Vanishing Norfolk beach blamed on Great Yarmouth outer harbour

Coastal erosion of the beach at Hopton making access to the beach from the Hopton Holiday Village vi

Coastal erosion of the beach at Hopton making access to the beach from the Hopton Holiday Village via a collapsed walkway very dangerous.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

A popular Norfolk beach which is slowly eroding is at the heart of an unusual legal battle.

Coastal erosion of the beach at Hopton.Ian Pennell, Operations Director for Bourne Leisure.Picture:

Coastal erosion of the beach at Hopton.Ian Pennell, Operations Director for Bourne Leisure.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

Hopton's three-mile stretch of golden sand is disappearing, and access from the cliff-top Hopton Holiday Village has crumbled.

Hopton beach June 1996

Hopton beach June 1996 - Credit: Archant

Holiday park operators Bourne Leisure claim the damage is a direct result of Great Yarmouth's outer harbour, whose construction since 2008 has allegedly altered tidal flow along the east coast.

They have, therefore, begun proceedings in the hope of arguing those responsible for the erosion should stump up for a £7m sea defence scheme to stop sand shifting north to Gorleston beach.

This would comprise three 120m headlands at Hopton, made of rock imported from Norway and designed to keep sand in the area.

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However, Eliza O'Toole, vice chairman of Great Yarmouth Port Company, operating as Eastport UK, strenuously denied the shifting sands were any fault of the harbour.

Bourne Leisure claim Eastport UK should pick up the bill under an Act of Parliament – the Outer Harbour Revision Order 2005.

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This states if 'there is caused or created an accumulation or erosion or alteration to the tidal flow or littoral drift which causes damage, or reasonable expectation of damage, the Authority [referring to Great Yarmouth Port Authority] shall 'remedy' this.

If the port authority refuses to do so, the borough council may commission this work to be done and recover the cost.

Bourne chiefs are, therefore, calling on the six signatories to a legally-binding monitoring agreement – the Great Yarmouth Outer Harbour Agreement 2003 – to use their statutory powers to commission an independent inspector to review and confirm their findings.

Ian Pennell, operational director for Bourne Leisure, addressed a press conference at the holiday park yesterday. He said: 'I guess traditionally things ran very smoothly at the park and we've had it since the early 1970s. Sun, sea and miles of unspoilt beaches, but now that idyllic vision is under threat.

'Since the 600m harbour extension was completed in 2008 there have been dramatic changes in tidal flow and littoral drift and three metres –the height of a flight of stairs – has been lost from the beach.'

Unless an independent inspector can disprove the accusations, Bourne is calling for damage to be rectified in line with the Outer Harbour Revision Order 2005.

Bourne claim that a 500-page report was compiled by civil engineers and coastal erosion experts – a £500,000 project which took two years.

Dr Phil Barber, a leading oceanic engineer, is the lead author of the study, and raw data was compiled by civil engineers HR Wallingford – the same firm used by Eastport UK.

Dr Barber said his findings showed the outer harbour extension meant sand was taken away from Hopton but not returned.

The sand lost from the beach so far is the equivalent of between 20,000 to 40,000 cubic metres of sand or 3,000 to 6,000 lorry loads each year.

A team of engineers and coastal defence experts are currently examining how to stop further erosion and what is required to restore the beach, with preliminary discussions suggesting the £7m scheme as the best solution.

But outer harbour bosses have signalled they will be contesting these claims.

Bourne Leisure explained its position to residents last night, and more than 200 attended with standing room only.

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