshop to discuss the likely effects of climate change on the Norfolk Broads, one proposal discussed was allowing the sea defences along a stretch of the coast to be breached, resulting in the flooding of a large area of the Broads, including several villages, top wildlife areas and some prime farmland.

I couldn't quite believe it but my contact insisted it was true and even told me that a map had been drawn up to show the extent of the proposed flooding.

These were potentially devastating plans and were being given serious consideration by Government bodies without public consultation. I knew that, if this was true, it was a belting story.

I found out that the workshop had been held by Natural England and set about trying to get a copy of the report. I asked Natural England a couple of times, and was on the verge of putting in a Freedom of Information request when I managed to get hold of a copy from another source. It was a weighty tome – about 100 pages long and fairly heavy going – but I soon found the relevant bit, including the map I was told about.

I kept re-reading it in case I'd misunderstood something, but there it was clear as day: a proposal to surrender 25 square miles of Norfolk to the sea, including at least six villages – the story was in the bag.

The reaction to it, when published, was almost instant. People were shocked, scared and angry, with a lot of the anger directed at us. It was a classic case of shooting the messenger.

I took calls from angry homeowners who blamed us for blighting their properties and an irate estate agent who said I'd caused several sales to fall through.

I was shocked by the intensity of it – we knew the story would be controversial, and the decision to print wasn't taken lightly but we felt it was too important.

At the start of July, the environment minister, Phil Wallace, ­visited Norfolk and gave an assurance that the Government would not allow the area to flood. The story had caused an outcry, but thousands of people have signed petitions, it's been discussed in Parliament and numerous politicians have become involved.

Had it not been for the report, people would still be in the dark, and who knows how much further the plans could have been taken.

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.