Coastal defence shocks experts

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

Happisburgh’s sea defences have been badly managed and the shingle bank at Salthouse is in the wrong place, according to a European coastal defence expert visiting Norfolk yesterday.

A number of academics speaking at a conference near Norwich today toured several Norfolk erosion hotspots yesterday to get an idea of the county’s problems.

Among the group were three European specialists from Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

They visited Salthouse, Happisburgh and Sea Palling, accompanied by members of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), who are involved in the organisation of today’s On the Brink conference at Barnham Broom Country Club. The conference will address the issues of sea level rise and coastal defences in the southern North Sea.

Viewing the situation at Happisburgh yesterday afternoon, Karsten Reise, whose main interest is coastal policy in Germany, explained why he was taken aback by the state of the sea defences in front of him and at Salthouse.

“I was amazed by the shingle, amazed that any trust has been given to this sort of structure,” said Dr Reise.

“It seems any winter storm might push this structure aside. It is in the wrong place and should be realigned closer to the housing area.”

Turning his attention to Happisburgh, he said: “This coast has been destroyed by misplaced hard coastal defences.

“With enough foresight, one could have known you can’t use hard coastal defences in an area with sediment deficiency.”

Dr Reise also said that, in Germany, there was compensation available to those who lost property to coastal erosion. There is no such compensation in the UK.

Other experts visiting the coast yesterday included Marinka Kiezebrink from the Netherlands, who will speak about coastal policy in her home country today.

She outlined the importance to the Netherlands of sand nourishment – where sand is brought in from the sea bed and used as a defence mechanism.

Dr Kiezebrink will discuss the Dutch experience with coastal risk management, coastal policy and the developments in that policy.

Michael Sayer, CLA executive member, said he would like to see the issues surrounding sea level rise and coastal defence “unbundled”.

“All the different issues are important, but we need to stop confusing them.”

Mr Sayer said he hoped the conference would encourage the reassessment of sea defence policy.

He will also give a presentation addressing the various issues at Norfolk sites, including Brancaster, Salthouse, Happisburgh and Sea Palling.

Happisburgh garages could fall into sea

Byline: Ed Foss, Eastern Daily Press

Three garages on the cliff edge at Happisburgh will be the next victims of the village’s long running saga of coastal erosion.

The buildings, which all belong to the brick-built houses on Beach Road, will be pulled down by council workmen in the coming few days. The news was confirmed to residents in a meeting with North Norfolk District Council officers yesterday.

Householders have been moving belongings out of the garages in preparation for the work.

Around three metres of cliff have been lost to the sea since Christmas, leaving the garages teetering dangerously close to the edge.

Before they fall to the beach, the council has a health and safety obligation to remove them.

Thanks to a pledge made at a council meeting some months ago, the council will fund the work. Otherwise there would have been the fear that the residents would have to stump up the cost themselves.

“It’s a big step for us, as it’s the first time anything on our property has been demolished,” said home and teashop owner Di Wrightson, who has lived on Beach Road for 23 years.

“It’s a very unpleasant feeling and we feel very let down by the system.

“We are still hoping to get another season in with the business, but we don’t really know how long it will be before we have to move out of the house.”

Residents have asked the district council to adopt a “sympathetic” approach to the demolition and to avoid using heavy machinery, which they believe could exacerbate rates of erosion near the cliff edge.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of Happisburgh’s Coastal Concern Action Group, said: “This is a sad sad day, which I hoped would never happen.

“But for every brick and tile that is lost, we will redouble our efforts.

Mr Kerby maintained that the blame for the ongoing situation in Happisburgh lay at the door of Government rather than with the district council.

The council’s head of law and property Peter Frew said demolition was likely next week. He added that plans were being considered to move temporary rocks around to improve defences, but this was unlikely to happen until mid March due to tides, access and availability of machinery.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb described the news as a “sharp human reminder of the impact of neglect”.

Crumbling village chases Euro-cash

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

Coastal defence campaigners for Happisburgh are taking their fight overseas in a bid to stop the village from crumbling away.

