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Spot the difference: which is the Olympic ‘Orbit’ sculpture and which is Happisburgh’s abandoned stairway to the beach?

PUBLISHED: 14:30 26 July 2012

But is it art? The now disused metal steps on Happisburgh beach.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

But is it art? The now disused metal steps on Happisburgh beach. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012

They are both striking, stand-alone, steel and skeletal.

One stands bang beside the hub of world attention this week - London’s Olympic stadium. The other broods alone next to Happisburgh’s eroding cliffs.

But while crowds will soon be queuing to climb the Olympic Orbit sculpture, no-one will tread up or down Happisburgh’s beach access steps anymore.

Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond’s 115-metre-high red sculpture is Britain’s largest piece of public art and visitors to the summit will be able to enjoy spectacular views of London.

However, many would argue that the coastal views from the top of Happisburgh’s staircase would out-rival anything the capital could offer.

The forlorn steps, which have enabled thousands to reach and enjoy Happisburgh beach since 2003, will not be reinstated because cliff erosion is so unpredictable and severe that it would not be cost effective.

Brian Farrow, coastal engineer with North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), said this winter’s severe erosion all along the coast had been most marked at Happisburgh where as much as 1.5m of beach had been lost, allowing deeper water inshore which attacked the base of the soft cliffs, causing increased erosion and cliff slips.

“We became very concerned that the cliff erosion was approaching the concrete pad which supports the bridge connecting the cliff to the step tower and arranged for it to be removed,” said Mr Farrow.

A number of options were considered, including extending the bridge’s life with a prop, but all were abandoned after consultants advised that none of them were viable. Access to the beach would in future be via the sand access ramp which NNDC was committed to maintaining. The ramp was created last year using government Pathfinder cash aimed at helping communities adapt to coastal erosion.

Happisburgh Parish Council had asked if the redundant steps could be stored locally in case the current erosion proved to be a “temporary blip”. Mr Farrow said he would discuss the proposal, but did not think it unreasonable.

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