Villagers asked to dig deep to protect homes

Villagers in Happisburgh were last night urged to dig deep into their own pockets to help protect their homes from coastal erosion.

North Norfolk District Council has already pledged to spend £200,000 on new sea defences for the village, which has become famous worldwide for its campaigning on the issues of coastal erosion and the demand for compensation for those who will lose their homes.

But the villagers themselves were asked at a public meeting last night to boost this figure by as much as possible in order to build even more effective defences.

Although specific figures were not discussed in detail, it was suggested each household gives £100 to the cause.

The donation was dubbed a "one-off insurance premium" by Jack Hall, chairman of the charity Coastal Concern Limited (CCL), an associate body to the better known campaign group Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG).

The district council project is due to start in the middle of February, subject to approval of tenders. Villagers have been asked to make their minds up as quickly as possible - certainly within the final deadline of three weeks - about whether they are prepared to pay out.

Last night's meeting, held in the village church and chaired by CCAG coordinator Malcolm Kerby, was attended by around 200 people, senior council staff and campaign leaders.

Mr Hall told the gathering that CCL already had a "five figure sum" in the bank from previous community events, such as fetes and car boot sales. Because of CCL's charity status, the gift aid system could be used, potentially adding an extra £28 for every £100 donated to the final total.

"Providing we act within the short time available, we have a unique opportunity. We are asking people to make their own individual contribution, perhaps £100 per household," he added.

Mr Hall said one of the key advantages of giving money now was that each and every pound would go towards materials and the cost of placing those materials; all overheads were already being paid from the £200,000 council pot.

A simple system had been set up, said Mr Hall, which involved people collecting donation forms at the end of last night's meeting and either posting them once they had been filled in, or dropping them off at the village post office.

The meeting heard technical advice from the council's head of coastal strategy Peter Frew, plus contributions from the council's deputy leader Clive Stockton and chief executive Philip Burton.