After council officers this week said a further bid for government funds to pay for a £2m sea defence project would be “futile”, three coastal ambassadors will travel to Brussels to try and get European backing.

Campaigners are confident a meeting at the European Commission about the EUrosion Project, which aims to draw up a cross-country strategy to manage eroding and flood-prone shorelines, will be successful.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, and Peter Frew, coastal engineer for North Norfolk District Council, will be part of discussions with EC representatives on October 20. They hope sizeable loans from European banks and new legislation, which will force the British Government to support coastal communities, will stop more properties being claimed by the sea.

Mr Kerby said the get-together was not a last-ditch attempt to halt Happisburgh’s rapidly-eroding cliffs.

“We are utterly committed to saving our community. Clearly our own government is falling far too short on coastal dwellers’ expectations. They are allowing the heritage and socio-economic value of our communities to disintegrate and, yet again, we look to Europe for some common sense.”

The EUrosion scheme, run by the National Institute for Coastal and Marine management of the Netherlands, was set up in 2001 to form policy recommendations for the EU, national, regional and local authorities.

Mr Kerby added that the Government would have to listen to new national strategies, due to be im”appropriate and ecologically responsible coastal protection measures for coastal settlements and cultural heritage”.

Happisburgh’s cliffs, which in some places have been eroding at speeds of up to 10m a month, fail a government points system for funding.

Liberal Democrat MP Mr Lamb, who organised the Brussels meeting, said there was also a possibility that Happisburgh and other coastal villages could benefit from loans from European investment banks.

“I have no idea if anything will come out of the meeting but my view is that we have to try. I wish it was not necessary. I remain deeply frustrated at the Government for changing the goalposts for funding criteria.”

New North Norfolk Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Iain Dale yesterday called for more government support for coastal communities at the party conference in Blackpool.

Sea could swallow thousands of homes

Byline: Dan Grimmer, Evening News

THOUSANDS of homes could be swallowed by the sea if conservationists get their way and allow sea defences to be breached to create new wetland habitation.

English Nature and the Environment Agency believe it will cost too much to maintain the concrete wall near Winterton in the long term.

In a report which will send shockwaves throughout North Norfolk, they suggest it could be left to collapse, therefore allowing the sea to eventually engulf six villages and hundreds of isolated homesteads.

The study known as CHaMPS (Coastal Habitat Management Plan), which will be considered by planners responsible for protecting Norfolk’s coastline, concludes that in the long run it might prove too costly to keep maintaining the existing concrete sea wall.

The report states: “The saline flooding of northern Broadland resulting from a major breach of the dunes, would, of course, represent a major human tragedy involving six villages and numerous isolated house and farms.”

The villages most likely to be threatened include Sea Palling, Eccles, Waxham, Horsey, Hickling and Potter Heigham, while erosion could see between 70 and 260 metres of coastline at Winterton itself lost over the next century. The report added the area flooded could be restricted to 6,500 hectares if extra defences were built at Potter Heigham and Stalham.

It continued: “Given the fact that such a major change in the coastal landscape is not likely to occur for at least 100 years, it would be possible to consider adjustment to long-term planning objectives so that socio-economic interests would not be adversely affected.

“The conservation value of such a steep change in the management of this critical coastal area would be immense, while the alternative, in terms of continued and increasingly expensive and potentially unsustainable defences, is difficult to contemplate over a period of more than two centuries.

“It is clear though, that further study of the proposal would be required, particularly with respect to the viability of other long-term coastal defence options.

“In this context it is important that continued monitoring of the Winterton frontage is undertaken in order to determine the accuracy of the predictions made in this CHaMP.

“Only with additional and longer-term datasets can informed decisions on the future sustainability and strategic direction of coastal defence requirements be made for this stretch of the Norfolk coastline.”

Peter Lambley, English Nature’s conservation officer for the Norfolk coast, was quick to stress the ideas were still subject to a much wider consultation process.

He said: “The CHaMPS is a contribution to the debate on this length of coast which will be built into the Shoreline Management Plan which is in development.”

