Seasiders turn back tide of indifference to shrinking Yorkshire

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The Independent Online

Along the windswept coast of East Yorkshire, the inhabitants of a string of villages have long been threatened by the ravages of the North Sea. Each year, up to six feet of land is swept away by erosion, leaving farms and homes along the 32-mile stretch ever-closer to the waves.

Along the windswept coast of East Yorkshire, the inhabitants of a string of villages have long been threatened by the ravages of the North Sea. Each year, up to six feet of land is swept away by erosion, leaving farms and homes along the 32-mile stretch ever-closer to the waves.

But after six years of acquiescence, East Riding council is to abandon the advice of consultants who concluded in 1994 that nothing should be done.

The council has bowed to public pressure, abandoning a "do-nothing" policy for one which compels it continually to monitor and review erosion along the entire coast and fund studies into its economic effects on businesses - such as caravan parks - which find themselves on the front line in more remote areas. Defence strategies will be formulated for six villages where the peril is greatest: Barmston, Atwick, Aldbrough, Tunstall, Holmpton and Easington.

In 1994, consultants recommended nature must be left to take its course where the costs of protecting the rural areas against its erosion outweighed the benefits. Since then, miles of remote coast have been subject to an official policy of "do nothing" while expensive sea defences have been concentrated in built-up areas such as in nearby Bridlington.

The "do nothing" policy has been a source of rancour among unprotected residents, who believe they have been sacrificed to the elements.

Some householders, such as Shaun Mars, who owns a property at Great Cowden, south of Hornsea, have tried in vain to sue the council. "In six months I'll have knocked the place down," he said. "It will cost me £4,000 to get the council to demolish it."

For villagers, the "donothing" policy conveyed "a negative message," said Adrian Dawson, East Riding's coastal officer. "What if suddenly coastal erosion increases further and we get two or three metres a year? It may be that further scientific evidence comes forward which changes our view on the coast. We can now continually revisit."

There is a serious catch, though. While protecting one section of coast, coastal defences will accelerate erosion in the next. Hence some householders in Withernsea, east of Hull, have encountered worse erosion because of reinforcements designed to protect the oil bases to the north of them.

One couple tried to sue the council after suffering the backlash from reinforcements introduced at neighbouring Mappleton.

The council's balancing act is as expensive as it is precarious - it cost £5m to defend one kilometre of Easington coast alone. "If the options are fighting with the natural process or working with it, the best choice is always going to be working within it," said Mr Dawson. "But we have to understand what it is like to live on the coast and to see your farmland going or your farmhouse getting closer and closer to the edge. It's an extremely sensitive issue."

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