December 2002 Update

We now learn that the latest casualty in Happisburgh’s ongoing battle with the sea is our Lifeboat launching ramp! How much longer is the Government going to absolve itself of all responsibility here? How much longer can HM Government unload its responsibilities for our Sea Defences onto North Norfolk District Council? The situation here is critical. Government investment is long overdue and urgently needed. The level of investment now required is way beyond any Local Authority’s financial capability ! It seems increasingly likely that Westminster will only react to serious consequences i.e. loss of life! They seem set to continue ignoring our plea for help and North Norfolk District Councils repeated efforts to address the problem in a timely fashion. My message to Messrs Blair, Beckett and Morley is thus : You are failing absolutely the people of North Norfolk in a total dereliction of your duty and responsibility to protect every citizens right to the enjoyment of his or her home and family life. It is entirely within your power and capability in every respect to afford that protection. All that is lacking is the will to do so!!!

With the closure of the lifeboat ramp there is no longer any access to the beach at Happisburgh of any description. This will, I feel sure, have a knock on effect on businesses here which rely on the summer trade for their very survival. Tragically this may also be reflected in the popularity and value of property throughout the village. Happisburgh is not alone amongst coastal villages or towns whose greatest asset is their beach. Indeed part of the local economy is geared to it as well as it being one the attractions for those wishing to move in to the area. There has been a view promulgated for some time now that Beach Road is not part of Happisburgh this was recently stated by a Parish Councillor at a Parish Council meeting. What an absolutely ridiculous statement to make. Others hold the more sensible view that Beach Road, in terms of sea defences, is the very bastion of Happisburgh, surrender that and you put the very heart of the village at risk. Quite why the Parish Council have consistently opposed the latest scheme for the protection of the village and sought objectors to oppose it remains a mystery to many. Had the sea defence works been put in place it is fair to assume that confidence would have increased, business would have been secure and the value of property would have risen, probably in excess of the regional or national average.

For too long now Happisburgh has surrendered too much without a fight. We must all make the case that we will not surrender any more arable land, ( so important to the rural economy ), any more residential property or allow the caravan sites, shop, guest houses and public houses to suffer nor surrender the lifeboat station, of which many of us are justifiably proud, without a damned good fight. We must all carry the fight to the very heart of Government. On this issue no matter where we live in Happisburgh we are all ‘our brothers keeper’. To the two objectors and those who sought their objections, I would say : You have done immeasurable harm to this community, you have caused much suffering and you have placed many more homes at risk. Get out of our way, your meddling and interference is not welcome and has cost us dear.

Malcolm Kerby (30 December 2002)

December 2002 Comments

The main sea defence strategy produced by H.R. Wallingford and proposed by NNDC is now lost. Fortunately NNDC has undertaken interim works under emergency powers at it’s own expense.

Let us be crystal clear about these interim works (the purchase and placement of approx. 4000 tonnes of rock), this will not be the final solution, it simply buys us some time to seek the final solution i.e. adequate, effective sea defences for Happisburgh in it’s entirety.

Whilst our District Council Officers and elected members have lived up to their responsibilities, in what are financially difficult times for local authorities we must continue to impress upon central Government that simply because we have responsible and effective local Government does not mean that they are ‘let off the hook’. Absolute responsibility for the protection of all it’s citizens rests with the Government of the day and the Whitehall brigade.

I believe there is a basic human rights issue here under Article 8 of the Bill of Human Rights adopted by this nation in the Autumn of 2000. Central Government in the form of DEFRA is in dereliction of it’s duty to many around our coastline. They are failing to protect the individual’s right to enjoyment of his or her home and family life, when it is quite within their capability to protect and ensure said enjoyment.

I believe the Coast Protection Act 1949 is now a 53 year old ‘blunt instrument’ with which to tackle coast protection in the 21st century. That act ( and indeed the revetments/defences constructed in the late 1950’s and 60’s as a result of it) was created and brought in to being when we as a nation were effectively destitute after the second world war and long before global warming was ever thought of. Not only is the act itself outmoded the DEFRA interpretation of it is somewhat questionable.

