Vital Coast Watch station won’t be replaced

Winterton Coastwatch won’t returnPLANS for a new Coast Watch station at Winterton are dead in the water.

A bitterly disappointed controller Roger Rolph said the speed of erosion combined with a demand from council planners for a habitat survey of the site just north of the fishermen’s sheds meant the unit’s operations were over.

“It seems to me that the flora and fauna are more important than humans,” he said.

Winterton’s watchkeepers have been instrumental in saving lives over the years. The waters are notorious for rip tides and there are fears there could be a repeat of July when a swimmer died. He is convinced that if there had been a watchkeeper on duty that day they would have spotted that she was in difficulty.

Coast Watch lodged a planning application in spring last year for planning permission to install a mobile unit mounted on a trailer. It won support from borough councillor James Bensly who said: “This lifesaving emergency service and it's team are needed in this village as soon as possible.”

Winterton Parish Council also backed it and said erosion needed to be considered because it wanted the unit to be in place long term.

The case for the facility was laid out to the borough council’s planners and Coastal Partnership East at a meeting. “We told them all about what we did,” Roger said. The list included helping people who were hurt, preventing suicides and alerting the authorities to illegal immigration.

But in September Natural England said it wanted more information because it believed the application could have significant impact on the dunes site of special scientific interest, the conservation area and the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the Gt Yarmouth North Denes Special Protection Area.

It recommended a habitats assessment and said without one it might need to object.

Roger said: “It came to a head in January when the planning officer told us we needed a shadow habitats regulations survey.”

And Coast Watch would have to arrange and pay for it. Their agent made inquiries and discovered the cost would be £740 on top of the £646 payment for the planning application and the £250 cost of moving the unit to storage. The watchkeepers and trustees met on February 3 to discuss whether to go ahead.

By then around 20 metres of cliff at their intended site had been claimed by the sea.

“We have to have a minimum of 30m between the unit and the edge and it meant we couldn’t put it there because the gap was down to 25m,” he said. If the unit had been in place it would already have had to be moved back.

The meeting decided that because of the rate of erosion and the cost of the survey - they feared it could be only one of several more hurdles the charity would have to clear - the bid would be abandoned and operations ended. “It was a bit of a blow really,” said Roger. “We had a good crew of guys and people were asking to join.”

He explained the unit could not go back on the car park where it had been for so many years before it was taken down in March, because so much land had been lost. Building on the wartime observation post on the other side of Beach Road was not possible because it was not level.

He paid tribute to the efforts of his predecessor Alan McMurchie who was responsible for the replacement of the old coastguard station in the early 2000s with units from an old RAF range that were turned into a new lookout post in the car park.

The planning application has now been withdrawn.

Read more about the work of Winterton Coast Watch here.