Campaign to speed up sea defence work

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."