But families in Winterton have been rocked by the suggestion the sea could be allowed to swallow swathes of land and forever change the landscape of the Norfolk coast. Shirley Weymouth, Great Yarmouth Borough councillor for Winterton and Somerton, has called a meeting which will include representatives from English Nature, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and various local authorities.

She said there was concern in Winterton over the erosion of the coastline, with predictions that water levels could rise by nearly a metre in the next 100 years.

She said: “Until we have had this meeting, I do not really know the ins and outs. That is why I have called the meeting. One party is saying one thing and another says another thing. We have got to get everyone together.”

The meeting will be held in the village at 7.30pm on Monday, September 29.

Work on the concrete wall started in 1953 after a surge tide broke through the existing defences and seven people died. The current wall was built in stages between 1953 and 1989.

Gary Watson, coastal geomorphologist at Anglian Coastal Authorities Group, based at North Norfolk District Council, will take a lead role in drawing up the Shoreline Management Plan for the county’s coastline.

He made it clear English Nature’s views would not be the only ones taken into account when the policy was drawn up next year and submitted to the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs for funding approval.

Mr Watson said: “I do appreciate the environmental benefits, but English Nature do not take into account that thousands of people will be affected. English Nature’s report blatantly ignores the fact there are a lot of people who live there and we are probably talking about millions of pounds in compensation.”

Last month, several hundred protesters gathered on the rapidly-eroding clifftops at Happisburgh to spell out a human SOS to the Government.

Keith Harrison, parish representative of the Norfolk Coast Partnership, said the time to panic had not come yet. “There’s a new round of Shoreline Management Plans taking place at the moment which could say something completely different to what Champs say.”

Clifftop death sentence fury

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

ANGRY villagers are vowing to step up their battle for sea defences to protect their North Norfolk homes, despite being told by a top Government official there is no money in the pot.

A deputation from Happisburgh travelled to the corridors of power in London on Tuesday – but were met by gloomy news.

Environment Minister Elliot Morley offered them sympathy, but no hope of cash to shore up their shoreline.

A £700,000 rock groyne project was the last plan to fail to get off the ground because of a raft of delays, technical and funding problems.

And the cost of a scheme to protect the east end of the village and rebuild a storm-shattered lifeboat ramp is now put at £2 million.

Villagers were frustrated to hear Westminster officials constantly refer to problems meeting “criteria” during the hour-long meeting, but later talked of their determination to fight on.

Long-standing campaigner and home-owner Jack Hall said: “For them it is a problem, but for us it is a crisis.”

The meeting had confirmed there was no help coming from central Government, but they would carry on fighting for funding.

“There is absolutely no way that this can stop here – if it did we would be sentencing the village to death,” he said.

Coastal action group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said: “Of course we are disappointed – absolutely furious.”

He attacked the “completely dismissive attitude” of officials who were “so rigid in their approach.” But he said the campaigners would “go forward from here” – starting with another public meeting.

And local guest house owner Di Wrightson, whose home is now just yards from the clifftop, accused the Government of “completely failing to take into account the human cost of what is happening to our village.”

She said: “They just flatly refused to listen to the real consequences of what we are facing up to as individuals and as a community” – a charge the Minister later denied.

The trio were joined by parish councillor and publican Clive Stockton and Peter Frew, head of law and property at North Norfolk District Council.

MP Norman Lamb, who organised the meeting, was also “immensely disappointed” – but pledged to continue fighting.

He will call on Government officials to take more account of the longer-term threat of the sea breaking through into the Broads, and will seek support from other coastal MPs facing similar problems.

Other issues raised at the meeting included the question of compensation for those who lose their homes, the effect of the nearby Sea Palling rock reefs built in the 1990s and the possibility of justifying funding for sea defences by considering Happisburgh as an emergency situation.

After the meeting, Elliot Morley released a statement saying: “I sympathise with the residents who may suffer damage and distress because of the coastal erosion.

“However, we must accept that natural events such as coastal erosion can never be entirely prevented.

“I know that North Norfolk District Council does face many severe technical and practical problems as it seeks to devise sustainable defence measures for this frontage.”

Any application for Government funding would be considered “sympathetically against the normal technical, economic and environmental criteria and priority score arrangements.”

