Timeline of recent coastal erosion issues at Happisburgh

Timber revetments and groynes constructed between Ostend and Cart Gap.

Beach Road groynes constructed.

North Norfolk District Council press the Department of the Environment for approval of a scheme for repairs

Partial reconstruction of damaged revetment and groynes

Need for major investment in new defences identified by NNDC

Following storm damage, unsafe section of revetment (300m long) removed to south of village. Consultants Halcrow are commissioned to consider defence options for Happisburgh.

Halcrow report and scheme is designed and advertised – a line of rock replacing the wooden revetments. The scheme receives four objections, including Professor Keith Clayton, lord of the manor Eric Couzens, and Norfolk County Council. The NCC objection is later withdrawn, but other objections cannot be resolved and the scheme is stalled.

Revised scheme is prepared by Halcrow, linking with the new man made reefs off Sea Palling. It proposed a series of reefs built on the beaches. There were objections again from Prof. Clayton and Eric Couzens, but the scheme fails to meet new MAFF “cost benefit” rules which state that defences cannot cost more than the property and land they are trying to protect.

Storm damage results in the loss of a further 400m of revetment and the end of Beach Road. In March, the clifftop home of George and Jeanne Scott goes over the edge, receiving wide press coverage. In May there is a visit to Happisburgh by Junior Agricultural Minister, Tim Boswell MP. He is quoted as saying “I have not brought my cheque book today” and later called for a more cost-effective scheme than the one on the drawing board.

Revised defence scheme advertised. Irreconcilable objections received again from Eric Couzens, and Prof Clayton who is quoted as saying “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 could be better spent elsewhere. MAFF introduces Priority Score that scheme fails to meet. Scheme stalled.

Visits to Happisburgh by both the Junior Agriculture Minister, Elliot Morley MP and the House of Commons Agricultural Select Committee.

Kendrick a three-bedroomed bungalow in Beach Road attracts more than 20 potential buyers following much press publicity. The property is finally sold to an Essex woman after 3 other sales fall though. The Coastal Concern Action Group is set up after a public meeting. Local MP David Prior tells villagers ‘Don’t Panic‘. MAFF grant aids preliminary design work carried out to date. A conference is held to debate coastal management

MAFF agrees to fund a Strategy Study of the coast between Ostend and Cart Gap. Consultants HR Wallingford are appointed. MAFF amends Priority Score to place greater emphasis on river defence schemes.

HR Wallingford report and scheme is advertised. Support for the scheme in Happisburgh is divided.

Objections are again received from Prof Clayton and Eric Couzens, which are referred to MAFF’s replacement DEFRA. As well as the objections, 325 letters of support were received, residents plead for help. DEFRA announces new Priority Score system to be effective from April 2003. In December, scheme is withdrawn on consultant’s advice as physical proportions had changed resulting in loss of benefit while waiting for DEFRA to consider the objections. The plight of the village gains much publicityNNDC agree to emergency defence works 4000 tonnes of rock start to be placed at the toe of the cliffs. Lifeboat ramp is closed after being declared unsafe, collapsing days later.

Happisburgh lifeboat moves to Cart Gap Oversands, once a treasured home is dismantled before it collapses onto the beach. In May a contingent met with Elliot Morley and other DEFRA officials and were offered sympathy, but no hope of cash for coastal defence. A metal staircase giving pedestrian access to the beach opens. In August, several hundred people gather on the clifftop to spell out “SOS” as a protest. English Nature’s CHaMPS (Coastal Habitat Management Plan) report is published which considers options for withdrawing defences along a wider stretch of north Norfolk. In October a contingent travels to Brussels to meet with EU officials. Three well attended public meetings are held throughout the year.

Garages at rear of brick terraces demolished. European coastal defence experts visit Happisburgh during a conference discussing issues surrounding climate change, sea level rise and coastal erosion, and are taken aback by the state of the sea defences saying they have been badly managed. The Government-backed Foresight Flood and Coastal Defence report is published which predicts that much of East Anglia’s coastline could disappear under water. In October, the revised Shoreline Management Plan for Norfolk and north Suffolk is reported in the Eastern Daily Press, saying that controlled retreat is the only affordable and sustainable way to manage the coastline. This news reportedly causes widespread blight on property values along that affected coast. Calls for compensation and social justice are renewed, including from the leaders of North Norfolk District Council who announce that without financial support for those who lost their homes and businesses, they would not be able to support the proposal.

Malcolm Kerby speaks at a Defra seminar in London and returns ‘encouraged’ by the debate. CCAG and Norman Lamb MP organise a series of public meetings along the SMP coast to discuss the effect of the document with villagers. Attended by over 1000 locals, feelings were strongly against the SMP. In March, Norman Lamb secured a parliamentary adjournment debate, during which environment minister Elliot Morley refused to answer key questions on the future of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, and afterwards was given a police escort out of Westminster when he was mobbed by protestors who had travelled up from North Norfolk to lobby. NNDC says environment minister Elliot Morley has been “disingenuous” in saying the new Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) has nothing to do with him. English Nature announce their support for managed retreat. The Government’s proposed sea defence strategy of managed retreat is attacked by Norfolk’s longest serving planning officer for failing to take account of the real cost to people. Strong objections are raised to new plans for further dredging off Great Yarmouth. Elliot Morley pulls out of a series of Norfolk meetingsat the last minute to avoid protesters. Environmental scientist Prof Tim O’Riordan starts a series of workshops to gather evidence from communities to influence coastal strategies. CCAG Coordinator Malcolm Kerby is given a Civic Award by North Norfolk District Council for his campaigning. “Malcolm is a classic example of an ordinary bloke who put his head above the parapet.” 99.6pc of more than 2400 people taking part in the official public consultation process objected to the draft Shoreline Management Plan. Publicity for Happisburgh becomes international.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Marine and Coastal Issues is set up headed by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, Malcolm Kerby presents at the inaugural meeting. A report by consultants about the public consultation on the draft Shoreline SMP does not address the issues of compensation and social justice and is widely criticised. Owners of the Cliff House tea shop announce they will not be reopening this season. Ian Pearson, the new environment minister meets a contingency from North Norfolk in Westminster and promises to visit the Norfolk coast to see for himself the problems of erosion. Happisburgh residents set up a charity to raise money to fund defences. The “client steering group” involved in drafting the SMP can’t agree the wording of a foreword for the revised document meaning it is unlikely to be adopted by some bodies involved – leaders of NNDC refuse to sign“unless it addresses the issues for the people of north Norfolk”. Environment minister Ian Pearson visits the region and makes no bold promises of a cash injection to save communities, but he pledges to begin dialogue on compensation and social justice. Government announces that the Environment Agency is to take overall control of coastal management, an idea dismissed as “remote and unfeeling” by North Norfolk District Council’s head of coastal strategy. The insurance industry warns that some homes are likely to become uninsurable unless the government increases funding on defence works. NNDC juggles its finances finding £2m over 10 years for temporary repairs of defences.

