Endangered cliff dwellers spell it out

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

It was a sight to behold – from the ground and from the air.

Several hundred people seemed to come from nowhere to gather on the sunny cliffs at Happisburgh yesterday lunchtime.

They were all there for one reason: to voice their support for satisfactory sea defences – in a rather unusual manner.

The protesters were quickly marshalled into position on the field opposite the Cliff House Teashop, forming themselves into three giant human letters.

Some had walked or cycled from Cart Gap, Eccles and Happisburgh. Others had driven from at least as far away as Kent and Cambridgeshire, and there were even a few men and women in wheelchairs and on crutches, who made it to the field, despite terrain that was not particularly easy for them.

When everyone was marshalled into position, the finished product spelt out the word SOS – standing for Save Our Shoreline.

A few minutes passed before the expected arrival of a light aircraft, piloted by aerial photographer Mike Page.

The assembled crowd, estimated to number between 500 and 600 men, women and children, cheered and waved as they were first videoed from the air and then photographed.

At all times they were under the direction of Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, who was standing on the teashop’s second floor balcony, along with a loud-hailer.

The footage and pictures will be used in publicity material to advertise a “self-help” charity being set up to raise money for the village’s sea defences, while pressure is still kept on central and local government to provide a cash injection for Happisburgh.

“It was a wonderful event and was a really quintessential example of English village life,” said Mr Kerby.

“People have come from all over, there has been wonderful support from across the community. I said I would be the happiest man in North Norfolk if we got 500 people, and we did.

“As one measure of what it all means, there was a guy here from Kent, whose late parents retired here 30 years ago, and he came along specially to support the village.”

The general mood of the crowd was summed up by Gerald Bradley, a regular visitor to Happisburgh from his home county of Cambridgeshire.

He said: “It just shows the mix of people who are concerned about what is happening here.

“There were people of all ages, locals and visitors alike, home-owners, caravan owners, people who had walked a couple of miles to get here or even driven a couple of hundred miles.

“It felt as if everyone was speaking very much with one voice.”

There was also a barbecue and tea and coffee laid on to help raise cash towards the Happisburgh fighting fund.

August 2003 Comments

August has been a busy month for us.

Some weeks ago I appealed via both Radio Norfolk and the Eastern Daily Press, for professional assistance and advice with setting up and operating a registered charity. It is most pleasing to report the response was almost immediate and under expert guidance we are now engaged in creating a charity. My thanks to all concerned, there will of course be more news on that as it progresses.

On Sunday 17th August local supporters held a Car Boot Sale in aid of our fighting fund. The event was staged on the very cliff top we are fighting to save and brought in a really staggering £1130.00. It was a pleasant day, the weather was kind to us and everyone enjoyed the event enormously.

I would especially like to thank Chris Lomax for the use of his field at Manor Caravan Park, Cedric Cox our local Lifeboat Operations Manager for the use of his field for parking and the Lifeboat station facilities, Glen and Jo Berry of Hall Farm Forage for producing 500 notices to be handed out and the loan of their equipment and fencing. Last but by no means least the supporters who staged the event. Thanks for all their long hours of work both before and on the day.

For me the most moving thing about the day was the constant stream of messages of support for CCAG accompanied by many, many donations to the fighting fund. People from as far afield as The Midlands, The Cotswolds and The West Country all expressing their absolute disgust with Central Government (DEFRA)’s approach to coastal erosion and flooding.

People from all over the country are sending messages of support. Many are realising that the Happisburgh situation is being repeated in communities all round our shores. Many are realising the DEFRA so called criteria is unfair, unjust and completely unworkable. The point scoring system and criteria are probably the most seriously flawed polices to emanate from DEFRA who it seems are past masters at inventing flawed policies. We have Maritime Local Authorities all around the UK now barred from protecting their own communities by DEFRA, who quite simply will not allow those local authorities to submit viable coast defence schemes no matter how vital and urgent those schemes may be. It is nothing short of a national disgrace.

CCAG will do everything it can to bring the matter to the attention of the wider public and show the DEFRA criteria up for what it is in practice: A system for preventing spending on coast defences whilst seeking to shift all responsibility and blame on to the local authorities who in this context are rendered powerless by the DEFRA point score and criteria.

Malcolm Kerby (21 August 2003)