Background to the situation at Happisburgh
In 1959, timber defences were constructed between Ostend and Cart Gap. These started failing in the '80's, and by 1989 North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) identified the need for a major investment in new defences. Local government is responsible for repairs and upkeep of sea defences, but any capital scheme such as renewal of existing defences or creation of new ones requires the acceptance, approval and funding of central government.
Various schemes were proposed throughout the 90's, but for a variety of reasons failed to reach fruition. The same two objectors were prominent throughout this period; Lord of the manor Eric Couzens, and Professor Keith Clayton who felt that taxpayers money could be better spent elsewhere.
In 2000, MAFF agreed to fund a Strategy Study of the coast between Ostend and Cart Gap - the purpose of the study was to investigate the coastal processes and if possible to develop a strategy to renew the defences. A report and scheme was advertised in December 2001 recommending a 3-stage approach, commencing with the construction of a rock groyne at the south end of Beach Road.
Objections were received from Prof Clayton and lord of the manor Eric Couzens. Despite 325 letters of support, it was not possible to progress the scheme until these objections had been resolved; either they were withdrawn, or determined by the Minister.
While the scheme was tied up in red tape at Whitehall, the sea continued its encroachment at a rate far in excess of any forecasts. The end result was that in December 2002 the scheme was withdrawn as it no longer met financial or technical criteria; during the delay in processing the application properties were lost affecting the financial justification, and the physical proportions of the cliffs changed invalidating the technical aspects of the scheme.
Knowing the absolute urgency of the situation, NNDC approved emergency funding providing 4000 tonnes of rock at the toe of the cliff offering some short term protection from the sea. The District Council emphasised that these measures were only intended as a temporary measure, and were not expected to withstand anything other than 'normal' weather conditions.
New criteria have since been introduced by DEFRA with the intention of 'prioritising limited resources for flood and coastal defences'; any scheme for Happisburgh currently falls well short of the minimum number of 'points' required even to allow submission of the scheme for consideration. Government has said that until the centre of the village is directly threatened, this is likely to remain the case.
There are no proposals currently being considered for more permanent sea defence schemes, nor any plans to draw up any such proposals.
For more details about the history of the situation at Happisburgh, please read the timeline.