And he stressed that his department recognised the human aspect of coastal erosion — by taking account of social, health and environmental issues and not just economic values.

“Regretfully, there are major cost and technical challenges which makes any proposed scheme very costly to protect a very small number of homes.

“That is not to say a scheme may not be affordable or justified in the future but at the moment it does look difficult to do,” he said.

Lifeboat crew move home

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

A lifeboat crew has “moved house” to a temporary station – but any hopes of them returning home hinge on a crunch meeting with the Minister next month. The Happisburgh crew have been forced to shift their boat a mile eastwards to Cart Gap after coastal erosion destroyed their launching ramp. Spokesman Phil Smith said they would love to return to the original station – but it could only happen if the ramp was rebuilt. Although work is under way building a £45,000 footpath link to the beach, for safety reasons, a larger ramp would cost around double that – and needed to be part of a sea defence scheme, otherwise it would just get washed away again, explained North Norfolk District Council geomorphologist Gary Watson. Any hopes of getting a scheme off the ground however may lie with a meeting between local campaigners and Environment Minister Elliot Morley – scheduled for May 13. The Coastal Concern Action Group has been leading calls for replacement of worn-out defences at the east end of the village, where a series of chalets have fallen over the crumbling cliffs, and now brick-built homes are in danger as a bay bites further into the coastline. But efforts have fallen foul of a string of problems, including Government policy which demands that the value of the land and property being saved outweighs the cost of any scheme. Group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said they would be using the meeting to call on the Government reassess the last failed scheme – as red tape delays had contributed to its downfall – as well as quizzing the Minister on wider issues of the nation’s “shambolic” coastal defence policy. “It’s real chance to pit our case to the man responsible – face-to-face, and we will be taking him some striking aerial pictures for his walls,” said Mr Kerby. As well as the London meeting, arranged by local MP Norman Lamb, campaigners were also meeting Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff on April 15 – to see if there was any European human rights case to be brought against the Government for failing to protect people’s homes. In the meantime the old Happisburgh lifeboat station will remain in use for on-shore training and meetings, and summer souvenir sales. The new station, in a pair of portable buildings, would also welcome a new £20,000 boat in June. It will be one of the first of a new fleet of IB1 inshore boats from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and will be named in October at Berkshampsted, in Hertfordshire, in recognition of the RNLI branch which raised the funds for it. This weekend Nick Cox, the son of the Station Honorary Secretary, will be running in the London Marathon as part of the RNLI team to raise money in order to offset some of the £25,000 it has cost to set up the new temporary station at Happisburgh. Anyone wishing to sponsor him should contact Cedric Cox on 01692 650727.

Going, going, gone … but what next?

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press Sunday Supplement

Blame who you will for the desperate situation at Happisburgh. Government inefficiency, red tape, individuals from outside the village opposing to proposed schemes, lack of political will from Whitehall. What is for sure is the loss of property and land will continue in the face of the ruthless North Sea, reports Edward Foss. That is unless a way forward can be identified – and something done to protect people, families and homes. Pictures by Sam Robbins.

There will be slightly less of Happisburgh by the time this article has become tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. A chunk or two of cliff, maybe even a couple of feet – not a big deal in itself. But the residents of Happisburgh have been watching this happen for decades. For many of those who live in the village now or have done so in the past, the experience has been nothing short of distressing.

The recent loss of the lifeboat ramp – the only access to the beach both for boats and for people appears to have galvanised the community in a way not previously seen.

It is no secret that there have been rifts in Happisburgh about the best way forward and who is at fault for delays in building adequate sea defences. But if a recent meeting held in the parish church and featuring hundreds of villagers, a line-up of senior district council officials and the local MP Norman Lamb demonstrated anything, it was that opinions within the village are now more focused than ever.

The loss of the ramp means the economic viability of various local businesses and services is at risk. In turn, the very health of the community itself has come under threat. The lifeboat being forced to temporarily move further up the coast to Cart Gap. But, more to the point, the vital summer visitors may not come in the numbers they normally do. Happisburgh’s main attraction is its beach. No beach, no tourists.

