Clifftop homeowners weeks away from compensation offers

Owners of clifftop homes at Happisburgh are just weeks away from receiving precedent setting cash offers for their threatened properties, potentially bringing a lengthy compensation saga to an end.

North Norfolk District Council has put forward a plan to offer a dozen homeowners between 40pc and 50pc of the theoretical value of their homes if they were inland and not at any risk from coastal erosion.

Council leaders said yesterday the offer was "a very important breakthrough" which was both sustainable and reliable – and could have impacts nationally if the model was adopted at government level.

People losing their homes to coastal erosion have previously faced a future with no compensation for the loss.

The Happisburgh payments, which the government has for years refused to call ‘compensation’ despite the word being used widely by the public, would be made through a scheme called Pathfinder, which late last year saw a £3m grant made to the council to address a range of problems caused by erosion.

The houses would be bought and demolished if the offers are taken up.

But householders and campaigners in Happisburgh said they were not happy with the offer and that only 100pc of value would be acceptable – a point they will try to make to coastal erosion minister Richard Benyon when he visits Norfolk and Suffolk next Friday.

They said they should not be penalised financially because the government had originally led them to believe a ‘hold the line’ policy would keep their homes protected from the North Sea.

Other people who faced losing homes to river flooding or construction were fully compensated, they said, and their situation should be regarded in the same way.

Di Wrightson, who lives in one of the affected houses on Beach Road, said she felt she and her neighbours were being dealt with as "second class citizens".

"Why can’t we be treated in the same way as people faced with fluvial floods or having motorways built where their houses were?

"It will be very difficult to know whether to accept the offers or fight for more, if we end up with nothing after fighting we will have done ourselves no favours.

"The hope was we would be able to buy another house from this money, but I can’t see that happening at these levels."

The percentages would also not address the wider issue of property blight, said Mrs Wrightson, where house values along the coastal strip suffered as a result of erosion.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of the Happisburgh based Coastal Concern Action Group and chairman of National Voice of Coastal Communities, said: "It’s not good enough. It is letting the government off the hook.

"People’s lives have been changed because the government doesn’t want to hold the line any more. That is a change of a half century long policy and as such it should be 100pc, as they get on the Continent.

"Anything short of that is half baked."

Mr Kerby said the council had done what it could with the £3m granted through the Pathfinder scheme, but said the original bid had been for approximately twice this amount – which would have allowed for fairer settlements.

But the council said the offers would allow people to "move on in their lives" after at one time facing a future with zero financial return.

"I feel this will help people get out of what has been up to now an impossible dilemma," said Clive Stockton, the council’s cabinet member for coastal strategy and who runs the Hill House pub in Happisburgh.

"I think it is a very important breakthrough and of national significance for other areas around the country facing similar problems.

"It is not ideal, but a very reasonable settlement."

The council’s head of coastal strategy Peter Frew said the formula to calculate settlements was complicated, but had "sound basis in statute".

He was also pleased that a planning rule meant any houses bought and demolished could potentially be replaced with new homes in other parts of Happisburgh.

The council’s cabinet will consider whether to agree to the model of payments when it meets on September 6.

If they agree, offers will be sent to individuals with no compulsion to accept.

The meeting will also hear updates on other elements of Pathfinder, including a plan to move Trimingham Village Hall and helping Manor Farm Caravan Site in Happisburgh deal with losing land to erosion.

Around £688,000 could be handed out through the payments scheme.

This figure is £110,000 higher than originally budgeted because other Pathfinder schemes have seen less money spent than expected.

Details of individual offers will be kept confidential.

The council has given a hypothetical example of a £200,000 home in a theoretical no risk situation attracting a value of between £102,200 and £96,000 – equivalent to between 51pc and 48pc – depending on certain factors.

All values would be calculated separately with a formula worked out by consultant company Bruton Knowles.