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Hemsby and coastal erosion - frequently asked questions


The coastline in our part of East Anglia is one of the most dynamic and rapidly changing in Europe. For decades, storms, strong winds and high tides have had an impact on our communities.

Continued erosion on this stretch of coastline is inevitable and Hemsby is particularly affected, which means Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) is working hard with its partners and other agencies to plan how we best adapt to the changing shape of our coast.

Storms and high tides meant five more homes in the dunes at The Marrams had to be demolished in December 2023. Reports by Great Yarmouth Borough Council's building surveyors had concluded that the erosion meant the properties had been left too close to the cliff edge and were structurally unsound and unsafe.

The erosion and loss of a stretch of privately owned access road in The Marrams means that residents in the village understandably have questions about what the future might hold for their homes.

This section attempts to address some of the most frequently asked questions and what advice and support is available for those affected by coastal erosion.

What has Great Yarmouth Borough Council done to protect Hemsby from coastal erosion?

The Council sought and secured planning permission for a 1.3km rock berm that would potentially provide some defence for a stretch of the dunes in Hemsby. The planning permission was the first stage to securing a scheme as this needed to be in place before a funding application could be made to the Environment Agency. However, it was always known that the current funding formula would not provide full funding.

So, at the same time, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Coastal Partnership East, with the support of Great Yarmouth MP, Sir Brandon Lewis, and Norfolk County Council, have proactively lobbied over a number of years to argue the case for Hemsby in order to identify other partnership funding as well as argue for a change to the funding formula.

In March 2023, the Council secured emergency Government funding to provide a temporary 100m rock berm at Hemsby. Almost 2,000 tonnes of granite was installed in an attempt to protect dunes and slow down erosion. Under the Coastal Protection Act (1949), Balfour Beatty was contracted to bring the granite to Hemsby which had been bought from a private supply of rock at Hopton. The project was managed by the Council's coastal management team, Coastal Partnership East (CPE). This short-term, interim option was similar to that completed to the frontage at Pakefield, Lowestoft, in December 2022.

Why hasn't Great Yarmouth Borough Council applied to the Environment Agency for funding for the 1.3km rock berm for which it has planning permission?

To attract funding, any scheme must have gone through all the necessary consents and feasibility studies to end up with a design required for an outline business case (OBC).

The scheme identified as being technically viable for Hemsby is a rock berm. To successfully submit an OBC, full partnership funding must also be in place. Unfortunately, the scheme has been unable to attract the partnership funding required, despite the continued lobbying. Due to inflation and the economic climate, the cost of the proposed berm has significantly escalated during this period and is now estimated to be approximately £20m.  The maximum funding available from the Environment Agency has been estimated at only £2m and this may now have reduced further.

The primary source of funding for the proposed work would be via a Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Grant-in-Aid (FCERMGiA) from the Environment Agency and the amount of funding available depends on the number of assets (mainly residential properties) that would benefit from a reduced risk of erosion once the scheme is completed. Currently, schemes of this cost and scale would only attract FCERMGiA where hundreds of homes are at risk. The construction type or permanence of properties has no bearing on the level of funding.

What planning is taking place to help Hemsby adapt to continued coastal erosion?

Coastal Partnership East (CPE) has recently secured funding through its Resilient Coasts project to deliver innovative options for communities to adapt to coastal erosion.

The Resilient Coasts project is one 25 successful pilot projects chosen for the government's Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme (FCRIP) which is part of the Government's National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England. See the Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme website for full information.

CPE is now actively working on the possible opportunities for Hemsby that can be developed through this programme during 2024. These include financial options to help communities adapt to coastal erosion alongside actions to influence national policy change.

CPE and Great Yarmouth Borough Council will be engaging with community members as these options are developed.

If I live on Fakes Road or St Mary's Road in Hemsby. How long will it be until coastal erosion affects me?

Due to the nature of the erosion at Hemsby it is impossible to provide a timeline for when a particular property may be affected by shoreline degradation.

The Government has up to date coastal erosion maps on the Environment Agency (EA) website, these include predicted erosion lines for 2025, 2055 and 2105 and the areas of the coast the EA will defend. The maps can be viewed here:

What Council help is available to me if I fear my home is at risk from erosion?