There has been a tendency in the media including the EDP to concentrate on Beach Road when discussing the Happisburgh debacle. Admittedly, this shortening dead end is where the most imminent danger lies. Households including Di Wrightson and her teashop, the Barber family, Mr & Mrs Beeby and Phyllis Tubby. But what has become increasingly clear to all is that this is not a story about Beach Road.

Jack Hall of a previous Happisburgh pressure group is just one person who has warned of what could happen in the longer term if satisfactory sea defences are not brought to the village beach. “It is disturbing to think the church itself is under threat,” he says.

Admittedly, Mr Hall is looking some way down the line – 20 years perhaps. But surely Norfolk should not be in line for losing a church to the sea, how ever many years away? But then – it has happened before. What else? The sentinel lighthouse, the main road, scores of houses? Mr Hall has described the current situation as “manifestly unfair and tragically neglectful.”

And he talks of the unseen decline in commercial life, a point echoed by Ian Chaney who has run the local shop, Wayside Stores, for seven years. “The loss of the ramp has changed things in the minds of people, there is a much stronger feeling,” he says. “More people have realised it is not just Beach Road – it is the whole of the village. There are many people who rely on the summer trade, those six or eight weeks carry us through. If there is no access to the beach, people will not come. Happisburgh could end up a dormitory village.”

There is at least one straw to clutch on to when considering the economic viability of the village, and it comes in the form of talks between Chris Lomax, who owns the caravan site, and North Norfolk District Council. Hopes of a new pedestrian access to the beach are beginning to grow within the village after it was confirmed the two parties were meeting to discuss a way to get something built. But little is certain. All parties hope for a possible outcome.

Many villagers vilify the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for its failure to give the go ahead for a £700,000 sea defence scheme put forward by the district council last May. Problems with two objectors – local Lord of the Manor Eric Couzens and academic Prof Keith Clayton – and a land ownership wrangle, meant red tape dragged on for too long, rendering the scheme unviable.

But there is great strength of feeling that DEFRA simply failed to get its act in gear over paperwork. Mr Chaney said “people at DEFRA need to get off their backsides and take some action, before it’s too late.”

This is one of the issues where the various sides get tied up in knots. DEFRA accuses the district council for failing to “get its ducks in a row” over paperwork. The district council was reportedly kept in the dark for months as to what pieces of paper were actually required. By the time officials were actually told, it was too little too late.

Add this to the fact that the district council appears to be banging its head against a brick wall of ever changing rules – and it is easy to sympathise with those currently stationed in the Holt Road offices at Cromer.

Don’t even mention DEFRA’s cost benefit analysis, a minefield of a system ostensibly designed to ensure money is spent on the most economically-sound schemes. But some might say it is simply a smokescreen created to allow accountants to juggle their figures and make sure that budgets balance at the end of the year.

Officers at the district council, who these days are generally extremely well received in Happisburgh, have pledged to do whatever they can to help build defences. There seems little reason to doubt them. Coast engineer Brian Farrow, who has worked for the local authority for more than two decades, said that if he could have had his way “I would have built a sea wall 20 years ago.” His colleague, Peter Frew, says the district council will do what it can with its limited resources to maintain sea defences. Meanwhile, the battle with DEFRA to grab serious sums of money, which will enable proper sea defences to be built, will go on.

Councillors have also gleaned some respect recently by putting forward £160,000 to fund an interim sea defence project as an emergency measure after the failure of the bigger proposal. Small beer in many ways, but a good indication on a parochial level of what can be brought about by lobbying.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Happisburgh Coastal Concern Action Group, has one of the toughest tasks of the all – trying to represent the opinions of the community, but keeping a dialogue open with the district council at the same time. There has been great success on this level in the three and a half years he has held this role. And long may this continue.

Talk cost-benefit to Mr Kerby and he will tell you straight – “you cannot put a value on a community.” Too right. But this is just one aspect of his argument. “DEFRA has a responsibility to protect Happisburgh,” he says. “Ignorance is no excuse – everyone is well aware of the situation, but political will is lacking.”

