2013 Storm Surge: Ten years and £460m later, why the East coast is still battling erosion

  • Tanya Mercer reports for ITV News Anglia on why the fears of 2013 persist to this day

Coastal communities devastated by a huge storm surge 10 years ago say they are still fearful for their future, despite nearly half-a-billion pounds being spent on flood defences in the years since.

It comes as organisations tasked with protecting our coastline admit there is not enough money to protect everywhere from the sea.

The night of 5 December 2013 is still etched on the memories of people living and working along the coast of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

Tides up to two metres (6ft) higher than normal were pushed down the North Sea, putting huge strain on defences and flooding hundreds of homes in a surge described by Natural England as the most serious for 60 years.

Homes fell into the sea at Hemsby near Great Yarmouth, hundreds of homes and businesses were flooded in Lowestoft, and at Jaywick in Essex people were evacuated from their homes.

Ten years on, £465m has been spent on defending the east coast, but people living in places like Hemsby and Pakefield are still watching the sea claim their land and homes.

Simon Measures, chairman of Save Hemsby Coastline, where locals have been calling for more protection, said coastal defences would have been far cheaper if the government had acted sooner.

"Why are we not worth saving?" he asked. "Why isn't coastal erosion given the same importance as flooding?"

Karen Thomas, from Coastal Partnership East, which works with local councils to plan and organise funding to protect vulnerable areas, said no-one had been forgotten - but the challenge was finding enough money to protect every part of the coastline.

She said: "The difficulty we have is funding projects. The way we attract government funding is based on how many properties are at risk and we get a certain amount of government funding for whatever that adds up to.

"One of the biggest challenges is that the solutions available to defend those location are now largely rock and rock is one of the most expensive weapons we have in our armoury."

The price of rock has risen in recent years, making coastal protection schemes much more expensive, but there was no extra money to cover the greater expense, she said.

The challenges posed by the rural nature of the coastline in the East - with vast exposed swathes - made it harder, but the partnership said it was determined to work with people in those areas to help them.

Holiday homes in Pakefield have been left perilously close to the sea by the latest storms Credit: ITV News Anglia

"We can't defend the whole coastline... on the open coast it is more challenging and people are now sadly losing their homes," said Ms Thomas.

The frequency of storms in the North sea is also increasing - this year already has seen five major storm events, including an unprecedented one in August - while erosion is also accelerating.

"What we want to be able to do is work with communities who are at high risk of erosion to offer them alternatives but to do that we need to have time.

"That's the difficulty we've got because the North Sea and the storms we are having are making it difficult for us to get ahead of what we need to do," she added.

While the local coastal partnership admits some areas cannot be protected, the Environment Agency says investments mean the coast as a whole is in a better place now than it was 10 years ago.

James Mason, from the Environment Agency, said: "I would say it is better protected. Since the 2013 flood event we have invested in excess of £460m in flood and coastal defence schemes along the coast of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex coastlines."

James Mason from the Environment Agency surveys flood defences in Essex Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mr Mason said the Environment Agency had an ongoing programme to meet the challenges of rising sea levels and climate change but that there was not enough money to protect every part of the coastline and that difficult decisions had to be made.

He said: "The way that we apportion funding has to be done on an at risk basis, so it's not a bottomless pit of money.

"The communities at greater risk and having more properties and people at risk receive a greater proportion of money going forward."

Full flood risk assessments are done to make sure works carried out will not adversely affect other coastal communities nearby.

In total in the last 10 years more than £465m has been spent on sea defences along the Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk coast. 

But there are big differences in where the money has been allocated.  Great Yarmouth has had £60m, but in Hemsby it’s just £214,000 and in Walton-on-the-Naze £100,000. 

The east coast is experiencing change at an incredible pace. 

And as sea levels rise, so does the cost of protecting our coastal communities.

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