The Great Yarmouth Borough Council Housing Options team has been working closely with residents in the Marrams to offer support for those affected by erosion. This support has included sourcing appropriate accommodation for those who need it.

If you or your family would like to talk with Council staff to see what help can be provided and what options are available to you, please contact our team:

Further information is also available in the Homlessness section of our website.

If a property has to be demolished because it is unsafe and structurally unsound due to erosion who pays for the work to be carried out and how does the process work?

The Council is obliged to offer and facilitate demolition. The Council then reclaims the cost of demolition from the Government.

Where demolition is necessary, the Council uses expert companies that have significant expertise in the demolition of coastal buildings to carry out the work. Method statements for demolition work are agreed by Council surveyors and representatives from Coastal Partnership East.

Should a property fall on to the beach, the owners are responsible for removing the debris and any environmental impact it causes. The Council will always seek to avoid this eventuality by working closely with owners and seeking their permission to safely demolish with minimal disruption.

If my property has to be demolished, why don't I receive compensation for the effects of coastal erosion in the same way that victims of flooding do?

It is not Government policy to compensate victims of coastal erosion. GYBC, via its partners at Coastal Partnership East, continues to lobby Government for the rules to be changed.

I have heard that Anglian Water might be able to pay for defences in Hemsby because it has pipes and assets in the area which need to be protected from erosion. What is happening?

Anglian Water has significant limitations on what it can fund and is over-subscribed with partner projects for any funding that is available.

Anglian Water has advised that the pipe in Hemsby close to The Marrams is not at immediate risk, but it continues to keep a close eye on the erosion in the area and its operational teams will intervene if any of its assets are impacted. Anglian Water would work to achieve the most effective and lowest cost intervention to protect its assets, such as diverting the sewer.

It is important to note that any available funding from Anglian Water would not pay for the whole scheme and any money it did offer would need to be match funded.

If further properties are at risk in The Marrams why are homes there still being marketed for sale by estate agents?

Great Yarmouth Borough Council does not have the legal powers to prevent home sales and purchases. The Council would only be aware of potential sales when searches are run through the Council's system in relation to a particular property. These are in the form of standard enquiries and it is for the buyer's solicitor to raise the enquires they think necessary on each property. The Council has written to estate agents to advise them that they are attempting to sell properties at immediate risk of coastal erosion.

The rule, when buying property, remains very much caveat emptor(buyer beware) and it might be argued there is a role here for the governing bodies of estate agents to require members to give full, explicit and transparent disclosure around sales particulars for properties in areas of erosion risk.

A further avenue to potentially alert prospective buyers might be for at-risk areas to be identified in the pre-contract searches carried out during the conveyancing process, in the same way that flood risk, contamination or pending planning applications are flagged. However, this is not within the Council's current remit and it is not aware that it would be something triggered by the standard forms of search. Of course, any such a process would still rely on the prospective buyer taking heed of the information/warning when it was provided to them. People are entitled to ignore such advice - although lenders would then be unlikely to issue a mortgage loan.

Can members of the public put objects on the beach in an attempt to slow down erosion?

The placing of blocks or other material on the beach without the consent of the Coast Protection Authority - in this case Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC) - is an offence under section 16(1) of the Coast Protection Act 1949. Any such work would also require planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

However, it is not the intention of GYBC to enforce the removal of blocks at this point in time. The Council continues to monitor the situation and, if at any point the placement of blocks has a detrimental effect elsewhere or is deemed dangerous, then their removal may be required.

What planning guidance is available for coastal communities in and around Great Yarmouth.

The joint Coastal Adaptation Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), prepared in partnership by East Suffolk Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, North Norfolk District Council, the Broads Authority and Coastal Partnership East, supports the implementation of Local Plan policies relating to the coast from Holkham in North Norfolk to Felixstowe in East Suffolk.

The SPD provides detailed guidance for residents, developers, businesses and landowners on the interpretation and implementation of planning policies to support a managed approach to coastal erosion risk to support longer term preparedness and community resilience.

