Happisburgh's last Beach Road resident remains defiant

Eroding cliff on Beach Road, Happisburgh, Norfolk (Photo: Mike Page)
Image caption The cliff near Mrs Nierop-Reading's house (second from left) is crumbling away

The final resident living on the crumbling seafront of a Norfolk village has said she will remain defiant despite her last set of neighbours moving out.

Bryony Nierop-Reading, whose house perches just metres from the cliff edge on Beach Road, Happisburgh, said she would stay until given no other option.

The 65-year-old turned down compensation to move inland last year.

"It's more powerful to argue for something if you are on the spot," said Mrs Nierop-Reading.

"Also it's nearly everybody's dream to live by the sea."

Mrs Nierop-Reading lived three miles (4.8km) inland in Witton until she moved to her "cultural hub" of Happisburgh in 2008, despite the dangers of living so close to the sea.

"Occasionally it makes one panic stricken," she said. "But most of the time I feel extremely safe here.

"Every morning I go to the French windows and open them and listen to the sea. The view is incredible."

Compensation deal

Image caption Diana Wrightson owned Cliff House (third from left) for 26 years

Her last neighbours - the Gilbert family from Nottinghamshire - said farewell to their holiday home during Easter 2011 after accepting a compensation deal offered to them by North Norfolk District Council's Coastal Pathfinder project.

Ten out of 13 homeowners on Beach Road accepted a share of £726,000 compensation this month out of a pot of £3m earmarked to help the cliff-top residents.

David and Jill Gilbert were sad to see their property, which they purchased in 1976, slowly lose its battle with the sea.

"We've had honeymoons down here, weddings, 80th birthday parties, 21st parties and big family get-togethers," said Mrs Gilbert.

Mr Gilbert added: "It's been really sad. About eight years ago [the cliff] went very quickly and we thought 'that's it', but we've hung on over the last few years."

Other owners on the road planning to move out in the next few weeks include Diana Wrightson, who with her business partner Jill Morris ran a guest house and tea garden for 26 years at Cliff House.

She accepted compensation worth 40% of what her house would have been worth if it was not at risk from coastal erosion.

"It's very sad to see it happen and what makes it more sad is that it was absolutely unnecessary to allow it to get to this stage," said Happisburgh resident Malcolm Kerby from the Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG), which was set up to help the community fight against the onset of the sea.

Beloved home

Mrs Nierop-Reading knows that one day she will also have to move from her beloved home and feels sympathy for the Gilberts, who became the last family on Beach Road to abandon their house.

"I must say if I'd have been perched where they are I think I would have done the same thing - they don't have much alternative," said the grandmother of six.

Image caption The iconic Happisburgh Lighthouse is thought to be safe for another century

"For all the people who'd been here for a long, long time… they moved here when the council had promised to keep the sea defences up and they have ended up taking Pathfinder money, but they've also got a sense of betrayal.

"I came here knowing it would go eventually and so I'm in a very different position to them. Thankfully I wasn't offered enough money to tempt me."

There are currently no funds set aside to maintain or improve the aging sea defences at Happisburgh, but a scheme is in place to move the cliff-top car park and possibly build a new shop and toilet block in the village.

"The NN Pathfinder has been applauded by local people as well as government officials and we are pleased that we have been able to undertake a number of successful projects," said Peter Battrick from North Norfolk District Council.

"But there is a specific amount of money for a specific set of projects," he added.

The council is set to demolish the vacant Beach Road properties in the summer.

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