Coastal erosion debate hots up

A DEBATE about tackling coastal erosion at Dunwich has been re-ignited after a proposal for a huge polished steel landmark off its coast won a share of a £250,000 award.

A DEBATE about tackling coastal erosion at Dunwich has been re-ignited after a proposal for a huge polished steel landmark off its coast won a share of a £250,000 award.

Villagers say it is ironic that the sculpture, set in the lost city of Dunwich, has won cash towards a feasibility study while their own project for a “soft” sea defence to slow down the effects of erosion has hit a brick wall with the various statutory bodies.

To add to the irony, the scheme, submitted by Munich-based architects Johannes Ingrisch and Anne Niemann, aims to highlight the impact of coastal erosion and the forces of nature which control it.

It involves rebuilding the six major churches of Anglo Saxon Dunwich, now under the sea, as steel sculptures at their original place and height and set above the waves.


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It is one of four “exciting and innovative” ideas for “visionary and ambitious” projects to be chosen as winners in the East of England Development Agency's landmark east international ideas competition, and is the only project selected in Suffolk.

Dunwich villagers want to see a sea defence system put in place which would create a natural sea grass barrier to keep back the sea. The idea, by engineer Stephen Hawes, is a seen as a low-tech and green solution to their problem, but has yet to gain the support of the Environment Agency and other bodies.

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Villager Peter Bayman said they had been struggling for some time to gain acceptance for the idea, which is expected to cost around £50,000.

“We have been trying to get permission to do an experimental sea defence, a soft sea defence, across our front at Dunwich to see if we can slow down the rate of erosion,” he said.

“I just feel somewhat niggled that money is found to do something like this and yet we are trying to save Dunwich, and we are banging our heads against a brick wall.”

It was “unfortunate” that money did not seem to be available to save Dunwich, which has a population of around 115, while it was for a scheme such as this, he said.

Mr Ingrisch said yesterday that they had yet to see Dunwich, and hoped to arrange a visit, possibly some time in April, when they wanted to explain their ideas to villagers, and perhaps show them a model of what they intended.

They were “overwhelmed” at being selected as a winner.

“Now we should concentrate on how we go on, and I think the first step will be to involve the people of Dunwich,” he said. “I think we have to do a presentation over there. I think we have to involve the people, and show the people what we intend to do.”

He added: “I think it can happen but it very much depends on the inhabitants of Dunwich. If we can't persuade over our intervention it will be impossible I think. We cannot impose something so we have to do a lot of persuading work, but I'm looking forward to trying to convince them.”

Dunwich meeting chairman and clerk Michael Clark said: “I personally would welcome the scheme if it raises our profile regarding the six years of frustration we have had about coastal defences.”

It would be essential to have a properly organised village meeting about the proposal if they were to visit, he said.

At the moment, villagers have mixed views about their idea.

Roger Collier, owner of Bridge Nurseries, said: “I think it's a brave and imaginative idea, obviously fraught with some difficulties.”

Villager Christine Palmer said: “I think we have got to save Dunwich before we build anything in the sea.”

She felt it was a “wonderful idea” but money was needed for sea defences for Dunwich.

“We'll have a monument in the sea, but no Dunwich,” she said.

Graham Mulley, chairman of the Dunwich Museum, thought it was “a completely silly idea”.

“The whole delight of Dunwich for the modern day is its isolation and its natural beauty and to have some steel structures sitting out on the sea like some mini oil fields would be absolutely daft,” he said.

* The other landmark winners were: East Reef, a proposal to replenish and protect an area of the Norfolk coast by Agnieszka Glowacka, Eleanor Rennie and Arup; Landscape east, a project focused around a bridge of reeds over the A14 near Cambridge, by the National Trust, Greater Cambridge Partnership, Marshall Group and Landscape Design; and Watermarking, a movable bridge which would be a focus for events and riverside performances throughout the region, by Urban Initiatives.

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