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West Norfolk Council to review sear defences in Hunstanton, Heacham and Snettisham

A review of West Norfolk’s sea defences is set to take place amid worries over coastal residents digging into a vital ‘shingle ridge’.

Our current coastal management policies are to be scrutinised by West Norfolk Council’s environment and community panel, while Terry Parish – leader of the borough council – is to write to the Environment Agency and to the Government’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He will be seeking “support and reassurance” for those who live in the likes of Hunstanton, Heacham and Snettisham.

Sea defences at Snettisham, pictured, Hunstanton and Heacham will be reviewed. Picture: Google Maps
Sea defences at Snettisham, pictured, Hunstanton and Heacham will be reviewed. Picture: Google Maps

The current management approach in the area stretching from south Hunstanton to Snettisham involves two different methods.

These are annual beach recycling, which moves material from the Snettisham Scalp northwards to ‘top-up’ the shingle ridge, and an intermittent beach recharge, which brings new material onto the beach.

The Environment Agency has concluded that the beach recharge will not be able to go ahead due to “multiple constraints”. However, its regular monitoring data is said to show that beach levels are stable – and that a recharge is therefore not currently needed.

The borough council says that annual beach recycling will continue to be undertaken for as long as technically, financially and environmentally feasible.

Cllr Parish said: “As a coastal resident I’m well aware of our sea defences and have, for many years, written and spoken about them.

“The Environment Agency are the lead organisation when it comes to shoreline management, but we have worked closely with them and other partners to develop a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP 4) which covers the Wash coastline and the borough council and a Wash East Coast Management Strategy (WECMS).

“The EA regularly monitor the data for these plans, and this is showing that now is the right time to carry out a technical review of the natural sea defence, the shingle ridge, that runs between Heacham and Snettisham.

“Over time this has been pushed back by the natural action of the sea. As a result, some residents have been digging into it as it has been encroaching on their properties.

“I’m aware that the EA, the lead agency in this area, are engaging with residents who have weakened this natural defence, to explain why they need to stop this activity.

“The EA has also brought forward a technical report on the defence to help identify what happens next in the area.”

The borough council says that the combination of this shingle ridge increasing in height and rolling back and the small beach recharge proving undeliverable, in line with the Shoreline Management Plan and WECMS, has resulted in the Environment Agency reviewing how this frontage may be managed in the future.

The first step is set to be a technical review by Jacobs, a coastal engineering company, to assess whether the trigger levels identified in the WECMS have been reached and whether a full review of the current strategy is required.

“There is no doubt that this is a complex situation which needs to be examined by council officers and members of the council’s environment and community panel,” Cllr Parish added.

“It will take some time to undertake a thorough review which considers all the data and the views of the experts and enables us to evaluate the costs and implications of any options or proposals.

“In the meantime, I have committed to writing letters to the Environment Agency and the Secretary of State to see what support and reassurance they can give to our coastal residents in the borough.

“Those letters will be signed by all group leaders at the council, as this is an issue that clearly concerns us all.”

Cllr Sandra Squire, the borough council’s cabinet member for environment and coastal, said: “Beach levels in the area are currently stable and the annual beach recycling, carried out in early spring each year, will continue with funding in place for this.

“The technical review report will help the EA, its partners and us to identify what happens next.

“Once we have the recommendation from that report and the findings from our Environment and Community Panel, together with a response from the secretary of state, we will be in a position to really engage with local people on what will be happening in the area."

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