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Plans for £1million upgrade to Brancaster boardwalk would see stretch of Norfolk Coast Path reopen by end of 2023

Plans have been submitted to upgrade the boardwalk at one of the county’s most scenic spots along the Norfolk Coast Path in a £1m project.

Norfolk County Council has submitted the proposals which would see the boardwalk at Brancaster repaired using “innovative, long-lasting technology” and glass-reinforced plastic.

It has been closed since summer 2022 for safety reasons, after a “rapid deterioration” of the well-used structure since March last year.

Boardwalk at Brancaster. Picture: Google Maps
Boardwalk at Brancaster. Picture: Google Maps

The proposals have been submitted to planners at West Norfolk Council, who will consider them before a decision is made.

Deputy leader of the county council and chair of Norfolk’s National Trails Partnership, Cllr Andrew Jamieson said: “This is a really special location.

“We’ve looked rigorously at the costs and benefits of this spend and, in the long-term, this gives us by far the best value and outcome for public access, the wildlife and the businesses that thrive here.

“The path runs through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and it is something that everyone should feel welcome and able to enjoy.”

Thousands of visitors go to Brancaster every year to enjoy the spectacular coastline views, but when the boardwalk started to deteriorate rapidly in March last year, it meant that funding became needed for a full and unscheduled replacement.

Council officials said the lifespan of the boardwalk was significantly reduced by a number of factors, including increased visitor numbers following the Covid-19 pandemic and warm, wet weather conditions leading to the acceleration of fungi and rot.

But as it is a landscape that attracts so many admirers, it also means that replacing the boardwalk structure is not an easy feat.

The boardwalk is in one of Norfolk’s – and the country’s – most environmentally protected locations, sitting in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Special Protection Area (SPA), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC), amongst many other designations.

A county council spokesperson said: “Reducing the long-term impact of the boardwalk on the landscape in future years means that a new design will be needed.

“Not only does a replacement need to consider the boardwalk’s lifespan, accessibility and ease of installation in such a sensitive area, but it also needs a high number of consents and consultation with bodies such as Natural England, the National Trust, Historic England and Scolt Head and District Common Right Holders (SHADCRA) – all of which take time to process.

“Combining expertise and input from these organisations, Norfolk County Council has developed an exciting vision for the project, with plans submitted to West Norfolk Council for a new, much more welcoming design.”

They said the project, which has an overall estimated cost of £1,060,000, will use innovative technology, and will take on best practice from other projects nationally.

The chosen material is a POLYboardwalk which is made from a glass-reinforced plastic and is strong and non-slip, with “authentic wooden-looking planks made with a recycled bottle core”.

The spokesperson added: “Unlike timber boardwalks, this UK-manufactured product is very low maintenance and is fire-resistant – a must in light of the extreme weather events of recent years.”

They said while a wooden equivalent offers a 10-12-year life expectancy, the material can be expected to last for a “much superior” 75 years and more. meaning it is the better option for strength, durability, ease of maintenance and long-term value for money.

The design also features:

- A width to accommodate both wheelchair users and pushchairs

- Frequent passing places for wheelchairs users to safely pass by other boardwalk users

- High contrast bumper strips to improve accessibility for people living with dementia

- Viewing points and rest spots – providing better access to nature and relaxation for all abilities

- Handrails for safety at specific points along the route

- Non-slip surface – extra grip compared to traditional wooden boardwalks.

Funding for the project is set to come from a variety of project supporters, including Natural England, who are the responsible body for National Trails.

“In comparison with a wooden alternative, this is a vastly reduced cost per year across the boardwalk’s lifespan and means future disturbance to wildlife from replacement and maintenance will be kept to a minimum,” the spokesperson added.

Subject to planning consent, the council is aiming to start work in the autumn and complete the work by the end of 2023 – lining up with the opening of the last stretch of the King Charles III England Coast Path in Norfolk, between Hunstanton and the county’s border with Lincolnshire.

This would mean that the public will soon be able to enjoy an uninterrupted journey along the whole of the Norfolk coastline.

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