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.

Rocks will protect homes for the winter

Byline: Richard Batson, Eastern Daily Press

Families living in fear of losing their clifftop homes have been given the early Christmas present of 4000 tonnes of rock. A £160,000 emergency scheme will protect Happisburgh’s Beach Road from all but the worst of storms – for the time being. But householders have been warned that the longer-term future of their houses still hangs in the balance.

Work on a “firefighting” scheme aimed to buy time should begin on December 16 and will be finished in the New Year, officials said yesterday. It may be only a stay of execution, because a full sea defence scheme could still be years away – leaving the vulnerable part of the village at the mercy of the elements.

The news of the emergency work was welcomed by villagers, but they are still angry about the delays which have scuppered a proper £700,000 defence scheme. Coastal Concern Action group spokesman Malcolm Kerby said: “We appreciate the efforts of the council, but it may have given us a six month stay of execution.” He condemned the delays caused by Government bureaucrats and objectors and said the group would be looking at legal issues, such as the human right of protection, among longer term answers.

Guesthouse owner Di Wrightson said “we are grateful for the time this has bought us, but we must fight on. Our life is in turmoil. We are getting inquiries from people who want to stay next summer, and we are saying we don’t know if we will be here.”

Local district councillor Sue Willis said the news was an “early Christmas present” for families, who had been unable to plan for the festive season because of fears about the fate of their property. But the council had to be honest with people about the long-term uncertainty, and did not want to build up false hopes.

The long-running saga of trying to find a solution to worn-out sea defences and accelerating erosion rates at the east end of Happisburgh has reached a climax in recent weeks.

North Norfolk District Council’s executive committee met behind closed doors to get legal advice and decide on what action to take. Afterwards chief executive Bruce Barrell said the situation was “extremely serious” and that “doing nothing is no longer an option”. Councillors had looked at the legal, technical and, mostly importantly, the social issues of the situation, namely people’s homes.

Engineering manager Peter Frew said legal advice from a barrister revealed that emergency work could be carried out – but admitted it was “firefighting.” It would involve a wall of eight-tonne rocks piled 2.8m high which would “buy time” and would “see us through the winter.” The council’s frustration had increased because the latest major sea defence scheme was the first one, in many years of trying, to meet Government criteria.

But because of the delays – caused by two objectors including lord of the manor Eric Couzens – it was no longer viable, said Mr Frew. Recent erosion meant a bigger scheme was now needed, but the loss of property in the meantime meant it was harder to make an economic case. Mr Couzens has told the EDP he does not talk to the media about his objections, which include navigation and beach safety issues.

On the edge of disaster

Byline: Richard Batson and Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

Clifftop residents are desperate for sea defence scheme to be implemented to end their nightmare.

They await their fate like the inmates of Death Row. Each day, each storm, moves their homes a little closer to the cliff edge of oblivion. Yet the people are innocent. Their only “crime” is to have bought a home close to the seaside, like generations before them, to enjoy the bracing air, spectacular sea views, and walks along the nearby beach.

But they are currently sentenced to a life of worry, anger and frustration as that beach inches ominously closer, through a combination of action by Mother Nature and inaction by Government bureaucrats. The real guilty parties, according to local campaigners, are the Whitehall paper-shufflers who do not understand the urgency of the situation at Happisburgh.

The village has been battling for years to replace the worn-out wood revetments built in the 1950s in a frenzy of post 1953 flood defence construction. But its east end has been going west at an increasing rate of knots. Soft sandy cliffs have been tumbling into the sea. A bay has appeared. And, most dramatically, a string of holiday chalets have disappeared – either over the edge, or pulled down as doom and danger knocked on their doors.

The district council has drawn up a series of sea defence schemes but has constantly struggled against two major obstacles – Government red tape and local objectors. Government rules have made it difficult to come up with projects which meet a “cost-benefit” formula, which demands that schemes should not cost more than the land and property they are designed to protect.

The string of low value holiday chalets in the main firing line did not help boost the sums, but officials have played what they thought was an environmental ace up their sleeve, saying there was also a danger of the sea breaching into the priceless Norfolk Broads within 20 years. But the feedback from Government was that it was too early to play that trump card.