The SPD does not form part of the development plan and does not change planning or shoreline management policies. It does, however, provide guidance on the implementation of coastal planning policies and is a material consideration in the determination of planning applications.

The SPD and relevant supporting documents can be viewed in the Planning section of our website.

Does the Newport Cottages Conservation Area mean this part of Hemsby will receive additional protection from potential erosion?

The Newport Cottages Conservation Area was created after the buildings were assessed in 2013 as having regional significance. The Conservation Area Status lends the cottages some protection from unsympathetic change from development proposals.

As part of the designation, Great Yarmouth Borough Council has a statutory duty in the context of planning application proposals to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the special character or appearance of the area.

However, in this context, the duty relates primarily to future development proposals. It is primarily concerned with ensuring - from a development management point of view - that new development does not detract from the character of the Conservation Area.

The Council's duties and obligations related to planning issues at the site are outlined in the 1990 Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act.

Would the situation be different if Newport Cottages were listed buildings?

The Newport Conservation Area designation acknowledges the historic interest of the cottages (regional significance). For the cottages to be eligible for national listing, they would need to be of national significance and be in a reasonably unaltered state - including their interiors. The listing process is conducted by Historic England and anyone can put a building forward for listing.

In the unlikely event that the cottages were in the future designated as Grade II listed, it would put additional responsibilities on the owners rather than the local authority.   

The links here provide further information explaining what listing means in terms of responsibilities etc.

Are there any other organisations which have legal duties in relation to the erosion in Hemsby?

District and unitary authorities in coastal areas are Coastal Protection Authorities. They lead on coastal erosion risk management activities in their area. They are responsible for developing Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) which provide a long-term, holistic framework for managing the risk of coastal change on their section of the coast. The main Government organisation with responsibility for managing coastal erosion is the Environment Agency.

Could Hemsby be provided with more protection from erosion if the Shoreline Management Plan was amended?

A Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) provides a large-scale assessment of the risks associated with coastal evolution and presents a policy framework to address these risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment in a sustainable manner.

The SMP is a high-level document that forms an important part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) strategy for flood and coastal defence.

The SMP which covers Hemsby was written in 2012 and is a shared document prepared for North Norfolk District Council, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Waveney Council (now East Suffolk Council). It was based on coastal erosion maps that were published in 2005, and a new set of maps is due to be published in the summer of 2024.

Any changes made to the SMP before the new maps are published would be based on the same erosion maps as the current SMP.

The SMP is non statutory and can be reviewed at any time. Developing such a document is a lengthy analytical and consultative process. It takes account of, and considers, environmental, economic and social impacts. Any changes to the status of the coastline would need to be considered against the impact on the wider coastline (i.e whether defending the coast at Hemsby would affect other areas).

It takes between a year and 18 months to create a new SMP and agreement would need to be reached with all relevant agencies before it could be adopted. Crucially, any change in the status awarded to a stretch of coastline in an SMP does not change national funding models associated with coastal defences. Funding would still be dependent on the specific business case put forward for financing.

Areas with the status of 'Defend the Line' in SMPs are facing a significant struggle to attract the investment required for defences.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council has asked Coastal Partnership East to review the business case outcomes for any defences at Hemsby to include properties on Fakes Road and St Mary's Road.

Once the new maps are published, Coastal Partnership East will review them and provide advice as to whether it would be appropriate at that point to seek to amend the SMP.

What advice is available around potential property purchases?

Much of our coast across the Coastal Partnership East (CPE) frontage is at some risk of coastal erosion. This risk varies greatly across the area. CPE is unable to advise on whether the risk of erosion is acceptable in terms of any potential property purchase - this is dependent on circumstances specific to yourselves and the purchase.

Information about the Shore Management Plan (SMP) for this area can be found at the Environment Agency's new SMP explorer.

In late 2024 it will also show the latest National Coastal Erosion Risk Mapping Data and information.

We also suggest that you request your conveyancer conduct an erosion risk survey on the property. Your conveyancer should be able to recommend a supplier for a risk report which may provide you with more information. These are not carried out by the Council and are instead produced by companies such as, (in no particular order), Groundsure, Landmark, and Future Climate Info, among others.

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