Threat of losing homes to sea taking ‘huge toll on mental health’ of villagers

A campaigner in a village where dozens of homes are at risk of going into the sea said it has taken a huge toll on people’s mental health.

Ian Brennan, chairman of the Save Hemsby Coastline charity in Norfolk, spoke as climate action group One Home revealed that an estimated £584 million of coastal homes in England could be lost to the sea by 2100.

The retired telecoms manager said more than 90 homes in Hemsby are at risk of going into the sea in the next 25 years if nothing is done.

Mr Brennan, 63, said that Save Hemsby Coastline was formed 10 years ago when several homes were lost during a storm surge, and it is pressing for sea defences.

“People here are very nervous,” he said.

“Every time there is a storm those who live within sight and sound of the sea fear it will be the one which means they lose their home.

“It takes a huge toll on their mental health.”

He said that 1.1 miles (1.9km) of coast is under threat at Hemsby and the group is seeking permission and funding for rock berm sea defences.

“Essentially, all we really have is a large sandcastle protecting us,” said Mr Brennan.

“It’s sand that’s blown up, captured by the marram grass, and that’s all there is protecting the front of the village.

Coastal erosion in Norfolk
A home teetering on the edge of a cliff being demolished in Hemsby, Norfolk (Joe Giddens/PA)

“There used to be three rows of marrams and now you’re down to the very last one and then you’re into the village proper.”

He said an initial lowest estimate for the cost of a rock berm was given as £5 million, but costs are increasing.

“My biggest fear is we’re going to reach a point where the powers that be say ‘yes you’ve got planning permission, go for it if you can raise the money’ and we’re then asking for £30 million or something to do a medium-sized berm that isn’t really going to be what we need,” he said.

“We’re not doing it because we believe it’s going to make Hemsby permanently safe.

“But it will buy time to allow people to adapt their lives.

“Lots of people say ‘why are you bothering, you know you can’t stop the sea’.

“But adaptation is possible, and it’s about spending and political will.”

21 areas where coastal erosion could cause total of £584m property damage by 2100
(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, TV producer Lucy Ansbro said she had spent £500,000 protecting her home from coastal erosion in Thorpeness, Suffolk.

The 54-year-old said her neighbour’s mansion, once worth £2 million, was demolished in October 2022 as receding cliffs made it unsafe.

“Owners need to know how quickly change can happen if you live on vulnerable parts of the coast,” she said.

“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 metres to the sea within 50 years but, in fact, I lost five metres in 2020 alone.

“Houses behind mine, less than 50m from the clifftop, have recently sold for close to £1 million.

“Nobody is taking this seriously or accepting that communities are at serious risk.”