Ministers have visited the site, but – and it is a fact that says it all – the land they walked along is no longer there. It too has been swallowed by the sea. Three successive MPs have called for action, and a local campaign group was set up to force a speedy conclusion to the latest stalemate, which has seen a £700,000 scheme of rock protection and groyne repairs – much cheaper than earlier multi-million pound solutions – stuck in the sea defence sausage machine for months.

Part of the problem is objections from two “regulars” who have lodged official opposition to the past three schemes. Professor Keith Clayton, a retired environmentalist from the University of East Anglia, continues to float his academic view that the best form of coast protection is to let nature take its course rather than to have any man-made interventions. He says a patch-and-mend mentality is no good, but that the North Norfolk coast needs to be managed as a whole. And he adds that the solution is now out of his hands and with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He also believes that people losing their homes should be compensated.

Local lord of the manor Eric Couzens is objecting on several points, including navigation concerns for the lifeboat, safety worries about people being trapped on the beach by the groyne and disappointment that the scheme does not deal with the danger of flooding the low-lying land behind the cliffs. He refuses to speak to the media.

But the groundswell of local opinion is that these issues should be dismissed by Defra, in favour of getting the scheme started urgently, to save more homes from being lost.

While Happisburgh awaits a Defra hearing, the fears are that it will take weeks, and even if there is a favourable decision it might not come until after Christmas – by which time the cliff edge could be slicing across the back gardens of some of the brick-built homes in Beach Road for the first time.

Previous victims have all been wooden chalets and caravans, but the danger is now creeping closer to the more permanent homes in that part of the village. Officials say that, if the scheme got the go-ahead, a start could be made in a fortnight.

Council officials are visiting the area virtually daily to talk to residents, update them on developments, check the cliffs and even discuss possible evacuation measures. Local district councillor Sue Willis said that emotions were running high among the people affected by the erosion risk. She commented: “They are worried sick. There is anger and frustration. The officers have done everything in their power to get a scheme off the ground, as well as being sensitive and kind to the local residents. But these people at Defra sit in their ivory tower and have no idea at what is happening out here.” Hinting at the situation at Salthouse and Cley, where a new clay bank is soon to be rebuilt, helped by the area’s ranking as an international wildlife reserve, she added: “If this was a rare bird we were trying to protect, new defences would have been paid for by now. But what about people?” She urged the objectors to “see sense” and withdraw their objections.

The situation was all the more poignant in the lead up to Christmas, she said. “There are people there with families who are trying to plan for Christmas, but do not know what the future holds.” Mrs Willis said it was no longer and good “being nice” to a department that was doing nothing, apart from chasing paperwork. She welcomed any moves to get action from Defra, and help for Happisburgh.

Defra said that it wrote to North Norfolk District Council on October 8, “telling them what they had to do next. The council is responsible for taking the scheme forward,” said a spokeswoman, who went on to say that Defra would be called upon to adjudicate “only when we have received the relevant documentation from the council.” This would include planning permission and local land owner permission.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said at the weekend: “Let’s get on with the hearing now, we have to get a decision on this. I am a layman on the sea defence issue and I am conscious that there are differing views about the effectiveness of the scheme. But I am absolutely convinced that there is no cause for delay in having a hearing, where the experts can reach a decision. If the experts then see it as a runner, then for goodness sake get on with it.” Mr Lamb has raised the question of the Hold-ups with Defra minister Elloit Morley.

Local action group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said concern was reaching fever pitch. “We understand everybody has a right to object. But it is important that they exercise that right responsibly,” he said. “We feel these two men are being irresponsible, and that Defra has the discretion to overrule them.” Mr Kerby said a public consultation over the scheme had resulted in 325 supporters.

Ironically, the people in danger at Happisburgh can look eastwards along the coast and see millions of pounds worth of man-made reefs off Sea Palling – which rubs salt into their already-sore wounds.


Years of erosion

1959
Happisburgh’s line of wooden revetments were built to protect the shore in front of the village in a wave of coastal defences put up in the aftermath of the 1953 floods.

1992
A £2 million scheme is drawn up to provide a line of rock replacing the worn-out wooden defences. It drew objections from two men, Prof Keith Clayton and lord of the manor Eric Couzens. Other objections from Norfolk County Council, which raised concerns about building a “Maginot line” to protect “tatty” chalets, were later withdrawn. But the scheme foundered after failing to meet ministry funding criteria.

