Shoring up coastal resilience in East Anglia

The fastest eroding coast in the UK is challenging for both the organisations tasked with managing it, and the communities living alongside it. Siân Platt finds out how recent events at Hemsby demonstrate why, and Coastal Partnership East’s innovative Resilient Coasts Project will show how

East Anglia is particularly susceptible to coastal erosion. It is facing some of the highest erosion rates in the UK and Europe. This is due to a combination of largely undefended soft cliffs and an increase in frequency and severity of storms. The rate of erosion in Norfolk varies widely, between 0.4 and 2 metres per year.

This is not a new issue for communities along this stretch of coast. Many reports suggest that hundreds of settlements in the North Sea basin have been lost due to coastal erosion or flooding. One example is the thriving Port of Dunwich which was located on the Suffolk coast between Southwold and Aldeburgh. In 1286 a storm swept away homes, buildings and the monastery with many ruins still on the seabed.

The climate emergency is only exacerbating the issue. In response, North Norfolk Council, East Suffolk Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council have pooled together coastal management resources and expertise to form Coastal Partnership East.


Located on the Norfolk coast, Hemsby is a small village heavily dependent upon tourism and visitors to the large sandy beaches.

Unfortunately, the Hemsby community is painfully aware of the impact of coastal erosion, as these sandy beaches are being constantly eroded. The stretch of coast has suffered on multiple occasions, including during the Storm Surge of 2013 which resulted in the demolition of several homes. The same occurred in 2018 following the ‘Beast from the East’ storm.

Local residents have established several fund-raising groups as a result, including the ‘Save Hemsby Coastline’ group. These groups regularly campaign for full sea defences along the coast, as do the Hemsby Independent Lifeboat Station.


- In February 2023 Hemsby beach was closed to the public due to increasing coastal erosion.

- The situation escalated overnight on 9th March when Storm Larissa and spring tides resulted in a rapid reduction in beach level and slipping of the cliff face.

- The situation was declared an emergency by the Environment Agency on 10th March.

- An emergency delivery team mobilised and was on site within 96 hours including representatives from Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Coastal Partnership East and Balfour Beatty.

The impact

Although the sand dunes provide a natural defence for the village, there are access roads and houses across these. The storm resulted in the need for the evacuation and demolition of five properties.

Tamzen Pope, Coastal Engineering and Operations Manager, explains the decision.

“It involved building control. The properties were no longer safe to inhabit as they were at risk of being undermined. There was a risk to life as well as the potential environmental impact of properties falling on to the beach. There were also a number of issues associated with utilities”.

Luckily, one house could be rolled back. Using telegraph poles the home was moved 2m inland to prevent it from being demolished and to buy time for the owner.

The Independent Lifeboat Station was left without an access ramp and with a c.2.5m drop. They were unable to launch boats for several weeks and are likely to face further issues with access as erosion continues.

The solution

Over £700,000 was sourced from both Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Local Levy funding from the Anglian (Eastern) Regional Flood and Coastal Committee.

This funding enabled the purchase of c.2000 tonnes of Norwegian Granite rock. The three to six tonne rocks, sourced from a local stockpile, were placed along the cliff at beach level to create an 80m revetment.

The aim of the revetment is to reduce the effects of wave action – as the waves hit the rock energy dissipates and results in less damage to the remaining dunes.

The rock location was chosen to reduce the risk of further erosion to a vulnerable point of the access road to Marrams South.

So, what next for Hemsby?

Karen Thomas, Head of Coastal Partnership East, outlines next steps for Hemsby: “Following the erosion experienced due to storm Larissa we have managed to buy some time for the community while we look at next steps. Hemsby is a vulnerable location at high risk of erosion but due to its rural nature and relatively small number of properties at risk, a large capital project is incredibly difficult to fund. We will continue to explore both short- and long-term solutions for how best to manage the frontage so that those living and working in Hemsby are at less risk in the future’.

