May 2003 Comments

The most frequently asked question in recent weeks is “When are the steps to the beach going to be put in?” After speaking to NNDC Coast Protection Engineers today I can confirm the steps will be in place week commencing Monday 12th May. This is a little while later than had been hoped due to production difficulties and delays, however we shall soon have safe access to the beach.

Whilst access will be safe, the beach and cliff base between the broken ramp and the end of beach road where the bay is forming remains difficult to negotiate, so please stay clear of this particular area if possible. Please adopt a common sense approach and do not attempt to scale the broken ramp, as a family of four complete with dog and bicycle did over the Bank Holiday weekend. We also spotted a rather foolish male attempting to scale the cliff by going up where there are many iron poles precariously perched all the way up the cliff face.

We are now just one week away from our meeting with Elliot Morley MP, let us hope that the meeting goes well. Our preparation is well under way, and we look forward to discussing the matter with he who holds responsibility. Any developments will of course be posted on this website.

We have started a new section effectively singing the praises of Happisburgh. In recent weeks Kipling’s poem The Dykes was brought to my attention remarkably it was written 101 years ago yet is as applicable today as ever. What better way to get our new section started.

Malcolm Kerby (06 May 2003)

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.

March 2003 Comments

Comments on the Flood and Coastal Defence debate, House of Commons 13-3-03:

Having read and reread the Hansard transcript of the debate I am extremely pleased to note that the Minister for Flood and Coastal Defence, Elliot Morley MP, is ” sympathetic to the situation in which people in that community” ( Happisburgh ) ” find themselves.” I also note that at least one major insurer is ” concerned ” over recent changes to the cost/benefit evaluations for the funding of capital schemes. It is interesting to see that the Minister was made aware by his shadow on the opposition benches that ” We can all disagree over the causes of Global Warming. However, what is indisputable is that the spectre of coastal and inland flooding looms increasingly large. The exercise of those forces of nature is out of our control, but the minimisation of their impact lies in the hands of Government. Although they cannot turn back the tide, stop the rain or reverse rising sea levels, they can do much to protect us from what is foreseeable today and may become a catastrophe tomorrow.” Then looking to Government for ” the delivery of a policy that looks beyond sandbags to a long term preventive strategy is essential before the next disaster catches us as unprepared and underfunded as we were in 1953.” This is precisely the message Coastal Concern Action Group has been promulgating for the past four years.

Personally I am very pleased that Mr. Morley will be ” happy to meet the Hon. Member for North Norfolk ( Norman Lamb ) and discuss the problems.” Mr. Morley then went on to express his desire to deal with another problem: ” there has been misinformation about Happisburgh” he said. How right he is, however he omitted to tell the House that the misinformation has come from DEFRA !!

More than once he referred to the “lead authority” ( NNDC ). DEFRA have repeatedly said it is the responsibility of the District Council to identify what is required in their area for effective coastal defences, formulate those requirements into a proposal for funding and submit it to DEFRA for Capital Scheme Grant Aid. Indeed it is the bounden duty of the local authority to do precisely that for the long term safety and well being of its residents as well as securing the commercial viability of affected communities in their area. NNDC have done that on more than one occasion, all entirely without success. They have consistently identified the need for capital expenditure on coastal defences yet Government has consistently put obstacles in their path to obtaining grant aid. The net result has been no funding therefore no effective coast defences !!

It is high time Central Government applied some joined up thinking as well as co-operation with the local authority, that is the only way forward.

The latest changes to financial criteria forced upon us by DEFRA mean that it will be virtually impossible for NNDC to meet the threshold for capital scheme grant aid, so it will not be possible for them to fulfil their coast defence obligations to the people.

I firmly believe in the face of such Government intransigence and folly our District Council should submit plans and a request for funding to construct what we all know is required here, that is the continuation of solid defences (sea wall) from Cart Gap to Ostend/Walcott. This would protect the northern broads from inundation along with Happisburgh and it’s environs. This would have the joint effect of NNDC fulfilling their obligations and revealing where the true responsibility lies with DEFRA.

The United Kingdom is the fourth richest Nation in the world, as such we know that money is not a barrier to our protection from the sea, indeed the cost of joining up the hard defences here would appear positively minuscule when compared to Government wastage in any given year. So we as a Nation undoubtedly have the money to create proper sea defences, we also have the technical ability to create proper sea defences, we have a Local Authority that repeatedly asks for proper sea defences. So where you may ask is the problem?

It is true we have the same two Objectors throwing their spanners in the works every time causing delay after delay for any and every scheme at Happisburgh, however Central Government could sideline them and nullify their effect at any time if it chooses to. Thus far these two Objectors have aided and abetted Central Government by giving it reason to inject delay.