1993-94
A new shoreline management plan for the area comes up with a policy of “hold the line” at Happisburgh as opposed to the “managed retreat” earmarked for other stretches of coast.

1995
A report by consultants Halcrow looked into how a scheme could link in strategically with the new man-made reefs at Sea Palling. It proposed a £2.7 million scheme of reefs built on the beaches. There were objections from Messrs Clayton and Couzens. But the scheme could not proceed because of new Government “cost benefit” rules, which mean defences cannot cost more than the land and property they are trying to protect.

1996
March – The impact of the failing defences hits the headlines as the clifftop home of George and Jeanne Scott teeters on, and finally topples, over the edge, following an 11th hour evacuation by the couple.
May – Visiting junior agriculture minister Tim Boswell is handed a dossier of stories from the News’ sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press, called On The Doorstep of Disaster, to help him understand the urgency of the Happisburgh problem. He said “I haven’t brought my chequebook today” and later called for more cost-effective scheme than the £4.6 million one on the drawing board.
November – A new £3.7 million project of rock breakwaters is hatched instead. Prof Clayton objected and stressed he did not feel guilty. He said: “I do not make a habit of objecting to these schemes. I have only done it three times and do not do it for amusement.” He felt the money spent on sea defences to protect “wooden houses” could be spent on housing, hospitals and schools.

1999
January – Despite the parlous state of the cliffs a little blue three-bedroomed wooded bungalow in Beach Road, called Kenrick, attracts more than 20 potential buyers, even though it only had a limited lifespan. Three sales fell before it eventually sold to an Essex woman, for much less than the £17,000 top bid in a sealed auction in January.
March – A Coastal Concern Action Group is set up after a public meeting at which Pat Gowen, of the North Sea Action Group, blamed offshore dredging for the bigger waves which were speeding up erosion.

2001
The latest scheme for a smaller, more affordable £700,000 scheme is drawn up. It features a rock groyne, rock revetment and repairs to an existing groyne. The council says it could be Happisburgh’s “last chance”, with Government moves to switch more funding to inland flooding problems. There were objections from Messers Clayton and Couzens. From January to May this year council officials tried to resolve the objections, without success, meaning that the scheme must now await a hearing from Defra to decide its fate.


As the red tape surrounding the proposed sea-defence scheme at Happisburgh prevents work from starting, Edward Foss met some of the people closest to the edge. They speak with a common voice, an anger and desperation borne of frustration and endless waiting.

“Something will get done – but if it is in time for us, I don’t know”

Di Wrightson owns and runs the Cliff House teashop and guesthouse. She went to live in Happisburgh in 1970 and moved to her current home 22 years ago. Miss Wrightson and her neighbours saw around 10 metres of land disappear in August and another eight metres in September. “I am confident something will get done in terms of the defence scheme, but if it is time for us, I do not know,” she said. “The council and the concern group keep attempting to get something done. If nothing happens, it will not be for the want of trying. This is not democratic.”

She added that as things stood it was almost impossible to say when she might have to move out of her business and home, but admitted that Christmas was a possibility. “If we had not had the two objectors I don’t think we would still be waiting. That is how the law works at the moment, but I think it is wrong.”

“We are in the lap of the gods…”

Erica and Malcolm Barber have 38ft of land left between their garage and the cliff. If they are still in their home this Christmas, they will have lived there for 11 years. The Barbers still have four years to pay on their mortgage, a commitment they say they will stick to even if their home is lost to the sea. “Touch wood, none of the cliff has gone in the last few days but we are still in the lap of the gods at the moment,” said Mrs Barber. And Mr Barber added: “It seems to me that there are people who are trying to slow it down and slow it down.” The couple said compensation would help, but more than anything wanted protection for their home.

“It is always in your mind”

Trevor and Gillian Beeby who live the village-side of Di Wrightson, have been in their home for 15 months. The retired couple, who have been married for 43 years, say the situation affects their quality of life every day. “It is always in your mind,” said Mr Beeby. “It makes you question whether those who make the decisions actually care about people. No one seems to mention the people who could lose their homes. We told the council people we were thinking of getting a new carpet, but we were told there probably would not be any point.”

