Residents of a Norfolk village hit by coastal erosion say they have been abandoned by the Government after it scrapped a defence scheme – despite a landslip leaving a home perched on the edge of a cliff.
Hemsby, around 15 miles east of Norwich and seven miles north of Great Yarmouth, is facing an uncertain future, with nearly 100 homes at risk of falling into the sea as the coastline continues to erode.
Shocking images captured by drone show how close a home is to slipping down into the sea after a recent collapse in the cliff it stands on – but the Government says a planned sea defence project does not qualify for funding to be put into action.
Ian Brennan, chairman of the Save Hemsby Coastline campaign, says that the village is being abandoned to its fate after the decision was made not to fund the scheme.
Local authorities say inflation has pushed the cost of the project from a reported £15million to £20million, ultimately leading to the offer of financial support being withdrawn. They now warn that the collapse of homes is inevitable.
A house sits on the edge of a cliff in Hemsby, Norfolk, after the latest landslip left the ground supporting the house threatening to give way
An aerial image showing the house teetering on the edge of the cliff with the village nearby
Up to 92 homes in the coastal village are at risk of falling into the sea as coastal erosion continues to eat away at the cliff
Concrete blocks have been put in place at some of the more vulnerable parts of the coast – but residents still want to see a full sea-defence wall put in place
A campaign group is crowdfunding to mount a legal challenge against the decision not to fund the coastal defence scheme
Images show how the coast at Hemsby has eroded over time – from 2007 (left) to 2023 (right) – with vegetation along the beach worn away by the sea
They have sought to placate the 3,600 residents of the village by installing rocks as a short-term coastal defence measure in the areas most affected by erosion. But locals say it isn’t enough.
Campaign chair Mr Brennan, 63, told Norfolk Live: ‘I know the borough council and our MP Brandon Lewis are saying that we haven’t been abandoned, but, actually, that’s how we feel.’
He later added: ‘Hemsby is suffering. Seeing what has happened and knowing if nothing is done it is going to happen to you must be a terrifying prospect.
‘The authorities know what needs to be done and it’s only political will and the inaction of the landowners and the absence of funding that makes their loss pretty inevitable.
‘The last study showed that 92 homes are at risk if nothing is done. How much does Hemsby need to bleed before something is done?’
The Save Hemsby Coastline campaign is crowdfunding for a legal challenge against the decision not to fund coastal defences.
In the meantime, however, residents have spoken of the dread they feel at living in homes that could slip into the sea at any moment.
Lance Martin, 65, first pulled his home back from the cliff edge in 2018 after he lost 40m of his back garden to erosion.
The retiree said: ‘The overwhelming feeling amongst the neighbours is one of despair. I keep a smile on my face.
‘I haven’t broken down yet. I crack on with it – there’s nobody to blame, you just have to accept it and move on.’
Earlier this year, former Grenadier Guard Mr Martin dragged his house a further 22ft back from the coast to stop it falling into the sea.
He said at the time: ‘I’ve put my hands and my heart into every piece of this house. This should give me another few years.’
Ex-Grenadier Guard Lance Martin, who dragged his home back from the edge of the cliff in order to avoid having to leave
Mr Martin created his own coastal defence wall (pictured) in a bid to protect his house from the onslaught of the sea
Erosion elsewhere on the coast shows how the land is being eaten away by the sea – but the Government says it cannot justify funding a flood-defence scheme
Coastal defence blocks are put up at Hemsby Lifeboat Station on the Norfolk coast
A house on the edge of the coast in Hemsby. A sign on the fence reads: ‘Unstable cliffs, keep off…help preserve Hemsby’s future’
A partially collapsed home in Hemsby in May 2018. Parts of the house can be seen scattered on the beach
Other residents in the area have previously shared a mix of concern and resignation to the news that their homes will one day slip into the North Sea.
Some homes have already been demolished.
Hemsby Beach is also closed from time to time when experts believe landslides are about to occur.
Angie Wilson, 66, moved into her two-bedroom 1930s bungalow in the neighbouring village of Scratby in 2010 – but says she’s likely to live there for as long as she can because she ‘can’t live for ever’.
She said: ‘Since I moved in I’ve probably noticed two or three bucketfuls of clay fall from the cliff edge.
‘But my garden is about 18ft from the precipice, so I’m confident I’ve got a while left until it becomes a real threat.’
In March, Sue, a local widow, told of her heartbreak at watching her house being torn down by a digger after reportedly being given just one day’s notice that it was being demolished.
She said at the time: ‘The council did come and help remove everything, but obviously it was a shock.
