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The shortest house move ever? Man rolls home back from cliff edge as hope remains in Hemsby

PUBLISHED: 06:31 10 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:49 12 July 2018

Lance Martin is rebuilding his home on The Marrams in Hemsby.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Lance Martin is rebuilding his home on The Marrams in Hemsby. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

Devastating images of homes falling down Hemsby’s cliffs were broadcast around the world in March. But now the cameras have stopped rolling, how is the tourist resort recovering?

The beach at Hemsby is being used to repair sea defences at Scratby. Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe beach at Hemsby is being used to repair sea defences at Scratby. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

A white plastic pipe poking out of the sand on a cliff edge is the only remaining trace of Lance Martin’s kitchen.

The ‘Beast from the East’ claimed several metres of the army veteran’s land at Hemsby in March, including where his bungalow once stood.

But he managed to save his home by rolling it back from the cliff edge with the help of a telegraph pole and a tractor.

The 60-year-old is determined to remain on a thin sandy strip and rebuild his home.

The hexagonal blocks at Hemsby and gabions at Scratby are being repaired after this winter's storm damage Photo: Liz CoatesThe hexagonal blocks at Hemsby and gabions at Scratby are being repaired after this winter's storm damage Photo: Liz Coates

Time will shift more sand from his land, but the grandfather says: “I’m an optimist and always will be.

“If I get five months or five years here it is for the better.”

He only moved in to the bungalow on The Marrams in November last year and had around 25 metres between him and the cliff edge.

Then the March storms devastated Hemsby’s seafront, with 13 homes lost.

Retired Hemsby fisherman Kenny Chaney has seen the level of the beach fall dramatically. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYRetired Hemsby fisherman Kenny Chaney has seen the level of the beach fall dramatically. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

He had moved to enjoy bird watching but is now spending his days rebuilding his home.

“I do worry about the water but I’m forging ahead and making the best of a bad situation,” the former Grenadier guardsman says.

“It is a complete rebuild internally and I’ve no experience of building.”

In the long term he hopes coastal defences will be built at Hemsby.

James and Louise Bensly, from the Beach Cafe, say the resort relies on repeat bookings. Picture: ANTONY KELLYJames and Louise Bensly, from the Beach Cafe, say the resort relies on repeat bookings. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Other areas of the Norfolk coast have concrete walls, reefs and rock armour.

At Hemsby campaigners had to raise money themselves to pay for concrete honeycomb blocks in 2015, but they could only afford to protect a small section.

“There is a way to stop it but it is about having the will and the money to do it,” Mr Martin 
adds.

Along the rest of the seafront road through The Marrams the losses are devastating. All that remains of homes which have stood for decades are a handful of gardens and front gates with no homes behind them.

The Marrams have been devastated by erosion. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe Marrams have been devastated by erosion. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“There is very much a community there and it is extremely sad to see it being broken up,” says Lorna Bevan-Thompson from the Save Hemsby Coastline campaign.

But in the village, the fight is going on for Hemsby’s future.

At Mrs Bevan-Thompson’s pub, the Lacon Arms, campaigners are hopeful a report from Great Yarmouth Council coming out this week will finally help give the tourist hotspot what it needs - lasting sea defences.

Hemsby was the only place on the east coast to lose homes from the storms last winter.

And its wide golden sands have narrowed to a much smaller strip which diggers are now using to repair sea defences at neighbouring Scratby.

Hemsby was named as one of the most in-demand places in the country for holiday lets last year. The area contributes around £80m to the local economy.

And businesses stressed the village was still open and a great place for a holiday.

“Businesses want to invest in the village. Richardson’s has invested millions here,” says Lyndon Bevan who owns arcades and attractions in the town.

A new road has been built further back from the cliff at The Marrams. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYA new road has been built further back from the cliff at The Marrams. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

But he says it had been a tough year.

“We lost a fortune at Easter. We are way behind last year.

“The attraction of Hemsby is the beach. People have booked for this year but will they come back for next year?”

“We are concerned about the long term,” says James Bensly, who runs the Beach Cafe.

“The town relies on repeat customers. People come here because know they will get a wonderful experience.”

Retired fisherman Kenny Chaney, 72, has been watching the beach since the 1950s. “The storms are no worse but the beach no longer recovers,” he says.

Mr Chaney wants to see groynes installed to build up the beach levels again.

Businesses are also calling for work to repair Scratby’s defences, which has lead to diggers driving down Hemsby’s beach, to stop for six weeks over the summer.

Lance Martin's house which was dragged back from the cliff edge and is being rebuilt. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYLance Martin's house which was dragged back from the cliff edge and is being rebuilt. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“It is devastating now,” says Mrs Bevan-Thompson.

“It looks like we are shut for business and who is going to sit on a beach when lorries are trundling down there?”

She remembers as a child in the 1970s running through banks of dunes just to get to the beach.

“I think Hemsby has been left. We should have had money long before now,” says Ian Brennan from the Save Hemsby Coastline campaign.

“We have been fighting for a review for five years. Everywhere further south of us has got some sort of defence.”

Hemsby still has plenty of beach worth saving, according to tourists.

Karen and Paul Barnsdale, who were visiting Norfolk for the week from Lincolnshire, stopped at Hemsby on the drive back. “It is our first time in Hemsby,” they say. “We didn’t know about the erosion. It is still a nice beach.”

•Dredging opposition

One word keeps coming up in Hemsby when asked why erosion is getting worse - dredging.

Millions of tonnes of sediment have been taken from the seabed off the coast to be used for building aggregate.

Campaigners in Hemsby believe that is one reason why less sand is replenishing the beach.

Businessman Lyndon Bevan, 58, said: “It doesn’t cause coastal erosion but it stops recharge of the beach.”

James Bensly, who runs the Beach Cafe, said: “Why are we allowing dredging so close to our coast line?”

They are supported by MP Brandon Lewis and Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

The licence to dredge in the area is about to run out but Tarmac has applied to renew it until 2033.

The firm wants to take out 6,000,000 tonnes of sediment out over the next 15 years.

Mr Lewis said he had “serious concerns” about the impact of that on erosion.

However, an environmental impact report written for the application said the risk to the coastline was “negligible”.

It also quoted a study from 2011 stating that dredging was not having an impact on coastlines.

•What has landowner done?

The seafront, including The Marrams, is owned by Geoffrey Watling (Norwich) Ltd.

John Weston, the commercial agent representing the company, said the loss of homes at The Marrams this year had affected the whole community.

But even with 34 homes still on The Marrams, Mr Weston said no permanent defence scheme could happen until it had been signed off by lots of different authorities.

“We have to go along with the collective wisdom,” he said. “Schemes have to be approved by all sorts of bodies.”

He said the landowners had repeatedly rebuilt the beach at the Gap where it is accessed.

Geoffrey Watling (Norwich) Ltd also funded a sea defence trial in 2014 and contributed to other trials.

It also funded a new road into The Marrams after the storms in March as the existing road was too close to the cliff edge.

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