The Beebys say they realise they could be within an immediately dangerous distance of the cliff by February. “We are hopeful we will be here this time next year but we have to be realistic. I would just like to pick up my bungalow and move it,” said Mrs Beeby.

“I just want to die here”

Perhaps the simplest and most immediately distressing of all the Beach Road stories is that of Phyllis Tubby. The 81-year-old has lived in her house, which she describes as her “first and last real home”, for 25 years. “I can’t sleep, I feel sick about it almost every day, ” she said. “If it comes to getting out of this house, it will be the end of me. This is such a lovely house, I just want to die here.”

Living on the edge

Byline: Edward Foss amd Richard Batson, Eastern Daily Press

Families living in a “death row” street of North Norfolk clifftop homes have delivered a plea for help before their houses fall victim to the sea. And last night, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb warned: “The sea won’t wait for Whitehall officials to make a decision.”

The householders at greatest danger of being made homeless have united to send a message to the bureaucrats who hold Happisburgh’s fate in their hands – “act now or we lose our homes”. One 81-year-old resident who lives near the cliff said the situation had “knocked her for six”, even adding that she “just wants to die”.

Bad weather means that more than half a dozen houses could be claimed by the sea by Christmas. Residents believe that if work does not start soon, more will certainly follow.

The appeal comes six months after a £700,000 sea defence scheme to protect crumbling cliffs was first put forward to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). That scheme has still failed to emerge from red tape.

As hundreds of papers, faxes and e-mails flew between departments over the summer, chalets fell victim to the sea around Beach Road, a battle ground for coastal erosion for 10 years. Now owners of brick houses are awaiting their fate, be it in a week, a month, a year or maybe five years.

While a war of words has been building between MPs, Defra and North Norfolk District Council, as well as between objectors and supporters of the defence scheme, more and more people are waiting to watch their homes destroyed. One couple have four years left to pay on their mortgage, a commitment they will keep to, even if they are forced out of their home in the coming months. All the Happisburgh residents want is for the concerned parties to knuckle down and come to a decision on the scheme – and quickly.

Council officers have been repeatedly praised for their hard work in trying to get the plans off the ground. They have done “everything and more”, according to campaigners. But Defra have insisted the onus on moving the scheme forward rests with the local authority, and that it had not received all the relevant information in relation to the issue. “We have not seen all the ducks in a row”, said a spokeswoman.

The objections of two individuals to the sea defence scheme have held up the process. There should eventually be a special hearing adjudicated by Defra.

Lord of the manor Eric Couzens is objecting on several points, including navigation concerns for the lifeboat, safety worries about people being trapped on the beach by the groyne, and disappointment that the scheme does not deal with the danger of flooding low-lying land behind the cliffs. He refuses to comment to the media.

Prof Keith Clayton, a retired environmentalist from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, says a patch-and-mend mentality is no good, and that the North Norfolk coast needs to be managed as a whole.

People in Happisburgh are tired of what many people see as a slanging match between people who either do not live in the village, or who barely know where it is.

Officials say that if the scheme were to get the go-ahead, a start could be made in a fortnight. Action group co-ordinator Malcolm Kerby said concern was reaching fever pitch. “We are in dire straits here. We are fed up with waiting for civil servants to dot Is and cross s,” he said. And district councillor Sue Willis said emotions were running high among the people at risk. She said: “They are worried sick. These people at Defra sit in their ivory tower and have no idea what is happening out here.”


As the red tape surrounding the proposed sea-defence scheme at Happisburgh prevents work from starting, Edward Foss met some of the people

Residents on edge as waiting goes on.

Di Wrightson owns and runs the Cliff House teashop and guesthouse. She went to live in Happisburgh in 1970 and moved to her current home 22 years ago. She and her neighbours saw about 10 metres of land disappear in August and another eight metres in September. “I am confident something will get done in terms of the defence scheme, but if it is time for us, I do not know,” said Miss Wrightson. “The council and the concern group keep attempting to get something done. If nothing happens, it will not be for the want of trying. This is not democratic.”

She said it was almost impossible to say when she might have to move out of her business and home, but thought Christmas was a possibility. “If we had not had the two objectors I don’t think we would still be waiting. That is how the law works at the moment, but I think it is wrong.”

