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Sheppey coastal erosion plan revealed by Attwood family

A £500 million scheme to save Sheppey’s crumbling cliffs by creating a giant coastal country park has been unveiled by an Island farmer.

The ambitious plan is the brainchild of James Attwood, part of the SW Attwood company which cultivates 2,800 acres on Sheppey.

He came up with the idea while harvesting wheat on the cliffs at Eastchurch and believes he can make it pay for itself.

VIDEO: Ambitious plans revealed for Sheppey

He and his father Stephen have put together a 14-page consultation document.

They are set to approach a consortium of business people about investing.

James, 23, said: “My dad and I had been thinking about this for a long time.

“Sheppey’s northern coastline has been eroding at an alarming rate. But no one in authority seems to want to do anything about it.

“We understand there is no public funding for the necessary sea protection works so we have come up with our own alternative solution.

The crumbling cliffs at Eastchurch
The crumbling cliffs at Eastchurch

“We propose a new four-mile sea wall up to 200m out from the existing shoreline and then in-filled with surplus soil to create a country and nature park along the coast from Minster to Warden.”

The pair, based at New Hook Farm in Lower Road, Brambledown, believe much of the huge construction work can be offset by using spoil from a second proposed Thames tunnel at Gravesend or the HS2 high-speed rail project. Excess soil could be shipped down the Thames in barges and emptied behind the new retaining wall.

Over the years, huge swathes of Sheppey’s coastline, formed from London clay, has tumbled into the sea.

Debris from the original St James’ Church is now below the waves and the old Royal Oak pub at the bottom of Oak Lane, Minster, has long since slipped into oblivion.

James Attwood on the cliffs at Eastchurch with a copy of his consultation document
James Attwood on the cliffs at Eastchurch with a copy of his consultation document

Giant Second World War concrete pill boxes at Warden Point are now resting on the beach hundreds of yards below where they were originally built to act as lookout posts for the Thames.

When they were built in the 1940s they were 50 metres inland. Many holiday camps, including Ashcroft Caravan Park, have lost buildings and caravans to the coastal erosion.

In 1971, 30m of coastline was lost in a single landslide.

Father-of-two Stephen Attwood, 55, who has farmed on Sheppey since 1986, said: “Over the years I have seen the cliffs slip away. The new wall will not only protect the coast from further erosion but will reclaim lost land from the sea.

“A similar scheme was undertaken at Samphire Hoe, near Folkestone, using material from the construction of the Channel Tunnel. This project will follow those principles.

“The north Sheppey coast is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This proposal would effectively protect this geological and heritage asset and stop it from being lost to the sea.”

A proportion of the cliff face would be left exposed to enable ongoing research into the Island’s geology and rich streams of fossils dating back millions of years.

The remainder would be turned into a nature reserve and country park with footpaths, bridleways, cycle routes, a salt-water lagoon for protected birds, small marina near Minster and a visitors’ centre with fossil museum at Warden.

Mr Attwood said: “It would bring significant environmental, social and economic benefits for Sheppey and would create one of the largest coastal country parks in the South East.

“We want to hear Islanders’ comments to see if we have support for our scheme.”

Landslips put homes in danger
Landslips put homes in danger

Details of the project were unveiled just as Minster resident Peter MacDonald was asking a meeting called by Eastchurch Parish Council on Tuesday night for a contribution towards his own £25 million plan, exclusively revealed by the Times Guardian last week.

Mr MacDonald, 75, said: “This is the first I’ve heard of this but I understand they have been trying to get in touch.

“I haven’t seen a copy of their scheme, but I understand James is going to give a presentation to Minster Parish Council’s transport and planning committee, of which I am chairman, on Monday, September 1.”

He added: “I don’t know where they think they are going to get the money from but I welcome any scheme that could save Sheppey’s coastline and I will give them any assistance I can. We must all put pressure on the authorities.”

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