Homes should be left to the sea, warns erosion report

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The Independent Online

It is not so much an orderly withdrawal but a rout. Several local authorities battling erosion by the sea have plans which will condemn hundreds of houses, businesses and acres of farmland to a watery grave, and cost many millions.

It is not so much an orderly withdrawal but a rout. Several local authorities battling erosion by the sea have plans which will condemn hundreds of houses, businesses and acres of farmland to a watery grave, and cost many millions.

People on the East Anglian coast of the North Sea between Sheringham and Lowestoft face being left to the mercy of the waves, because experts have advised abandoning traditional sea defences in favour of a "managed retreat". Holiday homes, campsites, beaches, golf courses and swaths of land are expected to disappear by 2100.

In a coastal defence blue-print by North Norfolk district council, Great Yarmouth borough council, Waveney district council and the Environment Agency, experts say the only affordable and sustainable way to manage the sea-lashed shore is to let nature take its course.

"Building more concrete walls will just end in tears," said Professor Tim O'Riordan, an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia. "They are a waste of time and money. Defences save only clifftop properties; they actually destroy coastlines. We must make a mobile and unstable coast."

The report, which goes to public consultation next month, claims the answer lies in managing sediment movements so eroding cliffs naturally feed beaches further along. The present strategy of expensive and complex artificial defences would cause a fragmented shoreline made up of concrete headlands interspersed with bays.

Gary Watson, coastal manager for North Norfolk District Council, said sea defences interrupt the natural coastal processes such as long-shore drift and sediment movement, leading to a shortage of sand to feed beaches.

The new strategy would cause wide, natural sweeping beaches, he said, but building more and bigger defences could threaten those beaches. "We are well aware of the outcry this report will cause, but we cannot put this problem off for the future; it needs dealing with now."

Among the areas expected to be worst hit are the coastal communities of Bacton, Walcott and Ostend where nearly 400 properties, valued at £66m, are expected to be lost, and Mundesley which could lose up to 400 properties, valued at £48.2m.

Although towns such as Cromer, Sheringham, Yarmouth and Lowestoft, will have new sea defences they are likely to suffer disappearing or narrowing beaches. Building costs could cost up to £20m per kilometre.

But already people along the coast claim millions of pounds have been sliced off their house values. David Will, a chartered surveyor and former North Norfolk district councillor, said: "Prices in places such as Sea Palling, Walcott, Bacton, and Mundesley have risen considerably. All of this will be blighted because people's views will be changed by this report.

Malcolm Kerby, co-ordinator of Coastal Concern Action Group, based in Happisburgh, said: "The plan is a non-starter. If they ask people to make the sacrifices we are being asked to make - such as losing our homes and businesses - there should be 100 per cent compensation."

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