‘The erosion had been really slow in that area, but the tides have changed, it is different – it’s not the same as three years ago.’
Mary Withey, another resident whose home was being demolished, previously said: ‘I’m not OK with it, it’s been my home, I don’t want to move… it’s very sad.
‘When I first heard, I was in shock, and today I’ve just been tearful, it’s horrible.’
She and her partner had lived in their home for four years before being told they would have to leave.
Homes have been demolished in Hemsby in areas that are feared to be at most risk of coastal erosion in order to prevent them from crashing into the sea
An aerial view of a house in Hemsby that is at risk of falling victim to coastal erosion as the sea continues to encroach on the land
Sue, who lived alone in her Hemsby home after her husband died, is said to have been given one day’s notice to gather her things and leave
She looks out from her home one final time before it was torn down by diggers in March this year as the coast continued to erode
With the help of the council, she was able to clear out her belongings (pictured here leaving her home for the last time before it was demolished)
Hemsby resident Mary Withey removes her belongings from her house in March before it was demolished
Mandy Jephcote spent £75,000 on her Norfolk dream home, but in three years has watched it become worthless as her garden collapsed into the sea
Mandy Jephcote, who paid £75,000 for her cosy two bedroom coastal bungalow, had envisaged growing old there and enjoying views of the North Sea.
But since then she has only been able to watch in horror as her front garden slowly disappeared into the sea.
Following a particularly stormy night: ‘It was so scary. I huddled up with my dogs and prayed. I didn’t get to sleep until dawn.
‘And in the morning I found out I had lost 10ft of my garden into the sea.
‘In fact in the past year I have lost 20ft of my garden. It was 40ft long when I bought the property. Now it’s barely 20ft. The rest has gone over the cliff.’
Great Yarmouth Borough Council issued a statement on behalf of its coastal management team, Norfolk County Council and local Tory MP Brandon Lewis to confirm the sea wall project would not be going ahead as planned.
It said: ‘The primary source of funding for the proposed work would be via a Flood Defence Grant-in-Aid from the Government.
‘Currently schemes of this cost and scale would only attract Flood Defence Grant-in-Aid where hundreds of homes are at risk.
‘However, currently, the proposed scheme for Hemsby doesn’t qualify for sufficient Government funding to allow it to progress.’
It added that it had acquired rock to blockade the coast in places – with promising results seen when it was put into action.
The council said it was ‘looking at what funding and powers are available to try to avoid further emergency scenarios of people moving out of their homes literally overnight’, adding: ‘We are preparing for what now appears to be the inevitable situation of losing more properties, either by the loss of the access road or directly from erosion.
We are actively engaging with the residents of those properties which are likely to be affected to understand what support they will need to respond now to the risk of further erosion.’
The Environment Agency told Norfolk Live that the borough council needed to justify the project by showing ‘how the project will work, that it will last, that it is able to be delivered and is environmentally acceptable’.
A report from earlier in the year says homes worth a total of £600million will eventually crumble into the sea.
More than 20 at-risk villages and hamlets were analysed to estimate how much coastline could be lost assuming that current policies on whether to defend, retreat or abandon sections of coast are followed, according to property website Rightmove.
In all, more than 2,200 homes are predicted to be lost by the year 2100, with coastal communities in Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, East Yorkshire, Essex, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Northumberland, Norfolk and Sussex most at risk.
What is coastal erosion? How tides and geology mean some areas are far more at risk of being washed away
The occurrence of coastal erosion is dependent upon the balance between the resistance, or erodibility, of the coastline and the strength, or erosivity, of the waves and tides affecting the area.
These conditions are, in turn, reliant upon a number of factors, including topography, the composition and structure of the geological formations exposed at the coast, the state of man-made coastal defences, local currents and tidal range, wave climate (as characterised by wave height, period, direction and fetch), groundwater, sediment supply, and relative sea level.
Consequently, rates of coastal erosion and accretion are very variable at regional, national and international scales.
Coastal erosion typically results in a landward retreat of the coastline. This can increase the risk of coastal flooding and result in loss of land and damage to buildings, infrastructure and agricultural land.
Sudden coastal erosion events, particularly those in the vicinity of coastal cliffs, may directly endanger the lives of people. The movement of salt-water into freshwater areas (saline intrusion) can occur during coastal flooding and can impact upon the biodiversity of previously freshwater or terrestrial ecosystems.
It has been estimated that across England and Wales 113,000 residential properties, 9,000 commercial properties and 5,000 hectares of agricultural land are within areas potentially at risk of coastal erosion, which translate to a capital value of assets at risk of approximately £7.7billion for England and Wales (DEFRA, 2001).