Why do we not have a level playing field with non cliff bound communities? It seems to me that if you happen to be a community living with cliffs then DEFRA discriminates against you. That may be okay if your cliffs are of granite as opposed to ours which are clearly just earth and clay, making both them and all around extremely vulnerable.

Here in Happisburgh we have to endure the ‘Westminster double whammy!’ not only are we coastal but we are also very much a rural community. The Government of today and it’s Whitehall mandarins seem to be hell bent on the persecution of rural communities and it appears, some coastal communities. This is not just unfair, it is a contravention of our basic human rights. All this at a time when the Government has slashed financial support for District Councils thereby making life not just in rural coastal areas but everywhere, that much more difficult than before.

My message to central Government, Whitehall mandarins and indeed DEFRA is quite simple really; we are sick and tired of your indifference (in some cases incompetence), we are sick and tired of your finding any and every excuse to do nothing. Get off your backsides, act now and act in our interests not yours.

If you agree with my views e-mail Margaret Beckett MP, Tony Blair MP and DEFRA. Please put your own comments and feelings on the petition or the forum.

Malcolm Kerby (21 December 2002)

Government admits flood defence errors

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

The Government body handling a £700,000 scheme to protect a Norfolk seaside village from coastal erosion has admitted making mistakes in its handling of the project.

Campaigners for a desperately needed sea defence scheme in Happisburgh last night welcomed the admission, but said it had not gone far enough.

In a letter to North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, environment minister Elliott Morley admitted that officials at the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) could have dealt with paperwork more quickly.

As reported recently in the EDP, the scheme in question has now been rendered unviable – because too much time has been spent trying to untangle all the red tape.

Meanwhile, Happisburgh residents continue to await their fate as more cliff is lost to the North Sea.

A £160,000 “interim” scheme to provide some respite from the sea was launched a week ago and should be completed in the New Year.

The scheme is currently on course, and 4000 tonnes of rock should have been delivered to the beach either by Christmas, or shortly after.

In his letter, Mr Morley said: “I accept that in this case it would have been more helpful if Defra officials had identified the full extent of missing documentation at an earlier stage.”

The documents referred to were parts of the initial North Norfolk District Council application – sent to the Government in May – requesting the scheme.

The admission appears to strengthen more specific claims made by campaigners that Defra held the scheme up by taking too long to sort out paperwork.

“It is a refreshing change, here is a Government minister saying we may have messed up,” said campaign group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby.

“It may even give us some ammunition to do back to Defra and ask them to review the scheme again.

“But it is also a smokescreen to cover their own inadequacies. They failed to even look at the application in the first two months they had it, which was a ridiculous delay in circumstances where time was all-important.

“That two months was absolutely critical, because we needed a quick decision.”

Mr Lamb said he was grateful for the letter and what he described as a “frank assessment” from Mr Morley.

A key sticking point for the Happisburgh scheme has been the organisation of a hearing to resolve objections from lord of the manor Eric Couzens and academic Keith Clayton.

Referring to this problem, Mr Lamb said: “The tragedy is that the delay in securing a hearing has effectively meant that it is too late to assess this scheme.

“Houses will be lost to the sea.”

Mr Morley also said in his letter that Defra would consider a suggestion to “clarify” some of the bureaucratic processes local authorities have to go through.

Lifeboat Ramp Closed

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

The latest victim in the ongoing saga of sea erosion at a Norfolk village has been claimed after the beach slipway was shut for safety reasons. The closure of the slope down to the sea at Happisburgh means the inshore lifeboat will have to launch elsewhere along the coast if called out.

The lifeboat is housed at the top of the slipway and normally takes seconds to take to the water. Now it will have to be towed by tractor, taking several minutes either to Cart Gap to the south east or Walcott in the opposite direction.

Station spokesman Phil Smith said the closure would delay launching by about 10 minutes. He added that Happisburgh lifeboat had been called out two or three times during the winter months last year. “At least there is another option even if we can’t use the slipway here,” he said.

A spokesman for North Norfolk District Council said a fence had been put across the access to the slipway and signs to warn people of the danger. The closure should not make any difference to beach works that have been taking place to build a £160,000 “interim” sea defence wall, as access for plant machinery has been from another location.