Village's hopes dashed

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.