'Close call' for clifftop home as winter winds batter coast

Lance Martin coastal erosion Hemsby

The land drops away like a sheer cliff face after a strong northerly wind and high tide combined to tear away material bringing Lance Martin's Hemsby home closer to the edge. - Credit: Lance Martin

Lance Martin has mounted a solar light on a pole at the end of his clifftop plot, and when that goes it will be the end for him too, he says.

The 63-year-old former soldier said Monday night's wild weather bought him the closest yet to oblivion as the waves grabbed some 20ft of sandy dune at his Hemsby home.

It meant moving the shed before it collapsed into the sea, and taking down a fence.

Bread baskets that formed one line of defence have been ripped away.

Lance Martin clifftop home Hemsby

The perfect seaside view - but it is getting too close for comfort for Lance Martin who admits Easter Monday's high winds and tides gave him a fright. - Credit: Lance Martin

"You just feel useless," he said.

"I don't usually stress too much but I had a sleepless night, I was really so worried.

"It has given me pause for thought and I lost a lot more than I thought I would.

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"But there is still fight in me and I will carry on until the bitter end.

Lance Martin in the aftermath of the Beast from the East Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Lance Martin in the aftermath of the first Beast from the East. He has been battling to save his home for three years and having pulled it back it stands on the edge again after the Easter weather was at its worst - Credit: Archant

"At some point I am going to have to pull the plug but hopefully they will get the sea defences in first.

"It was a bit of a close call."

Lance Martin coastal erosion Hemsby

The gravel board marking the edge of Lance Martin's property, now facing a sheer precipice after Monday's high winds and tides. - Credit: Lance Martin

The 63-year-old lives in the only clifftop home along the seaward side of The Marrams to survive the Beast from the East in 2018.

At one point it was hanging over the edge with the churning sea visible beneath the kitchen floor.

Efforts to protect his home have included pulling it back from the edge and installing a robust rock barrier at the base of the dune.

Now there is a vertical drop at the end of his plot, where once there were sloping sands.

In the next few days, and with the help of the village lifeboat crew, he aims to shore up the cliff face and add in some terracing to replicate the shape of what was there before.

Easter erosion at Hemsby

The power of the sea became a tourist attraction in itself on Easter Monday. It has torn a 6ft step on the sands at Hemsby. - Credit: James Bensly

In the long term however, a rock berm is being tipped as the best way to protect Hemsby and its tourism economy said to be worth many millions to Norfolk.

The defensive structure, likely to cost between £8m and £13m depending on its length, is said to be progressing well with a public consultation on the various options likely to start at the end of this month, April, ahead of environmental studies and a planning application.

People in the village generally support the rock berm scheme as a way of buying time.

Overall the berm will help to manage, and reduce the erosion rather than prevent it.

Meanwhile, on March 28, Defra announced 25 areas set to share in a £150m funding pot to develop new flooding responses.

The schemes will trial a wide range of different approaches to resilience tailored to local communities and lead by local authorities over six years.

Lance Martin's efforts to protect his clifftop home in The Marrams, Hemsby look to have paid off aft

Lance Martin's efforts to protect his clifftop home in The Marrams, Hemsby look to have paid off after a weekend of wild weather Picture: Liz Coates - Credit: Archant

Hemsby is among four erosion-hit communities identified as target areas for the fund - although the focus is on innovation rather than hard defences - and is completely separate to the rock berm project.

Penny Carpenter, chairman of the environment committee, said the rock berm consultation would look at design options and costings and was "the next important step" towards a final scheme for planning approval.

“Alongside this work" she added. "We were very pleased with last week’s news that Coastal Partnership East’s funding bid to Defra for a programme to support coastal adaptation to climate change across eight communities on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, including at Hemsby, has been chosen to progress to the next stage of the application process.” 

James Bensly, who had to close his seaside takeaway over the weekend due to the bad weather, said wild winds and a fast sea running from the north had torn a six foot step in the beach.

"It is distressing," he said. "Because people come to Hemsby for our beautiful beach and if we have not got that you have to worry about people's livelihoods."

In February the beach at Hemsby was hit hard by Storm Darcy exposing debris left by homes taken by previous weather events and also a shipwreck believed to be that of the Dandy Unity which foundered in 1899.