Photo gallery: Concrete block bid to save Hemsby from the North Sea
09:24 05 April 2013
The North Sea is close to breaking through Hemsby dunes amid the “worst erosion in 25 years”, fearful residents claim.
And in a last effort to save them a sea defence scheme has been agreed with landowners Geoffrey Watling Limited.
Concrete blocks will line the base of the dunes to soften the impact of the tides, spanning a 1.5km stretch next to the Marrams.
Volunteers will complete the lion’s share of the work – relying on spare cement and donations towards £50 blocks – and the project could span several seasons.
It is set to begin in four week’s time, after the tides have calmed and the beach given a chance to replenish.
The background to the work is laid out by stark predictions in government documents – which concede all of Hemsby Marrams and up to five homes could be lost by 2025.
But people who live in The Marrams are already looking to move house, fearing the tide will be at their doors within five years.
The growing concern comes after severe damage in recent weeks, as Hemsby lifeboat crew abandoned its station last week and a 10ft drop in beach level emerged.
Tony Lewis, 72, has lived in The Marrams – a private road immediately behind the dunes – for 10 years.
He said: “For the last fortnight the wind has been so strong – that’s what’s doing the damage. You can hear the sea all through the night, bashing against the dunes.
“Have we got to wait until there’s water coming in the back door?”
He is looking to move and said a walkway from the front of his home over the dunes has already crumbled away.
The present Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) from Winterton to Scratby indicates a policy of managed realignment, and concedes all of Hemsby Marrams and up to five homes could be lost by 2025.
The document was prepared by authorities that have a responsibility for managing flooding and erosion at the coast, including the Environment Agency, Defra and local councils.
“If the dunes go that will be the end of Hemsby,” added Mr Lewis. “When it’s a high tide it’s right at the bottom of the dunes, and if they get washed away it’s going to come in.”
His neighbour, Bill Tilley, 63, added: “I’ve known it here for 25 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it. We desperately need some help.”
There are around 50 chalets in The Marrams and some sit just 25ft from the sea, Mr Tilley said.
Margaret Alman, 70, lives in The Glebe, which runs next to the Hemsby valley – on the far side from the sea.
The lifeboat shop volunteer said: “The erosion is scaring us a lot. The dunes that side have electric poles right near to the edge and you can’t get down to the beach unless you go down the valley.”
Fierce tides have cut behind rock defences fronting Hemsby lifeboat station, and fences have been torn down by gales.
Business owners are also concerned that the erosion will harm Hemsby’s £80m tourist economy.
Jack Bensly, chairman of the Borough Community Coastal Group, said there are 18,000 tourist beds in Hemsby and money spent on sea defences would be money well spent.
He added more than 65 chalets have already been lost, with around 150 yards of dune lost in the last 20 years.
The latest fears come after a month of significant erosion on the east Norfolk coast.
Severe north-easterly winds at Caister exposed the foundations of the former Manor House hotel last month.
The Georgian building had crumbled into the sea as a result of erosion during the second world war.
Caister lifeboat has faced delays in launching after its ramp was damaged, and Hemsby’s sea-going lifeboat has been taken out of action completely as it is unable to launch.
Hopton has also been hit, with sections of cliff collapsing last week, forcing three caravans at Hopton Holiday Village to be re-sited.