Rocks show their worth

The first tranche of money under the Council's policy of buying time for coastal communities proved invaluable during the storm in March.

In December 2006, in the absence of grant aid from central government, North Norfolk District Council approved funds and a programme of work to buy an extra 10 years for some of its most vulnerable coastal communities where existing sea defences had reached the end of their lives. The time will be used to continue discussions with central government on agreeing ways to assist communities to adapt to coastal change. Whatever the eventual outcome, it is essential that any measures are acceptable to the communities involved.

The 10-year programme includes works at Sheringham, Overstrand, Mundesley, Bacton/Walcott and Happisburgh, which is where the first work has been undertaken. The total value will be around £2 million, which the Council has agreed will be funded from its reserves, but which will eventually be recovered from central government through the Revenue Support Grant.

At Happisburgh £200,000 from the Council has been used to place about 4800 tonnes of rock on the beach to protect the cliffs from erosion and therefore preserve the vulnerable homes above. In a possibly unique move, the local community and supporters from right across the world have collected a further £47,500, adding a further 950 tonnes of protective rock to the beach.

Although there had not been time to complete the final placing of the rocks when a storm struck at the end of March, they undoubtedly helped to protect the cliffs from some massive waves as high tides and strong winds coincided. Local resident Di Wrightson, who used to run the tea shop from her Beach Road home, commented, "We have a completely new outlook on life. I think we should now have a few more years here, when before it really could have been a case of weeks if the weather was bad."

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Happisburgh-based Coastal Concern Action Group, said that he was delighted by the Council's actions and that the new sea defence scheme had certainly helped to protect a number of properties. He commented, "It's been an excellent demonstration of how badly this type of scheme is needed and shows how much more we need along this coast. "

North Norfolk Coastal Management Plan

North Norfolk has 45 miles of uniquely varied coastline, a coastline that has always changed and continues to change, but one that also requires careful management to maintain the precarious balance between the landscape and the needs of the people who live and work there.

The publication of the draft revision of the Kelling to Lowestoft Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), in December 2004, highlighted the need for plans to enable the coast to be managed in ways that gave assurance to people who live there, were fair and would as far as possible avoid such problems in the future.

Using the SMP as a starting point the Council is working with central government and others to develop an Adaptation Toolkit. This, it is hoped, will propose a range of measures that councils and others can use to mitigate some of the effects of coastal change. Putting these in place will take time and hence the Council's policy of buying time as shown in the article opposite on the rocks at Happisburgh.

In parallel with this is a requirement to avoid the problems created by the SMP and put in place the means whereby communities and individuals can adapt to the changing coast but also can ensure that our coastal towns and villages, so much part of the historic and social life of North Norfolk, remain viable as living and working communities. The Council is proposing to achieve this through the planning process. Rather than use an inflexible Coastal Area Action Plan as originally proposed within the Local Development Framework, requiring formal consultations and hearings within a rigid timetable, the Council now intends to develop a Coastal Management Plan, which can be drawn up with local communities at their own pace without the constraints of a statutory process.

Preliminary work has begun on gathering data and later in the summer/early autumn Parish Councils and other community representatives will be approached to obtain their views on what the plan should contain and develop ideas for the long-term future.

Outlook is published four times a year by North Norfolk District Council for its residents and distributed to all households in the District.