Villagers fill church for coast meeting

Byline: By Edward Foss (Eastern Daily Press, 31 January 2003)

People in Happisburgh concerned at the state of the village’s devastating sea defences were last night urged to make their individual voices heard by taking part in mass lobbying.

Around 500 villagers packed into the parish church to discuss the way forward for the threatened village.

Emotions in Happisburgh are running at an all-time high following the loss of the lifeboat ramp – the only access to the beach in the entire village – late last year.

The gathering was handed a last glimmer of hope, after it was revealed a new access could be built thanks to co-operation between the owner of the village caravan site and North Norfolk District Council.

Every seat in the church was full, with several dozen people standing at the back – just one indication of the strength of feeling within the village.

The meeting was told by chairman Malcolm Kerby, who is also co-ordinator for the coastal concern action group, the MP Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, had turned down an invitation to attend.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, was present, along with several senior officers from the district council.

Many of the people at last night’s meeting have been featured in the EDP in past months and years, as their houses have either been lost to the encroaching sea, or they have spoken of their fear of what the future holds.

One of those was Di Wrightson, whose Beach Road home and business is one of the properties at most imminent threat.

Encouraging people to lobby the Government on the issue of sea defences, she said: “The whole village must stand up, not just a few. Everyone who wants to see something happen must get involved.”

Jack Hall, a past spokesman of a previous Happisburgh action group, said it was disturbing to think that the church itself could one day be at threat from the encroaching North Sea and he added that what was happening in Happisburgh was “both manifestly unfair and tragically neglectful.”

Sue Stockton, landlady of the Hill House, the only pub remaining in the village, warned that businesses would suffer and die if something was not done quickly. “The whole village is in panic,” she said.

Mr Kerby stressed that there was “no ignorance of our problems in Government, there is a conscious choice to abandon this part of the coast”.

Posters advertising the meeting had been dotted around the village for several days. And a newspaper billboard outside the newsagent yesterday also brought attention to the meeting.

January 2003 Comments

On Thursday 30th January the people of Happisburgh will have the very rare opportunity to make their case directly as a unified determined force. As I write this I have still not received confirmation from the Secretary of State’s office that she will attend our meeting nor indeed, has there been any indication as to whether or not any government member will attend.

Government can not plead ignorance of the acute,critical problems faced by Happisburgh and it’s environs in terms of sea defences,or rather the lack of them. In an address to the House of Commons last year the Rt. Hon. Tim Boswell MP said “I will always remember inspecting the crumbling Norfolk cliffs at Happisburgh and being made uncomfortably aware that any major sea incursion through the cliffs could surge straight through the Broads. Once the sea got though there would be little to stop it. The Association of British Insurers,which briefed me for the debate,said: We believe that Government investment in flood defence is vital if affordable insurance is to be available. In other words, an individual’s ability to protect themselves economically depends on there being a Government commitment, just as an individual’s physical security also depends on that commitment.”

I also have before me a copy of a Select Committee on Agriculture report to Parliament and the Government, it is a rather lengthy document so I shall quote a few relevant parts, this part is referring to the reefs at Sea Palling: “The Environment Agency has provided sea defence for the Norfolk Broads behind this low lying section of coast by constructing a broken line of offshore reefs … as well as reducing the risk of erosion, these sea defences have ALTERED THE PATTERN OF EROSION ALONG THE COAST.” Amazingly further in the same report the following is stated: “The dangers of the erosion at Happisburgh outflanking the reef scheme at Sea Palling ARE SELF EVIDENT, but have not yet been effectively absorbed by the process so as to justify defence works.”

Government is, at best, confused and unclear on the issue. What is crystal clear however is Government’s bounden duty to either protect or compensate in full those who incur losses as a result of it’s negligence in it’s failure to take all reasonable measures to protect.

Malcolm Kerby (26 January 2003)