Erica and Malcolm Barber have 38ft of land left between their garage and the cliff. If they are still in their home this Christmas, they will have lived there for 11 years. The Barbers still have 4 years to pay on their mortgage, a commitment they say they will stick to even if their home is lost to the sea. “Touch wood, none of the cliff has gone in the last few days but we are still in the lap of the gods at the moment,” said Mrs Barber. Mr Barber added: “It seems to me that there are people who are trying to slow it down.” The couple said compensation would help, but more than anything wanted protection for their home.

Trevor and Gillian Beeby who live village side of Di Wrightson, have been in their home for 15 months. The retired couple say the situation affects their quality of life every day. “It is always in your mind,” said Mr Beeby. “It makes you question whether those who make the decisions actually care about people. No one seems to mention the people who could lose their homes. We told the council people we were thinking of getting a new carpet but we were told there probably would not be any point.”

The Beebys say they realise they could be within an immediately dangerous distance of the cliff by February. “We are hopeful we will be here this time next year but we have to be realistic. I would just like to pick up my bungalow and move it,” said Mr Beeby.

Perhaps the simplest and most immediately distressing of all the Beach Road stories is that of Phyllis Tubby. The 81-year-old has lived in her house, which she describes as her “first and last real home”, for 25 years. “I can’t sleep, I feel sick about it almost every day, ” she said. “If it comes to getting out of this house, it will be the end of me. This is such a beautiful house, I just want to die here.”

Village’s hopes dashed

Byline: Edward Foss, Eastern Daily Press

Hopes of an interim sea defence scheme to “buy time” for a Norfolk village threatened by coastal erosion were dashed yesterday. The £165,000 scheme at Happisburgh would have acted as a stop-gap before a larger plan could be brought in to save houses at risk of falling into the sea. But councillors rejected the plan as “throwing good money after bad”.

The larger scheme is currently embroiled in ministerial red tape and awaiting a local inquiry to resolve objections lodged by lord of the manor Eric Couzens and environmentalist Keith Clayton. The outcome of such an inquiry, the future of which lies with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, may still take months to resolve.

Villagers at Happisburgh, and North Norfolk District Council officials have spent years trying to get a major scheme to reinforce the cliffs. Several chalets have already fallen into the sea this year.

The interim scheme would have seen a rock sill built at the bottom of the cliff. However, various problems with the proposal meant a meeting of the district council’s executive committee yesterday voted against it.

Peter Frew, council engineering manager, outlined the interim scheme. The problems included funding, as other coastal schemes would have to be reduced in order to find the necessary cash; whether or not going ahead with the plan would constitute a pre-judgement of the possible inquiry; and the possibility of legal objections to the works, he said.

Sue Willis, local member for Happisburgh, said she received daily phone calls from people in the village and that the council should act. But several councillors agreed that the best thing would be to contact Defra and ask it to settle the issue of the larger scheme without delay.

Yesterday’s decision angered Malcolm Kerby, chairman of the Coastal Concerns action group, who said it was “ludicrous and gutless”. “We are at the end of our tether. People are going to lose their homes and livelihoods,” he said.

He said the district council officers involved with the Happisburgh proposals had behaved in an “exemplary” fashion and had left no stone unturned in their efforts.

Campaign to speed up sea defence work

Byline: Richard Batson, Eastern Daily Press

Campaigners calling for urgent action to help a seaside village threatened by accelerating coastal erosion have welcomed moves to speed up paperwork on a long-awaited sea defence scheme. And they have renewed calls for the Government to press ahead with funding the project before more homes are sent tumbling over the edge of the cliff.

Villagers at Happisburgh and North Norfolk District Council officials, have spent years trying to get a major scheme to reinforce the cliffs. At a spot just to the east of the village the sea has cut a bay into the coastline and sent a string of chalets crashing on to the beach below.

After failing to win funding – because the cost of projects far outweighed the value of the land to be saved – a smaller-scale solution has been suggested. It is stuck in the ministerial pipeline, awaiting a local inquiry to resolve objections lodged by lord of the manor Eric Couzens and environmentalist Prof Keith Clayton. However North Norfolk District Council has just submitted a planning application for a £700,000 scheme at Happisburgh, in an effort to get project paperwork done, ready for a quick start if the scheme is approved.

