It happened to us

Ian Brennan, Hemsby, Norfolk

Ian Brennan, 63, is a retired telecoms manager living in Hemsby, Norfolk. He is the chair of the charity Save Hemsby Coastline.

I bought an 18th-century fisherman’s cottage by the sea in Hemsby as a second home in 2008. We lived in Hertfordshire and it was a luxury and a privilege to own a home in such a picturesque and friendly community.

Nothing came up in our surveys about coastal erosion, and it wasn’t a concern until the massive storm surge of December 2013.

Seven homes in Hemsby went into the sea that night after the worst storm surge in 60 years. It was like a disaster movie.

We were assured by experts that it was a once in a lifetime event, but since then we’ve had multiple winter storms which have caused the cliffs to fall away at an alarming rate.

I moved to Hemsby permanently after I retired, and I sold my cottage five years ago as it wasn’t big enough to fit in all the family when they came to stay.

But the cliff, which is only made of sand, is eroding so quickly now that homes in the frontline are impossible to insure or get a mortgage on.

We desperately need some kind of sea defenses. Although they may only last for 25 years it would give the people who live here time to decide how to deal with this problem, and for the Government to come up with a proper strategy of how to support coastal communities like ours to adapt to the challenges facing us.

Without any defences it’s estimated that 91 homes are going to be lost in Hemsby in the next 25 years. Many of the people living in them had no idea this would happen when they bought their properties.

We are campaigning for a rock berm – a mound of rocks that’s around 1.5km long – to be constructed on the beach, which would last for around 20 years and protect the cliff from all but the highest tides.

It won’t solve the problem but it will buy us time.

But while the council has granted prospective planning permission, there is currently no money available to fund it. The berm could cost between £5m and £11m depending on how big it is, and we have no way to pay for it.

Hemsby is a tourist destination that brings tens of millions of pounds into the Norfolk economy. Losing this would be a disaster for the region, but that’s what will happen unless the authorities take action and pay for this to happen.

I no longer live on the coastline, so my own property is not at risk. But this is a cause I feel passionately about. Climate change is causing havoc on the doorstep of communities like ours, but no-one has got a real plan or idea of how to deal with it.

The way the community in Hemsby came together during the storm surge really touched me, and I want to keep on fighting for this cause to give us all a chance of a future here.

Lucy Ansbro, Thorpeness, Suffolk

TV producer Lucy Ansbro, 54, from Thorpeness, Suffolk, has spent £500,000 protecting her seaside home from erosion. In October 2022 she watched her neighbour’s mansion, once worth £2 million, being demolished because rapidly receding cliffs had made it unsafe.

Owners need to know how quickly change can happen if you live on vulnerable parts of the coast.

Surveys and solicitors’ checks don’t include erosion but I was aware there was a threat of erosion when I bought this house in 2009. However, I never dreamed it would be this severe. No research I did suggested it would ever happen this quickly. The worst-case scenario predicted losing five meters to the sea within 50 years, but in fact, I lost five metres in 2020 alone.

The One Home map is really welcome because residents are lacking information. We need well-publicised facts and data from councils and the government to understand the scale of the challenge we are facing, and how to address it. Houses behind mine, less than 50m from the clifftop, have recently sold for close to £1million. Nobody is taking this seriously or accepting that communities are at serious risk.

Your voice counts

We need you all to sign our petition asking for a change in the way that coastal erosion is viewed and funded at a national level.

Please click HERE to sign our online petition or HERE to follow our activities on Facebook

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