Fears for disappearing beach

TWO feet from disaster.That's Felixstowe promenade today as the sea continues to sweep away the beach at the southern end of the resort.Twenty-five years ago, people could step off the prom straight onto the beach.

TWO feet from disaster.

That's Felixstowe promenade today as the sea continues to sweep away the beach at the southern end of the resort.

Twenty-five years ago, people could step off the prom straight onto the beach.

Today there is more than a seven feet drop from the walkway to the sand below. Tens of thousands of tonnes of shingle and sand have gone.

And today there is a blunt warning from Suffolk Coastal Council that the promenade could have to be closed if the government does not step in to offer financial help.

If the beach drops just two feet more - the depth of the prom's foundations are 9ft 3in - the waves will undermine the prom. They will suck out the material beneath its concrete frontage and then the prom will collapse.

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Suffolk Coastal council, which is trying to persuade government officials to give £5 million towards new sea defences, believes this could happen and that would mean a stretch of prom having to be closed off.

That could also mean the Shore Break café, suspended perilously above the beach, would be put out of action.

Without money, there is little the council can do in the meantime as they wait for the government grant, which could be a year away.

Contractors have taken bits of broken groynes - smashed by the waves into pieces and left strewn across the shore - and piled them up to make artificial breakwaters.

But because of the enormous size of the piles and the drop from the prom it has made the beach unusable.

Coastal campaigner Norman Thompson said he believed the erosion was “progressive and unstoppable” - and is convinced material from the beaches is being swept into the shipping channel. He also believes enormous excavations for aggregates off the coast is causing problems.

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Suffolk Coastal officials have met with officers from Defra to discuss the situation and have submitted a case for Felixstowe being treated as a special case. If Defra will give the grant, work could take place this summer.

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SUFFOLK Coastal has held a meeting with Defra and the Environment Agency, which was described as “very constructive” by deputy council leader Andy Smith.

He said: “It is clear that they understand the problems facing us in Felixstowe, that the sea wall is showing clear signs of distress and that the beach is particularly low.

“Defra officers recognise that this Council has taken a lot of previous action to maintain beach levels and that we may need to take further urgent measure.”

He said the department was considering allowing the council to do the first phase of work this year and completing it next year.

“We are hopeful that will prevent flooding that could otherwise affect over 1,600 homes, businesses and the Port of Felixstowe,” added Mr Smith.

Local MP John Gummer - himself a former environment secretary - has added his voice to the call for action by lobbying Margaret Beckett.

Meanwhile council engineers have been making regular inspections - usually weekly, although they have recently been daily, and immediately after any storms or tide surges.

Mr Smith said:

“We have written to the Government urging it to treat our scheme on its merits and recognise that it is an urgent special case.”

Mr Smith said that since then the state of the sea defences had further deteriorated and there was a major risk that they could not withstand a serious storm without serious damage.

“Anyone visiting the beach can see for themselves that things are indeed getting worse and that something must be done this year.

"Our report also warned that if the new works do not proceed, the Council will have to consider whether conditions become so hazardous to the public that the beach or promenade must be closed which could be catastrophic to the town and the district. It also warned of the national impact of a closure of the Port as a result of tidal flooding."