The three-phase scheme features:

  • a rock groyne and rock protection of the toe of the cliff;
  • extending and repairing a timber groyne, including adding a “geo-tube” – a sand-filled plastic sausage at right angles to the shore which stops sand drift along the coast;
  • a rock revetment between the two groynes.

Coast protection engineer Brian Farrow said council staff were drawing up the plans, and seeking other official consents for the £708,000 scheme, so that “if and when the inquiry is in our favour we are ready to go”.

Malcolm Kerby, chairman of the Coastal Concerns action group, said: “Time is absolutely critical. Erosion is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. As an action group we are here to prod and cajole, but the district council has been absolutely marvellous in trying to get every other obstacle out of the way in the hope that when we get the green light the switch can be flipped.”

They were, however, “deeply annoyed” that the two objections – both lodged by people not living in the village – were holding up the scheme. The group has written to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, urging that the issue should be settled without the delay of going to an inquiry. Mr Kerby said: “If nothing is done we could lose another half dozen homes by Christmas.”

Sea defence plan splits community

Byline: Richard Batson, North Norfolk News

Planned new sea defences at a North Norfolk coastal erosion hotspot seem to have spit the community. The latest move to solve long running problems at Happisburgh have been welcomed by a local action group, but attacked by the parish council.

A new £700,000 rock groyne project was unveiled at a public meeting in the village at the weekend. But while campaigners are backing the scheme as a partial solution, parish councillors say it is a waste of money and fails to address escalating problems in a vulnerable area.

Council engineers say the new scheme – cheaper than previous defences which failed to win Government funding – stood more chance of success. It would partially help by building up the beach to provide more protection for an area where a large bay has formed in its unprotected soft cliffs after farmland and chalets tumbled into the sea in recent years.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Coastal Concern Action Group, said villagers would be relieved some sort of solution was in the pipeline, even if it did not completely resolve the situation. “The latest scheme does not answer all our concerns, but we live in the real world,” he added.

However, a meeting of the parish council has aired concerns and is calling for a meeting with MP Norman Lamb over the issue. Parish council coast protection spokesman David Will said they felt the new scheme was “dumping more money into the sea to save a few chalets” when the rate of erosion into local farmland near a caravan site and the village’s famous lighthouse was being lost at an increasing rate. He said the council had spent £800,000 shoring up old defences over the past decade, which was far beyond the value of the property they were protecting – yet they were struggling to financially justify a scheme which would prevent flooding into the Norfolk Broads.

North Norfolk District Council engineer Peter Frew said the new scheme was cheaper than the £2.5 million price tag of previous projects to put rock armour along the beach and cliff bottoms. But it would trap sand to build up the beach and protect the cliffs. He was keen to get the project off the ground before a change in government funding guidelines, which could make it even harder to win grant aid.

Parish councillor Mr Will said they were unhappy with the scheme, and also concerned it would fall foul of environmental objectors as others had in the past. They wanted to meet Mr Lamb to find a way forward. The MP said he would be happy to meet all parties in bid to find a consensus over the issue, as he felt everyone was seeking similar aims. He is also raising the general issue of coast defence funding in Parliament, calling for the Government to ensure there is enough cash to meet demands, and for policies to take account of rural issues. He says the current policies based on urgency, urbanisiation and cost-benefit analysis do not help channel funds where they are most needed.

The problems facing Happisburgh in its battle with the sea are highlighted on television tonight. BBC 2’s Matter of Fact documentary at 7.30pm looks at the erosion, and talks to villagers, campaigners, environmentalists and coastal defence experts about the problems and opinions for solutions.

Residents told ‘don’t panic’ over crumbling coastline

Byline: Norfolk Now

A ‘don’t panic’ message was handed to residents of a seaside village yesterday by their MP as they showed him their crumbling coastline.

David Prior said there was no immediate threat to Happisburgh even though erosion rates were increasing and causing concern.

Erosion at Beach Road on the eastern side of the village has hit the headlines as chalets have toppled on to the beach and a bay has formed where the sea has battered unprotected shore.

But Mr Prior said: “There is no short-term problem, no need to panic, nor any need for a blight on property prices but there is a medium- to long-term problem which must be addressed.” He is to seek a meeting with junior agriculture minister Elliot Morley to get a commitment, and to stress protection should not be left until the last minute as it would cause anxiety and cost.

Villagers also met district council officials and Euro-MP Clive Needle last night to call for action at local and European levels.

