Shoreline plan ‘will not stop Hopton falling into the sea’

VILLAGERS have won permission to up tools and build DIY sea defences in a bid to save coastal communities from falling into the ocean.

But government funding for Hopton, Hemsby and Winterton defences is still a distant dream - and getting permission for DIY defences took years to achieve.

Campaigners have welcomed the developments in the final draft of the Shoreline Management Plan - approved by the borough council last month - but say the coastline is far from safe.

Brian Hardisty, chairman of Hopton Coastal Action Group, said: 'There's still no government money to do anything. 'Getting this passed was a big step and I'm grateful to the council, but the reality is that doesn't stop us falling into the sea.'

Approval of the plans - which have been more than a decade in the offing - saw a change in policy from no active intervention to managed realignment.

This means villagers are no longer banned from erecting defences, but the government still deems it 'not economically viable' to intervene when existing defences fail.

Mr Hardisty estimates Hopton's tourist industry puts �60m per year into the borough's economy, with a further �80m from Hemsby. And villagers are already working to capitalise on the latest development - though plans must still be signed off by the secretary of state.

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Shirley Weymouth, borough councillor for East Flegg ward, said: 'At last we've got an opportunity from Winterton to Newport to build defences - we've been working towards this for a long time.

'It's a big move forward as with permission people are able to actually do their own coastal work to protect the shoreline.'

She said Hemsby villagers are already looking to install chestnut palling - thin pieces of wood with metal wire - along the dunes to help keep sand in place.

Plans are to run the palling from Hemsby to Newport and Winterton.

And campaigners are confident people will support DIY defences, with a 2007 scheme in Happisburgh seeing �50,000 raised in just five weeks.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of Coastal Concern Action Group at Happisburgh, said: 'We've been working very hard behind the scenes to get this changed from no active intervention to managed realignment.

'I'm convinced there will be no central government funding forthcoming but at least changing the policy means the communities which are affected have the option - if they choose to take it up - of raising funds, working with their local authority to put defences in place.'

He said plans must be signed off by the secretary of state once they have council planning permission.

'They won't allow anything that will have an adverse effect further along the coast,' added Mr Kerby. 'There's nothing written in tablets of stone.'

While he said there is still 'nothing on the table' to prevent the sort of erosion Norfolk's coast is experiencing, communities can now do something about it.

'Many people were thinking action groups had saved the day with the Shoreline Management Plan,' explained Mr Kerby. 'But this is just opening the door.'