Communities on the north Norfolk coast at risk of erosion from the sea are being offered millions of pounds to help them adapt to the threat.

The government is making £36m available for the district to share with a part of Yorkshire, also considered to be particularly vulnerable to the issue.

Communities will be encouraged to bid for the money to cover projects that could allow towns and villages to adjust to a shrinking coastline.

These schemes could include:

  • Replacing buildings with removable or modular ones which can move inland as the sea advances.
  • Redesigning paths, steps and slipways to the beach to be more resilient to rising tides and increased storminess.
  • Repurposing land to become temporary car parks, or so-called green buffer zones between the sea and villages.
  • Working with the finance and property sectors to explore ways of incentivising the movement of businesses and homes further inland.
  • Changes to the local planning system so it supports the transition of communities from high-risk land, and to restrict development in areas affected by coastal erosion.

The investment was announced during a visit to Happisburgh by Rebecca Pow MP - a minister in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) - on Thursday March 24.

%image(14392800, type="article-full", alt="Environment Minister Rebecca Pow. The Government hopes proposals to legally require water firms to make a "progressive reduction" in dumping raw sewage into waterways will finally allow flagship legislation to clear Parliament.")

She was accompanied by North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker, as well as councillors and officials from North Norfolk District Council (NNDC).

Ms Pow said: “We have to expect increasing extreme weather events because of climate change. We’re committed to defending our coastline, where it is sustainable and affordable to do so.”

The £36m pot - known as the Coastal Transition Accelerator Programme - will be available both to north Norfolk and the East Riding of Yorkshire, because they have both been identified as having the highest number of properties at risk from coastal erosion in England.

%image(14392801, type="article-full", alt="Erosion is being caused by waves hitting the cliffs and also surface water running off the cliffs and causing them to crumble")

The money will have to be applied for by the local authorities in the form of specific projects after a period of trialling has taken place.

“They will do work and modelling for five years to come up with a business case and then apply for the £36m to put some of the schemes into operation,” said Ms Pow.

“It’s NNDC which will be the lead authority on it, they will work together with the Environment Agency and all other local partners and bodies,” she added.

“They get some initial upfront money to do modelling, project work, then they will come up with the business case, and have to make sure it’s value for money.”

What would she say to people in communities like Happisburgh?

“It must be concerning if you live right near a coast that is disappearing, but I do believe if you work with the communities and together with them and engage them, they can truly be part of the new future.

“It is sensitive, but there are ways of giving them a very optimistic future. The car park used to be over there, which is now sea, but they’ve put in a car park which is moveable.”

%image(14360184, type="article-full", alt="May 2020 was the driest and sunniest May on record in East Anglia. Pictured: People enjoying the beach at Winterton-on-Sea as the lockdown exercise restrictions were eased. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY")

What would she say to people in Hemsby and Winterton, for example, who - because they are in Great Yarmouth borough - were not chosen to be part of the project, but face the same challenges as north Norfolk?

“We can’t choose everybody. This is a pilot, test and trial project, but the lessons learned from here could be applied further down the coast.

“That is the point of this project. We want to work with a team of people who already have a track record on this stuff, so we can invest the money here to do the project work and the modelling.

“The idea is we learn lessons for all of the rest of the country.”

Does the investment go far enough?

Campaigner Malcolm Kerby, who has been involved for two decades with Happisburgh's Coastal Concern Action Group, said that while he welcomed the government’s intervention, he didn’t think the project was coming at the problem “from the right angle”.

He said the first and most urgent priority had to be relocating people in at-risk homes to safer homes further inland.

He added that an earlier ‘pathfinder’ project, which ran from 2009 to 2011 and used about £3m of funding from government, including roughly £900,000 for Happisburgh specifically, had enabled people to do just that, as well as the creation of a “hugely successful” buffer zone.

Any other measures are ultimately “skirting around the main issue”, said Mr Kerby.

A DEFRA spokesman said the relocation of people into homes further inland could potentially be considered if a compelling business case for it was put forward by NNDC.