Action group spokesman Malcolm Kerby said locals were shocked that there had been more erosion in the last three years than in the previous 50years.

Buyer found for clifftop chalet

Byline: Norfolk Now

Going, going – and almost gone. A clifftop bungalow just yards away from oblivion is set to become a holiday home after a for-sale saga which also teetered on the brink for months. Kenrick, the three-bedroomed chalet at Happisburgh, hit the headlines earlier it the year when people from all over the country showed an interest in buying the blue bungalow despite its precarious position on a crumbling cliff.

An Essex woman will finally buy it this week – after three earlier prospective purchasers were put off by erosion of neighbouring land.Estate agent Nigel Hedge yesterday confirmed the sale by private treaty would go through on Friday for around 9500. It is considerably less than the 17,000 offer which originally topped the bidding in a sealed auction back in January, but nearer the price tag he felt was realistic for the chalet – whose lifespan is at the mercy of the elements and the condition of storm battered sea defences.

The buyer, a woman from Chelmsford, did not want any publicity, but was looking forward to using the chalet as a holiday home. Three earlier sales – the top bids in the sealed auction – had ‘fallen apart’ as the bungalow next door was demolished when the crumbling cliff made it a safety risk, added Mr Hedge. But a new campaign among villagers to get action over bolstering sea defences was helping boost confidence in the village, where he had also sold another chalet in Beach Road for 6000.

On Friday night the local action group is holding another public meeting to renew calls for help. Euro MP Clive Needle is being asked what European cash might be available for sea defence schemes, while officials from North Norfolk Council will also be quizzed on their long-running efforts to win Government funding for a Happisburgh protection project. Earlier in the day North Norfolk MP David Prior is meeting villagers to discuss their concerns.

Campaign spokesman Malcolm Kerby said: ‘We are concerned about Happisburgh but we realise this is also a national problem which needs one central body responsible for sea defences and given enough funds to solve the problems.’ Villagers hoped to find a way forward by a three-pronged campaign at district, Government and European levels.

Sea defence problems bring plea to Whitehall

Byline: Eastern Daily Press

The Department of the Environment is to be pressed to give approval for a major scheme of repair work to groynes at Happisburgh beach, at an estimated gross cost of £695,000

Members of the North Norfolk District Council are pictured inspecting the badly damaged revetment at Happisburgh.

Members of North Norfolk District Council coast protection sub-committee held a site meeting on the beach yesterday morning after which they discussed the matter in the council chamber at Cromer.

Mr. R.E.A Little said he wondered if they should write to the Department again and say that more damage was being done with every tide. “We need to put pressure on for a decision so that we can order the materials needed, as it will take some time to get them through,” he said.

Pressing

Secretary Mr. Philip Sage told members the DoE had agreed to the new scheme being treated as an amendment to an earlier scheme submitted to them, but the council was now awaiting the Department’s approval to the amended scheme. Members agreed that they should keep pressing for the go-ahead.

Mr. Christopher English, the coastal defence consultant, said in a report that both sides of a major breach in the groynes had been held with longer steel piling to prevent the gap from getting wider. The breach near Town Gap had been closed, and the concrete ramp, which was seriously undermined by sea action, had been repaired in concrete. The cliff toe between the ramp and the gabion breastwork was being rapidly eroded and this had now been sheet-piled and a concrete apron added.

Groynes

This was all that could be done as emergency work, and other repairs would have to await the approval of the major repairs scheme, said Mr. English in his report.

The scheme includes extensive proposals for reconstructing the defences to provide for a stronger revetment over a length of 300 metres, strengthening over a further 150m, and nine new groynes, at an estimated cost of £695,000.

After taking into account all grants from the Government, Norfolk County Council, and the block grant, about 15 per cent of the cost will fall on the ratepayers.

Mr. English said in his report that up to February 1st, the emergency repair work had cost about £89,000 nett.

It was anticipated that by the time all the emergency work was completed, the overall net cost would be £116,000, and the final gross cost, including resident engineer’s supervision and engineer’s fees would be £126,000. Again, some 15 per cent will come from rates, and the rest in grants.

During the site meeting members viewed the repair work which had been carried out and discussed the problem of cliff erosion. They were also concerned by the problem of oil on the beach.