For now, Mr Kerby is confident that the recent meeting in the parish church will be an event that will linger long in the memory of all who attended.

A shame, then, that DEFRA representatives turned down an invitation to come. Maybe they would have learned a valuable lesson about how seriously this problem is being viewed from within Happisburgh.

After the meeting, Mr Kerby said, “we need an opportunity to allow as many people as possible to speak directly to each other, give their opinions and ask questions. Thanks to the meeting, the group renewed its franchise to represent the people of Happisburgh. I think we also reached a much greater understanding of the difficulties faced by the district council, and how hard they have been trying to help us. And the hope is that the people in the village have gained a far wider appreciation of the issue as a whole.”

There is a particular level of hope within Happisburgh, and justifiably so. An optimism that they will not be left to their unsightly fate.

But in a uncertain world, the one thing that is inescapable is that the community must pull together in one united direction, and keep battling on.

On the edge – David Siely’s home on top of the cliff at Happisburgh.
Sea view – Renosteel workers surveying coastal defence work, seen from the kitchen window.

Coming apart – David Siely, left, stripping out the kitchen of his chalet with his brother, Sid.

Stripping out – David Siely working on the roof of the chalet

Empty shell – the chalet is coming to a sorry end during demolition work.

Final farewell – the chimney stack, all that remains of David Siely’s chalet is pulled down.

David’s days of despair.

Plenty of human stories have emerged from the ongoing events at Happisburgh over the years.

One of the most striking in recent times has been the tale of David Siely, who was forced to pull apart his Beach Road chalet before it was claimed by the eroding cliff. EDP photographer Sam Robbins spent many hours with David, who allowed him to record events during the several days of salvage works as the pictures above show.

The operation was carried out on some of January’s coldest days. Now little remains on the site of Oversands, once a treasured home. Save for a pile of rubble, cracked concrete paving and the odd piece of wood, there is nothing to suggest what went before.

The salvage seemed to be a strange mixture of humour and despair – typically British, typically Norfolk perhaps. The humour came in brief moments – David’s decision to dig out some favourite Irises at the end of the garden, some of them literally at the edge of the cliff face as he did so. The despair was all too evident – David inherited Oversands from an elderly friend who he had helped care for as she aged.

It is hard to understand how a person can feel knocking down a place full of so many fond memories. “I have been associated with this house for 45 years and it is very close to my heart,” David says. “I just didn’t want to see it knocked down and crushed to nothing. I am gutted that I have to do this,” he added.

But no doubt there will be more tales like Davids before too long.

Erosion-hit village gets new beach route

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

A new public pedestrian access to Happisburgh beach could be built by Easter if plans being put in place by North Norfolk District Council are successful.

The village’s lifeboat ramp – the only vehicle and pedestrian access available to the community – failed late last year after it was damaged by ongoing erosion.

The loss has prompted fears that tourists will come in far lower numbers this year, because they are unable to get to Happisburgh’s famous sandy beach without travelling to neighbouring communities and walking some distance.

The threat to the tourist market has in turn prompted concerns that some of the local businesses will lose large amounts of trade, threatening their viability.

But talks between the council and the owners of the village caravan site look likely to see a new access built in the coming months.

There are still a number of hoops to jump through, including planning permission and the purchase of handrails.

But Brain Farrow, the coun-cil’s coastal engineer, said he was optimistic of a positive outcome. He said the owners of the caravan site had been extremely helpful during the talks. The deal is that the caravan site will supply the land and the council will provide the access.

“They would like to see the access built, as would we,” said Mr Farrow.

“It cannot be rushed, but the plan is being fast-tracked as much as possible.

“I hope it will be in place by the Easter break, although it will be tough to do so.”

The access, which is some 70m to the west of the lifeboat station, will only be open to people and not to vehicles.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, said he welcomed the plans, especially as they were the result of co-operation between a local business and the council.

Mr Kerby will host a “jargon-busting” meeting in the village on Monday. He will attempt to explain some of the complicated terminology used when discussing sea defences.

The session will be held in the church rooms opposite the post office – and everyone is welcome to attend.

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.

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.