The Resilient Coasts Project

The move towards reactive coastal adaptation is imperative. In this arena, Coastal Partnership East is making waves…

Funded by DEFRA’s Flood and Coast Resilience Programme, the Resilient Coasts Project is an innovative and proactive approach to coastal management.

The project is currently at an early stage – it began in Autumn 2022 and will run until March 2027. East Suffolk Council (ESC) is the lead authority for the project, working with several delivery partners including Great Yarmouth Borough Council (GYBC), Coastal Partnership East (CPE) and Balfour Beatty (BB).

Karen Thomas highlights the importance of adaptation and resilience projects: “Our coast is at the forefront of climate change and sea level rise impacts in the UK due to its soft geology and low-lying nature. Without innovation in coastal management, it is going to become increasingly difficult to manage”.

The detail

The aim of the project is to ‘transition’ the coast to be a ‘more resilient place by providing a toolkit of options that don’t currently exist. “These will enable some of our most vulnerable communities and environments to transition to a resilient future” says Karen Thomas.

The project will utilise a variety of tools to explore how to further support coastal communities and businesses. Due to the broad nature of the project, it has been split into eight ‘Work Packages’ with deliverables.

1. Robust Erosion Risk Map

Understanding the risk posed by coastal erosion on the built environment, natural environment, and community assets

2. Coastal Zone Spatial Plans

Understanding the location of assets

3. Adaptation Funding Mechanism

Developing new funding and finance approaches

4. Community Resilience and Adaptation

Enabling conversations through co-created engagement resources for both communities and practitioners.

5. Integrated Investment Plan

Encourage 3rd parties to consider their resilience response to coastal change

6. Master Planning

Bringing together planning, engagement, technical, financial and policy tools into a Coastal Adaptation Toolkit.

The Toolkit can be used by both communities and practitioners to co-create masterplans to transition from reactive to proactive.

7. Policy Change Plan

To identify any potential policy and legislative changes throughout the project.

8. Adaptive Coastal Management Plan

To consider a range of traditional and innovative options for assets at the coast. Costed Asset Management Plan is a key deliverable.

Several pilot and twin sites have been identified along the frontage. Any interventions will be carried in-line with the relevant Shoreline Management Plan, planning and other necessary consents.


Project success is dependent upon the engagement, co-creation, and collaboration with asset owners, infrastructure providers, local businesses and communities.

One of the main consequences of coastal erosion is the loss of land and property. As the coastline recedes, homes, businesses, and infrastructure can be destroyed or rendered unusable.

Engagement with communities is therefore a key thread running throughout the project.

The Coastal Adaptation Toolkit will plug existing gaps, offer a suite of resources based on new evidence, and support co-created community resilience ‘master plans’ for pilot areas to ensure social, economic and environmental viability.

An opportunity to engage young professionals

Attracting young people into the sector is necessary to deliver the outcomes necessary as we move towards the year 2100.

Freya Durrant, Apprentice Civil Engineer, joined Balfour Beatty to work on the Resilient Coasts Project. She expressed her excitement to be working on the project, to seeing and understanding what is happening along the coast and how adaptation and resilience play a role. Her engagement is allowing her to learn from solutions and gain new knowledge throughout the process.

New technology will also be used to engage the next generation, in particular virtual reality and augmented reality. Students from local sixth form colleges will help to design and create VR and AR tools to help students to visualise possible futures for the coast and to navigate and make decisions around coastal viability using gaming technology.

How Can You Get Involved?

The Resilient Coasts team working on Work Package 8, with the main deliverable of a Costed Asset Management Plan, are seeking innovative solutions to inform coastal adaptation plans.

If you are a designer, engineer, entrepreneur or just have a great idea, we want to hear from you.

Your ideas could relate to monitoring methods, coastal transition options, emergency response options, new sustainable materials, decommissioning, nature-based solutions and more.

To submit ideas, please email and include any information including, where relevant, costing information, biodiversity net gain, manufacture information, lead times and website links.

Siân Platt, is a Business Development Manager (Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management) for Balfour Beatty. In her spare time, you’ll find Siân reading, with friends and family or walking her whippet Smurf.

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