Hopton erosion and outer harbour under spotlight

KEY information regarding the erosion of Hopton beach may never be released by the outer harbour owners because of a confidentiality clause.

Last week, the Mercury revealed that Bourne Leisure had sent a critical letter aimed at efforts to monitor the beach.

Claiming the current survey, carried out by HR Wallingford on behalf of Great Yarmouth Port Company (GYPC) – a term used interchangeably with Eastport – was not “fit for purpose”, it said Bourne Leisure was now running its own tests.

The letter concluded with saying it would be claiming compensation to the value of millions of pounds if it found the harbour owner is responsible for the loss of Hopton beach.

At a packed Hopton Parish council meeting on Tuesday, more than 50 members of the public heard the man behind Bourne Leisure’s new survey stating that key documents could remain hidden away if deemed “commercially sensitive”.

Speaking to a rapt audience which included Brian and John Potter of Potter’s Leisure Resort, consulting engineer Alastair Tindle gave a presentation on Bourne Leisure’s concerns over the beach, which lies next to their Hopton Holiday Village site.

On the topic of getting documents from HR Wallingford, whose studies initially predicted possible depletion at Gorleston beach, and who would need permission from GYPC to release anything, he said: “the information we’ve been requesting has trickled out rather than poured out, and sometimes we’ve had to fight quite hard to get it.”

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He said, after initial attempts at getting the data, freedom of information requests were rejected “and we were told Eastport would not release the information,” before adding later: “We’ve not seen half of the information that they’ve produced.”

This, he explained, was allowed under the 2003 monitoring agreement. Signed by interested parties including Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Waveney District councils as well as the Environment Agency, the agreement sought to enforce monitoring of Hopton’s coastline and ensure if the outer harbour had such an impact then redress could be sought.

Responding to a question, Mr Tindle explained in this agreement, though one clause emphasised reports should be shared between signatories, another clause stated it could be avoided if the content was deemed commercially sensitive, meaning “there is no way of getting that information.”

And it emerged that it was the day after a productive meeting with HR Wallingford that Mr Tindle, who emphasised they were still keen to work with the company, was told the release of information would not be possible due to a “conflict of interest.”

So far, Bourne Leisure’s study has been 18 months in the collection of information, at a cost of �100,000. The modelling stage, hoped to take around three months, will cost the same again.

Mr Tindle added that there were other possible ways of chasing up the information but these had not been explored yet.

Other topics raised during a question and answer session were of the impact that sand redistribution at Gorleston might have on monitoring results, and the pressing need to restore a section of sea wall at Hopton – which has come perilously close to giving way to the encroaching waves.

Borough council managing director Richard Packham, who had to defend the council from accusations that it had not defended the public interest when involved with the outer harbour, said after the meeting: “I think the borough council has been very active both as part of the discussions with Eastport to ensure monitoring has been effective as it could be in terms of cause and effect, and I refute suggestions otherwise.”