Where next? Maps show stark threat of coastal erosion to hundreds of Norfolk homes
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Sobering maps have shown which sections of Norfolk's coastline could be next to feel the devastating impact of coastal erosion, as homes in Hemsby edge closer to tumbling into the sea.
Experts' maps starkly illustrate how hundreds of people in the county could find their homes in similarly precarious positions in the decades ahead as the county loses miles of its coastline.
Latest predictions by experts for where erosion will happen over the next 25, 50 and 100 years paint a worrying picture for people in a string of coastal villages which are ravaged by the sea.
There are predictions of considerable erosion in places such as Overstrand, Sidestrand, Mundesley, Walcott, Ostend, Caister-on-Sea, California, Trimingham, Hopton-On-Sea and Happisburgh - a village where homes have been lost in the past decade due to cliff collapse and where the Norman church is among buildings at risk.
While the Environment Agency is responsible for the management of the coast, district councils have the responsibility for maintaining the coastal defences - although the government holds the purse strings for major sea defence projects.
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And, with the government keen to get the highest level of benefit for investment, that means focus tends to be on larger conurbations, which is bad news for rural villages.
Shoreline management plans have been drawn up outlining the approach for management over the next 100 years - a mix of holding the line, managing retreat or not intervening.
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While the line will be held at Cromer, Sheringham, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Gorleston and Great Yarmouth, that means, in the long term, there will be no intervention at all for stretches such as Kelling to Sheringham, Overstrand to Mundesley and Gorleston to Hopton.
Apart from it being too costly to protect the whole coast, protecting some sections can have a knock-on effect elsewhere.
The plans were last approved for the stretches from Hunstanton to Kelling in 2011 and for Kelling to Lowestoft Ness in 2012, although they are updated via action plans.
Not long after approval, the Norfolk coast was battered by the 2013 December surge, which the Environment Agency described as the biggest UK storm for 60 years. Updated action plans have subsequently been drawn up.
But Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said he was not convinced the right approach was being taken to protecting the coastline. He said: 'It's not just Norfolk, but nationally. We keep putting off the difficult decisions. The threat is increasing because we are experiencing more storm events, which many, including me, accept is down to climate change, while sea levels are rising.
'We have the double problem of crumbling cliffs which are at threat from the sea and low-lying areas which depend on protection by dunes and ridges to keep the sea out.
'We have to confront it and the government needs to be at the forefront of it.' Mr Lamb said consideration should be given to the creation of a 'solidarity fund' to help those who lose their homes to the sea.
He said: 'We cannot have a discussion over how we manage it in the future until people have a sense of security and will not lose everything if the sea takes their home.'
Projects to protect the coastline
Bosses at North Norfolk District Council have highlighted the efforts being made to protect the coast.
A spokesman said: 'Over the years, measures have included building groynes, timber revetments, sea walls, offshore reefs and installing rock armour on the beach.
'The council continues to manage defences, including re-engineering existing schemes, and providing maintenance to other types of defence.
'There is currently a major project being planned, subject to the necessary consents, which has been in the public domain since 2016 called the Bacton to Walcott Coastal Management Scheme.
Other major current projects being planned are the Mundesley Coast Protection Scheme and Cromer Phase 2.'
And he said protective rock at Happisburgh would be realigned and the access ramp recut.
The beach access ramp there was damaged because of weather conditions before Christmas.