Multi-million pound drive to fight coastal erosion

A successful multi million pound bid to solve major coastal problems in Norfolk and Suffolk was hailed by experts and campaigners last night as the most important step ever taken in the management of the coast.

And as three local authorities - North Norfolk, Waveney and Great Yarmouth - celebrated winning nearly £5m out of a national pot of £11m to address a range of challenges, officials in charge of managing the coast said the money would help individuals about to lose their homes to erosion, the two counties as a whole and also build future policies for the rest of the country in the face of climate change.

A small number of people teetering on the very edges of some cliff tops, including in the now internationally known erosion hotspot of Happisburgh, were for the first time guaranteed payments for the loss of their homes where they had previously faced walking away with nothing.

But although those compensatory payments are set to grab many of the headlines, those behind the successful bids stressed this element was only one part of a wider policy-influencing mandate which the government has handed to Norfolk and Suffolk along with the money.

North Norfolk has been given £3m, Waveney £1.5m and Great Yarmouth £296,500. After North Norfolk and Waveney, the largest handout was East Riding, where £1.2m was made available.

The weighting of the North Norfolk bid has been interpreted as demonstrating how council officials, politicians and campaigners from the district have led the way in the battle against erosion, its impacts and the government's attitude to the coast.

All 15 councils around the country which won money will now be referred to as pathfinders and they will have 18 months to spend the money on a range of schemes, while feeding back the lessons they learn so government can look further into the future.

Last night, leading campaigner and the coordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG), Malcolm Kerby said: "This is ground breaking. For the first time ever we have genuine recognition from central government that these problems exist.

"And for the first time the local authorities will be able to properly manage the coast and the consequences of change along that coast.

"It quite simply is the most important step ever taken in the management of our coastline."

One of the homeowners set to be offered a financial package for her home where previously she thought she would lose everything is Di Wrightson, who lives on Beach Road in Happisburgh.

"After many years of anxiety and stress, watching the storm clouds gather and imagining the difficulties ahead, I suddenly feel as if I have stepped into sunlight," she said.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: "This is an enormous achievement, something which we have collectively fought for in north Norfolk across many years.

"It is the first recognition that there is a need for social justice on this matter.

"The scale of this breakthrough cannot be underestimated, although it is by no means the end point."

Peter Frew, head of coastal strategy at North Norfolk District Council, said: "I have been working here on the coast since 1992 and in terms of coast management this is the biggest thing that has happened in that time."

Welcoming the smallest of the three bids, which will be spent on a project for the village of Scratby, Great Yarmouth MP Tony Wright said: "By taking part in this programme we can help to formulate effective future policy on this important issue.

"The £300,000 will test different approaches to adapt to coastal erosion and change, such as roll-back and business support programmes."

A Defra spokesman said: "The pathfinders will road-test new and innovative approaches to planning for and managing change."

The money will go towards a number of central themes, including:

  • Buying a small number of cliff top homes immediately at threat, then demolishing them.
  • Offering a purchase and lease back option to owners of another raft of homes not so immediately vulnerable.
  • Tidying up parts of the cliff top which have become derelict because of erosion.
  • Business investment retention on the coast and relocation of threatened businesses such as the caravan and camping park at Happisburgh.
  • Retention or replacement of vulnerable infrastructure, such as the cliff top footpath at Cromer's western end, the village hall at Trimingham, the now destroyed beach ramp at Happisburgh and the car park at Salthouse.
  • Finding new ways of funding coastal defences, for example private contributions towards the costs of defence along Wolferton Creek, South Hunstanton frontage. Although this is in the Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk area, it is tied into the North Norfolk bid.