An appeal is launched by the charity Coastal Concern Ltd to bolster the £200,000 about to be spent by NNDC on emergency works at Happisburgh. Within a few months they present £47,500 to NNDC funding around 1000 tonnes of additional rock to be placed on the beach. NNDC “conditionally” accepts the SMP – providing there are measures in place to help the communities affected. In the Government pre-budget report and comprehensive spending review it commits a pot of £10 million to help communities deal with the consequences of flooding and coastal erosion where the construction of defences is not deemed “appropriate”. The largest tidal surges to strike Britain in 50 years puts the region on alert, weakens defences, and disaster is averted “by a hair’s breadth”. A contingency from North Norfolk travels to Westminster to meet the latest environment minister, Phill Woolas. The possibility of putting Norfolk forward as an ideal test bed for practical solutions to the results of erosion and global warming was “well received”.

East of England minister Barbara Follett tours the north Norfolk coast on an information gathering visit and pledges to “nag, coordinate and prod” on behalf of communities facing coastal erosion and saline flooding. In March, details of a plan by environmental group Natural England to deal with the effects of climate change are “leaked” to the press, including an option where the sea would be allowed to breach 15 miles of the north Norfolk coast flooding six villages and low-lying land to create a new bay. Although originally proposed in the 2003 CHaMPS report, the news grabs the public attention and is widely reported. CCAG and Norman Lamb arrange another series of public meetings in affected villages. There is widespread opposition to the proposal including from army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt and the Bishop of Norwich. A house on Beach Road is valued at £1. Environment minister Phil Woolas visits Norfolk saying the government was committed to keeping the sea at bay for at least the next 50 years and pledged £100m of investment in sea defences over that period. Chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith of Finsbury, urges the government to consider using taxpayers’ money to re-house those who lose out to the encroaching sea.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (Defra) invite local authorities to apply to an £11 million funded Coastal Change Pathfinder Programme which is a ‘road test’ for local authorities to explore ways of helping coastal communities plan and adapt to coastal change. NNDC were successful in securing the largest amount of funding (£3 million) to trial its projects.

Plans for clearing debris off Happisburgh beach are approved as part of a scheme, paid for by part of a £3m pot of Pathfinder funding, aimed at helping communities adjust to their changing coastlines.

Nearly all of those whose homes are most at risk on Beach Road agree sales deals with North Norfolk District Council, as part of North Norfolk District Council’s Coastal Pathfinder project. The council plans to replace each demolished property with a new home in the village. Cleared sites would be landscaped and the beach would also be cleared of debris, and a new access ramp provided to the sands.

Visitors would be able to reach the ramp from a newly-located car park, with toilets, which would be moved to a more-protected location south of Beach Road. All would be designed as ‘roll-back’ facilities which could be moved again as erosion crept nearer.

Demolition of properties in Beach Road purchased under the Pathfinder Scheme commences in April. After years of campaigning, the government finally agreed to hand over money for the pathfinder pilot project, which meant the council could offer up to 40% of the value of the clifftop homes to enable residents to relocate inland. Of 12 homes identified as being under threat, nine were bought by the council in 2011. Householders at the other three chose to stay where they are.

Plans are submitted for reinstatement of nine properties further inland – documents supporting the application state building the new homes will inject “confidence” into Happisburgh and show it has a “sustainable future” as the village currently has a poor economic reputation because it is seen as “falling into the sea”. Mr Kerby said: “It’s a very difficult time for the community for in many ways it (the demolition) is the end of an era but I truly believe this is the start of another. Once those properties are built we will be set, I hope, for another quarter of a century with very few problems. If and when erosion catches up in 25 to 30 years time and the same situation applies, we have already got methodology in place to cope with it. The planning application and replacing those lost homes is one part of that process. I think it’s a very positive step for the community.”

The toilets in the new car park in Happisburgh is a double winner at the National Loo of the Year Awards. The toilet block cost £67,000 to build and was funded through the Coastal Pathfinder project after the toilets in the previous car park had to be closed and subsequently demolished due to coastal erosion.

Owners of Manor Caravan Park who have been losing ground to the crumbling cliffs, apply to North Norfolk District Council for full planning permission for a site of 15 acres (eight hectares) on farm land south of North Walsham Road behind Happisburgh Primary School, in consultation with officers from NNDC’s Pathfinder project. Mr Lomax, whose family has owned the park for more than 45 years, said the business is the village’s financial driver and helps keep facilities open. He said it was important the park stayed within walking distance of the village and the beach. “The new site would show everyone Happisburgh is open for business.”