There are no excuses, the vulnerability of the Northern Broads to inundation by the sea and property losses at Happisburgh are without doubt the direct responsibility of Central Government’s lack of joined up long term thinking. If Central Government put as much effort into creating effective sea defences for this area as it does into creating artificial barriers to providing funds for sea defences we would all be safe and secure behind a superb defensive line.

Malcolm Kerby (17 March 2003)

February 2003 Comments

As you will no doubt have seen from the press and comments posted elsewhere on this site, the village meeting in our church on Thursday 30th January was an outstanding success. We had somebody counting those present, however she lost count at 550, so it was certainly between 550 and 600.

I can put it no better than a local resident who emailed me shortly afterwards saying: “I was amazed by the dignity and determination shown by the community in our church that evening – there was a real sense of disbelief, loss, unfairness, anger and inability to accept what is happening to us. Yet we stood together and must have left the authorities in no doubt of our intentions to fight to the bitter end.”

How true, and fight we shall! We do however need all the help we can get.

There were almost 5,000 visits to this site in January alone, and some 28,000 page impressions. If all of those in the UK that visit our site would please write to their own MP and DEFRA demanding action now for Happisburgh and the northern Broads, can you imagine the effect of that? We might even get through to this extremely hard of hearing government.

One thing is for certain, we will not give up. We will not waiver. If we could get to our beach, we would fight them on it!!!

Please be assured every individual can make a contribution, as I have already outlined, and you will make a difference. Your letter could be the one that makes that difference.

Finally, I have to report that despite inviting the Secretary of State to our meeting one the 30th, not a scrap of interest was shown by DEFRA. Mrs Beckett was invited on the 6th January, her office responded on the 7th saying quite simply “Thank you for inviting Mrs Beckett. We be in touch shortly.” That was the last I heard until some 6 1/2 hours before the meeting when I was told by telephone there would be no representation form DEFRA. In my view that was absolutely appalling, if DEFRA wanted to send the message We do not give a damn about Happisburgh they certainly achieved it.

This community deserves to be heard not snubbed.

Malcolm Kerby (27 February 2003)

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.

January 2003 Comments

On Thursday 30th January the people of Happisburgh will have the very rare opportunity to make their case directly as a unified determined force. As I write this I have still not received confirmation from the Secretary of State’s office that she will attend our meeting nor indeed, has there been any indication as to whether or not any government member will attend.

Government can not plead ignorance of the acute,critical problems faced by Happisburgh and it’s environs in terms of sea defences,or rather the lack of them. In an address to the House of Commons last year the Rt. Hon. Tim Boswell MP said “I will always remember inspecting the crumbling Norfolk cliffs at Happisburgh and being made uncomfortably aware that any major sea incursion through the cliffs could surge straight through the Broads. Once the sea got though there would be little to stop it. The Association of British Insurers,which briefed me for the debate,said: We believe that Government investment in flood defence is vital if affordable insurance is to be available. In other words, an individual’s ability to protect themselves economically depends on there being a Government commitment, just as an individual’s physical security also depends on that commitment.”

I also have before me a copy of a Select Committee on Agriculture report to Parliament and the Government, it is a rather lengthy document so I shall quote a few relevant parts, this part is referring to the reefs at Sea Palling: “The Environment Agency has provided sea defence for the Norfolk Broads behind this low lying section of coast by constructing a broken line of offshore reefs … as well as reducing the risk of erosion, these sea defences have ALTERED THE PATTERN OF EROSION ALONG THE COAST.” Amazingly further in the same report the following is stated: “The dangers of the erosion at Happisburgh outflanking the reef scheme at Sea Palling ARE SELF EVIDENT, but have not yet been effectively absorbed by the process so as to justify defence works.”

Government is, at best, confused and unclear on the issue. What is crystal clear however is Government’s bounden duty to either protect or compensate in full those who incur losses as a result of it’s negligence in it’s failure to take all reasonable measures to protect.

Malcolm Kerby (26 January 2003)

December 2002 Update

We now learn that the latest casualty in Happisburgh’s ongoing battle with the sea is our Lifeboat launching ramp! How much longer is the Government going to absolve itself of all responsibility here? How much longer can HM Government unload its responsibilities for our Sea Defences onto North Norfolk District Council? The situation here is critical. Government investment is long overdue and urgently needed. The level of investment now required is way beyond any Local Authority’s financial capability ! It seems increasingly likely that Westminster will only react to serious consequences i.e. loss of life! They seem set to continue ignoring our plea for help and North Norfolk District Councils repeated efforts to address the problem in a timely fashion. My message to Messrs Blair, Beckett and Morley is thus : You are failing absolutely the people of North Norfolk in a total dereliction of your duty and responsibility to protect every citizens right to the enjoyment of his or her home and family life. It is entirely within your power and capability in every respect to afford that protection. All that is lacking is the will to do so!!!

