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‘No-one had seen anything like it before’ - it’s been five years since the worst tidal surge for 60 years hit Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 11:59 05 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:25 05 December 2018

View of the homes on the Marrams in Hemsby a month on from the tidal surge.
January 2014.

Picture: James Bass

View of the homes on the Marrams in Hemsby a month on from the tidal surge. January 2014. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2014

Five years ago Norfolk had never seen anything like it - the biggest tidal surge for 60 years and homes ripped from the dunes and thrown to the waves.

Homes on the Marrams in Hemsby which were severely damaged by the tidal surge last year are finally being demolished.
January 2014.

Picture: James Bass

Homes on the Marrams in Hemsby which were severely damaged by the tidal surge last year are finally being demolished. January 2014. Picture: James Bass

One of the worst hit communities was Hemsby, but the rallying response of villagers on the night saw the creation of Save Hemsby Coastline, a campaigning and fundrasing group committed to securing permanent protection for the village, whatever the weather threw at it.

Group chairman Ian Brennan said: “I can remember everything as if it was yesterday.

“On the night of the surge there was a fundraiser for defences being staged in the Lacon Arms organised by Lorna Bevan.

“We knew that the high tides were coming but no-one had seen anything like it before - 20ft waves, and I remember looking and not believing what I was seeing.

Flooding after the tidal surge at Great Yarmouth. Photo: Nigel PickoverFlooding after the tidal surge at Great Yarmouth. Photo: Nigel Pickover

“I saw houses floating away and they were broken up by the waves.

“That was the start of Save Hemsby Coastline.

“It was the moment the village came together, and that is what made me want to be involved.

“We have been doing it for five years and we will be doing it for many more.

Homes on the Marrams in Hemsby which were severely damaged by the tidal surge last year are finally being demolished.
January 2014.

Picture: James Bass

Homes on the Marrams in Hemsby which were severely damaged by the tidal surge last year are finally being demolished. January 2014. Picture: James Bass

“Hemsby is the sort of place where even people who don’t live here love it. We are still fighting as hard as ever for Hemsby.”

The tidal surge

During the tidal surge 15,000 homes were at risk of evacuation and people were filling sandbags on the beach.

Some 600 people spent the night in rest centres set up in schools and village halls across the borough.

Homes on the Marrams in Hemsby which were severely damaged by the tidal surge last year are finally being demolished.
January 2014.

Picture: James Bass

Homes on the Marrams in Hemsby which were severely damaged by the tidal surge last year are finally being demolished. January 2014. Picture: James Bass

At Caister the beach cafe was claimed leaving fridges floating in the sea.

By the time high tide passed through Yarmouth and Gorleston at 10.30pm on December 5 water had come over the sea walls in Marine Parade and reached a number of seafront restaurants where people were seen wading through knee-deep floods.

Haven Bridge was closed to traffic at 11pm.

Several cars off Acle New Road and boats sat high in the river above road level.

View of the homes on the Marrams in Hemsby a month on from the tidal surge.
January 2014.

Picture: James Bass

View of the homes on the Marrams in Hemsby a month on from the tidal surge. January 2014. Picture: James Bass

The army was also drafted in to build temporary flood defences.

What happened next

In the aftermath of the surge money was raised for hexagonal concrete blocks at Hemsby, installed along a trial stretch, a small part of the 1.4k from Newport Cottages to the Hemsby “crater” which needs protecting.

Work is soon to start on re-positioning the honeycomb structures which were undermined by the Beast from the East earlier this year - another destructive event that saw more homes lost along the sandy cliffs.

Campaigners from Hemsby dig up marram grass on Yarmouth beach to 'transplant' onto their fragile dunes to help shore them up and make them stronger.
Ian Brennan (front)Campaigners from Hemsby dig up marram grass on Yarmouth beach to 'transplant' onto their fragile dunes to help shore them up and make them stronger. Ian Brennan (front)

Mr Brennan said he believed the blocks had performed well but a recent borough council-commissioned report, known as the Jacobs report, said they were not the answer.

Because the sea had got round the structure it was leaning forward and needed pushing back, and an end needed blocking off to make it more effective.

And for the future?

Ultimately Mr Brennan said a rock berm was probably the solution, maybe with some gabions (rock-filled cages) at some point too.

“I think they did a great job,” he said. “They have still protected 17 homes directly behind them.”

However the decision had been made not to install any more blocks and to go for the solid berm.

That scheme was likely to cost up to £5m with funding needing to be sourced from multiple pockets, a large slice of which would hopefully come from the Government.

What the council says

Carl Smith, chairman of the Hemsby Community Liaison Group and the borough council’s environment committee, said: “In July 2018, the council held drop-in sessions to share with the community the findings of the council’s valuable coastal management study that considered coastal processes and engineering options for managing the dynamic coastline at Hemsby.

“All engineering options are costly, some considerably so, and would require significant contributions from a range of partners, including a special Government contribution, because relatively limited funds would be available in the form of Flood Defence Grant in Aid through DEFRA under the current national funding rules.

“As part of exploring the study results and trying to identify suitable approaches in both the short and longer-term, the borough council, Coastal Partnership East and the community have formed the Hemsby Community Liaison Group, comprised mainly of representatives of that community.

The third meeting took place on December 3.

“Understandably, the immediate local concern is regarding this winter. The council has in place an emergency response plan and is also supporting Save Hemsby Coastline to re-position some of their hexi-block defences over the next few weeks to hopefully be more effective.

“In the medium term, those present at the community liaison group meeting indicated they would like to work towards having a rock berm: a rock structure to reduce wave energy along the dune face that may in particular location(s) also have gabions (wire baskets filled with rocks).

This would help to manage and reduce the rate of erosion; not prevent it.

“To explore further the viability of this approach, a request for funding is being made to the next meeting of the Regional Flood and Coast Committee, in January 2019, in order to undertake the economic, ecological and practical studies needed.

“Agencies such as Natural England, the Marine Management Organisation and the Environment Agency would also be involved. Only if the scheme is found to be technically, ecologically and financial viable, as well as acceptable to the community, could any application be made for Government funding, and considerable funds would also need to be raised locally.

“While this is being progressed, the community liaison group will continue to meet to explore a range of medium and long-term approaches.

“Other options such as roll back of vulnerable properties to adapt to the changing coastline are also being considered as an alternative approach for this stretch of coastline.”

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