Hemsby residents remain defiant after lifeguard station destroyed by sea

Hemsby Lifeboat coxswain, Dan Hurd, front, by the work to remove the two day old RNLI tower which w

Hemsby Lifeboat coxswain, Dan Hurd, front, by the work to remove the two day old RNLI tower which was washed over by the sea. With him are lifeboat crew membersJohn Hayden, centre, and Chris Batten, right; and Kenny Chaney, left, retired fisherman; and Peter Howlett, resident. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Defiant villagers in Hemsby are again patching up their seaside home after the weather ravaged a lifeguard station and sparked a community response.

At around 10.30pm on Thursday, the RNLI lifeguard station by Hemsby Gap - which was to be used during the summer months to ensure beach goers' safety - was twisted and torn as high tides and gale-force winds toppled the structure.

Volunteers at Hemsby Independent Lifeboat Service assisted the RNLI by securing the structure and preventing it from being claimed by the sea.

The RNLI tower, built two days ago, washed over by the sea at Hemsby, where the lifeboat is launched

The RNLI tower, built two days ago, washed over by the sea at Hemsby, where the lifeboat is launched. - Credit: Denise Bradley

All along the eroding village coastline, the weather left its mark as more of the dunes were toppled by relentless surges.

Lance Martin at his home, Dune Fall, on the edge of the cliff at Hemsby.

Lance Martin at his home, Dune Fall, on the edge of the cliff at Hemsby. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Lance Martin, resident since November 2017, saw the sea claim more of the cliffs close to his property on The Marrams.  

Mr Martin said despite the declining cliffs, he is currently not worried about his back garden just yet as he has enough sand to prevent slippage for now - thanks to Hemsby Lifeboat who backed up the dunes last weekend.

Hemsby Lifeboat crewmembers secured a water pipe which was hanging out of an eroded dune.

Hemsby Lifeboat crewmembers secured a water pipe which was hanging out of an eroded dune on Friday. - Credit: James Weeds

Hemsby Lifeboat helmsman Chris Batten said even though the team's work over the weekend has been undone by the recent bout of harsh weather, it has still helped the current situation.

"If we hadn't repositioned the boulders last week, the sea would be right up to our station and people's homes by now," Mr Batten said.

"While the work has stopped the sea from coming closer, unfortunately it's also taken away the RNLI's lifeguard station and our slipway once again."

Mr Batten confirmed that until a slipway is cleared for vessels to launch safely, the lifeboat's offshore service will be out of action.

However, the Lifeboat's inshore rescue - which covers the Norfolk Broads - will remain on call.

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Mr Batten said the situation was "frustrating" as the lifeboat will have to start again with repairs, but the support from the community continues to raise the team's spirits.

"We've had some brilliant support from locals," Mr Batten said.

"We received about £1,000 in donations when we announced our planned repairs - and it really does help. We would like to thank everyone who continue to help us."

Kenny Chaney believes more sea defences at Hemsby are a matter urgency.

Kenny Chaney believes more sea defences at Hemsby are a matter urgency. - Credit: James Weeds

Resident Kenny Chaney has been fishing and working on boats on Hemsby beach for over 55 years. He believes a rock berm by the Gap is "badly needed".

Mr Chaney said: "The last bit of the dunes is finally eroding and we only need one more tidal surge - like the one we had in 2013 - and then there will be nothing left to protect.

"Why it's taking so long to get permission to get this rock berm, I don't know.

"There doesn't seem to be any urgency at all."

Lance Martin's sea defences he has put in at his home on the edge of the cliff at Hemsby.

Lance Martin's sea defences he has put in at his home on the edge of the cliff at Hemsby. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Karen Thomas, head of Coastal Partnership East - the coastal management team for Great Yarmouth Borough Council - said: “We are working with Hemsby Parish Council, the Environment Agency, residents, and businesses to plan for the future coastline at Hemsby.

“Working with the community, the construction of a rock berm has been identified as an option that will work best here. We have applied for planning permission and other licences.

"However, funding any option to slow erosion on the open coast in locations such as Hemsby is challenging and we are exploring all possibilities, working with government bodies, landowners and others, to identify how the £3m to £9m required to move forward with this critical work can be found.

"The work that has been done already with the community to make sure that we are ‘shovel ready’ means that once funding is found construction can go ahead with no delays."

Workers remove the RNLI tower, built two days ago, which was washed over by the sea at Hemsby.

Workers remove the RNLI tower, built two days ago, which was washed over by the sea at Hemsby. - Credit: Denise Bradley

When asked what difference would a rock berm make for Hemsby, Mr Batten said: "The consensus is that if a rock berm was in place, we would have much less damage than we do right now.

"Certainly, our off shore service would not have to be out of action.

"You're never going to stop the sea from doing what it does, but the rock berm would break those waves and create some respite for the coastline which is taking the brunt.

"A rock berm is the way forward. But everything moves so slowly and that is frustrating."

The sea was still rushing towards Hemsby dune on Friday morning.

The sea was still rushing towards Hemsby dune on Friday morning. - Credit: James Weeds

History of erosion at Hemsby

Residents of Hemsby are used to the power of nature claiming its coastline, such as the 2013 tidal surge that left clifftop homes teetering on the edge of destruction.

After the Second World War, there were three lines of chalets with many lost along the front line up to the 1980s.

Another streak was recorded between 1992 and 1997.

Several properties were lost during storms in 2013 to 2014, with a loss of a further 13 properties between February and March 2018 during the Beast from the East.

For over a decade, residents of Hemsby and other coastal villages in the area have been trying to secure permission to improve sea defences.

In November 2021, plans were submitted for a 1.3km sea defence in Hemsby, which could provide short term protection from the sea for 20 years.

As of February, a decision on the plans had not been reached.

Great Yarmouth Borough and Norfolk County councillor James Bensly is also a resident of Hemsby.

Great Yarmouth Borough and Norfolk County councillor James Bensly is also a resident of Hemsby. - Credit: James Weeds

Cllr James Bensly: "There's got to be another way."

When asked about the planning application for the rock berm, James Bensly, borough and county councillor for Hemsby, said: "Please, anything for the rock berm.

"Just get it through committee straight away.

"At least then it gives the community of Hemsby a tool to access and apply for grant funding to get that scheme in place because we need it as soon as possible.

"At the moment, the beach is so low where if we get a strong tide, there will be limited room for locals and tourists to enjoy our beach for walks.

"These coastal communities need support and they need help.

"The decisions to help and support coastal communities unfortunately are higher than a borough councillor. Current legislation is out of date. It is unfair in a way that local authorities have to foot this bill when this is a national issue.

"There's got to be another way."