With the closure of the lifeboat ramp there is no longer any access to the beach at Happisburgh of any description. This will, I feel sure, have a knock on effect on businesses here which rely on the summer trade for their very survival. Tragically this may also be reflected in the popularity and value of property throughout the village. Happisburgh is not alone amongst coastal villages or towns whose greatest asset is their beach. Indeed part of the local economy is geared to it as well as it being one the attractions for those wishing to move in to the area. There has been a view promulgated for some time now that Beach Road is not part of Happisburgh this was recently stated by a Parish Councillor at a Parish Council meeting. What an absolutely ridiculous statement to make. Others hold the more sensible view that Beach Road, in terms of sea defences, is the very bastion of Happisburgh, surrender that and you put the very heart of the village at risk. Quite why the Parish Council have consistently opposed the latest scheme for the protection of the village and sought objectors to oppose it remains a mystery to many. Had the sea defence works been put in place it is fair to assume that confidence would have increased, business would have been secure and the value of property would have risen, probably in excess of the regional or national average.

For too long now Happisburgh has surrendered too much without a fight. We must all make the case that we will not surrender any more arable land, ( so important to the rural economy ), any more residential property or allow the caravan sites, shop, guest houses and public houses to suffer nor surrender the lifeboat station, of which many of us are justifiably proud, without a damned good fight. We must all carry the fight to the very heart of Government. On this issue no matter where we live in Happisburgh we are all ‘our brothers keeper’. To the two objectors and those who sought their objections, I would say : You have done immeasurable harm to this community, you have caused much suffering and you have placed many more homes at risk. Get out of our way, your meddling and interference is not welcome and has cost us dear.

Malcolm Kerby (30 December 2002)

December 2002 Comments

The main sea defence strategy produced by H.R. Wallingford and proposed by NNDC is now lost. Fortunately NNDC has undertaken interim works under emergency powers at it’s own expense.

Let us be crystal clear about these interim works (the purchase and placement of approx. 4000 tonnes of rock), this will not be the final solution, it simply buys us some time to seek the final solution i.e. adequate, effective sea defences for Happisburgh in it’s entirety.

Whilst our District Council Officers and elected members have lived up to their responsibilities, in what are financially difficult times for local authorities we must continue to impress upon central Government that simply because we have responsible and effective local Government does not mean that they are ‘let off the hook’. Absolute responsibility for the protection of all it’s citizens rests with the Government of the day and the Whitehall brigade.

I believe there is a basic human rights issue here under Article 8 of the Bill of Human Rights adopted by this nation in the Autumn of 2000. Central Government in the form of DEFRA is in dereliction of it’s duty to many around our coastline. They are failing to protect the individual’s right to enjoyment of his or her home and family life, when it is quite within their capability to protect and ensure said enjoyment.

I believe the Coast Protection Act 1949 is now a 53 year old ‘blunt instrument’ with which to tackle coast protection in the 21st century. That act ( and indeed the revetments/defences constructed in the late 1950’s and 60’s as a result of it) was created and brought in to being when we as a nation were effectively destitute after the second world war and long before global warming was ever thought of. Not only is the act itself outmoded the DEFRA interpretation of it is somewhat questionable.

Why do we not have a level playing field with non cliff bound communities? It seems to me that if you happen to be a community living with cliffs then DEFRA discriminates against you. That may be okay if your cliffs are of granite as opposed to ours which are clearly just earth and clay, making both them and all around extremely vulnerable.

Here in Happisburgh we have to endure the ‘Westminster double whammy!’ not only are we coastal but we are also very much a rural community. The Government of today and it’s Whitehall mandarins seem to be hell bent on the persecution of rural communities and it appears, some coastal communities. This is not just unfair, it is a contravention of our basic human rights. All this at a time when the Government has slashed financial support for District Councils thereby making life not just in rural coastal areas but everywhere, that much more difficult than before.

My message to central Government, Whitehall mandarins and indeed DEFRA is quite simple really; we are sick and tired of your indifference (in some cases incompetence), we are sick and tired of your finding any and every excuse to do nothing. Get off your backsides, act now and act in our interests not yours.

If you agree with my views e-mail Margaret Beckett MP, Tony Blair MP and DEFRA. Please put your own comments and feelings on the petition or the forum.

Malcolm Kerby (21 December 2002)