Save Hopton beach appeal

COASTAL campaigners hope a “defences not damages” message will be taken on board by a new government minister..

Influential local pressure groups hope Defra’s Richard Benyon will look closely and carefully at the problems of protecting seaside communities where lives and businesses depend on big beaches.

Brian Hardisty, chairman of Hopton’s coastal erosion group, said abandoning the holiday village to the sea would leave a gaping �7.5m hole in the local economy – more than enough to fund improved defences.

The junior minister will visit Scratby, Winterton and Hopton today to see for himself the consequences of erosion.

At Hopton the sea has rapidly gnawed into once sandy beaches, reducing them to a thin shingly stretch. Locals suggest a link with Great Yarmouth’s new outer harbour and point to Gorleston’s recharged sands.

Mr Hardisty said he hoped the new man would bring new enthusiasm and ideas to the complex problem of tackling sea defences which was blighting homes.

“We are looking for a commitment to stop houses falling in to the sea – it’s as simple as that. We are not asking them to spend money now or next year what we want is commitment, if we get that houses will sell again.

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“The beach is five to six feet below what it should be. On August bank holiday when it should have been packed it looked like a bomb had dropped there.

“If Potters and Bourne Leisure were to go that would cost us around �600,000 to �750,000 a year, around �7.5m over 10 years – more than enough to pay for sea defences.

“For me the cheapest option is to put in sea defences – if we do have to have compensation people should expect the full amount, whether their homes are by the sea or an airport runway. Richard Benyon is a new man, hopefully with new ideas.”

At Scratby the pressure group there is keen to win approval for its rock berm project, which is with the Environment Agency for preliminary assessment and due to be submitted formally on Monday, providing there are no changes.

Secretary Jim Bratton said: “Primarily we want defence, if we have defence then compensation is a secondary issue. If they are adamant there is no defence then it becomes a bigger issue.”

The visit has been organised by Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis who hopes to show that the effects of erosion radiate miles inland affecting homes and businesses.

The big question at Hopton was whether the rapid rate of erosion was down to the outer harbour and would continue at the same rate, or if it was part of the normal ebb and flow and would settle, he said.

Mr Lewis, who is set to be joint chairman of an all-party group on coastal erosion, said problems and solutions were different in each community, but could have knock-on effects elsewhere – linking every community with the next.

Maintaining a high profile just as ministers went into a major spending review was important, said Mr Lewis.

He added he was also keen to challenge a funding formula which overlooked the tens of thousands of pounds generated by caravan sites in places like Hemsby because they were classed as “temporary.”

“Its really complicated and people who live away from the coast don’t have a lot of interest but there could be a real knock-on effect if salt water got into the Broads and on to farmland.

“For Richard Benyon it is a fact-finding tour for us it is a chance to badger him and say we cannot afford to give up coastline.”