August 19, 2008
The Norfolk Village Being Swallowed By the Sea
By Michael Savage
Di Wrightson used to complain that a row of bungalows blocked the view of the sea from her home in the picturesque village of Happisburgh, pronounced "Haysbrough", on the north Norfolk coast. Now she says she wishes they were still there to block her view.
Those bungalows have now been claimed by the encroaching North Sea, along with a road, part of a meadow - and Di Wrightson's garage.
Her home on Beach Road now sits precariously near the edge of a cliff that was around 40 metres away when she bought the property more than 25 years ago.
"It has happened so fast," she says, standing where her garage once stood. "A new bay has formed since 1996." She used to run a bustling guest house and tea shop at her property with her friend Jill Morris, but the pair decided to close it two years ago, saying that investing further in the building was like "throwing money into the sea".
The inhabitants of the village's Beach Road have only been able to watch and wait. And the stress has had an effect on their health. Trevor Beeby, 72, who lives in the neighbouring cottage, suffered a stroke in 2005. He and his wife Gillian, 66, say that the constant worry about their home's safety was partly responsible for his illness.
"It's is always in your mind, from when you get up until you go to bed," says Mrs Beeby. "No one will do anything for us. We just have to make the best of it."
The village has been losing its battle with coastal erosion faster than ever. Sea defences built in 1959 have crumbled away. House prices have been hit. When Jane Archer and Chris Cutting attempted to put up their idyllic Beach Road bungalow as collateral for a loan, they hoped the property might be valued at around 80,000. The bank valued it at 1, citing "chronic coastal erosion".
The district council has done what it can, lining the coastline with a six-foot wall of rock in a last-ditch attempt to save the village. But it has not prevented the erosion from speeding up.
A combination of global warming, rising sea levels and a reluctance to restore the wooden revetments protecting the coastline have worsened the village's plight.
In the face of vigorous campaigning, the Government has dismissed designs for new defences as not being cost-effective. Arthur Richmond, 62, burnt his sea-front caravan in 2002 in protest against the Government's inaction. He also owns a property on Beach Road: "I was given assurances when I bought my property that defences would be maintained," he says. "Nothing has been done since I've been here."
When the village disappears, no fewer than 18 listed buildings, including its Grade I-listed church built in the 12th century, will go with it. The church was once a mile from the coast. It is now just 200ft away.
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