Published: 06:00, 29 May 2021
A year on from a devastating major cliff collapse, which took a home with it, people in Eastchurch say they feel like they’re fighting a losing battle to save their properties – but vow they won’t give up.
Today (Saturday, May 29) marks the anniversary of the cliff edge falling away at the end of Surf Crescent.
A bungalow - called Cliffhanger - was left teetering over the edge and, four days later, it collapsed.
The home belonged to Emma Tullett who moved into it with her partner and four of her children in August 2018. It had three bedrooms and an annexe, which had another two. It also had a swimming pool.
Speaking a year on, Emma said: “It’s been a struggle over the past year. Things we took for granted and the way of life we’d created as a family has gone.
“We are in temporary accommodation, and have tried our best to make it home for the children but it’ll never be the same as the home we lost and they often talk about when we lived there.
“Everything is just that little bit harder when you’ve lost everything you owned and effectively have to start again.
“Even sadder is, because of the council and Environment Agency’s reluctance to allow the residents to attempt to protect their homes, we’ve had to watch more and more of what was left of our property disappear into a hole and see our neighbours’ properties being put under threat.
“As a community we won’t stop fighting to get something done. We’ve already lost everything, I’d hate to see more families meet the same fate.”
After the collapse, a team of residents worked to remove debris and consolidate the cliff top in a bid to save their homes from suffering the same fate as Emma’s.
But, in October, Swale council issued the residents with a notice to stop all works because it was concerned about the “ecological effect” it would have on the adjacent site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
Today, neighbours are still fighting.
Edd Cane, who lives in neighbouring Third Avenue with his wife Lynn, said the past year had been “absolutely terrible”.
The-67-year old added: “At the start, I had my garden fence but it’s just coming back and back. It’s a worry.
“I’m fighting it with everything I’ve got but it seems I’m fighting a losing battle. But I’m not going to give up. I can’t give up.”
Edd and Lynn, who have lived in their home for about 15 years, had to be evacuated for two months after the huge collapse last year.
During that time, they stayed in a caravan at Willow Trees Caravan Park in Minster’s Oak Lane.
When asked what it was like living so close to the cliff edge now, Edd said: “I don’t feel safe. When I get up in the morning, I check to see if any more has gone.”
When the couple first moved in, there was about 90 metres from their garden fence to the cliff face. Now, their home is just yards away from the edge of the precipice.
“I was told that up to one metre could go each year when I bought it,” he said. “And that a lot of the years we wouldn’t lose anything but a metre would be the greatest amount.
“That should have meant I would’ve had 90 years before it reached my back fence. I didn’t have any worries about it.
“Now, nobody can give me a time for how long we’ll have left here. It could go tomorrow.”
Edd said he and his wife had received no help from Swale council over the past year.
“It makes me feel sick,” he said. “I feel let down and forgotten - I feel kicked, punched and battered about. It’s the infrastructure of Eastchurch affected too. If this all goes, the holidaymakers won’t be able to come down here.
“We used to have walkers come round, horses, people coming round to do the fossils, all the fishermen - so it’s a big impact.
“There’s supposed to be a housing shortage. Well, for a few quid, they could save a few houses here. There are about 50 houses in this community.”
Edd said he was trying his hardest to make the ground stable at the end of his garden.
And if the Eastchurch Gap residents manage to get Swale council’s stop notice lifted, their plan is to make a gentle slope down to the beach. They would then put netting on it, top soil and meadow grass with willow trees and wild flowers.
“It’s just so people can use it to get down to the beach safely, the butterflies, bees, birds, foxes and other wildlife can also use it and it should make our properties safe,” Edd said.
Malcolm Newell, whose home is just two doors away from where Cliffhanger was, has been working with residents to try and save their homes.
When asked how the past year had been, the 71-year-old said: “Stop the roundabout, I want to get off - that’s how it’s been.”
He added: “I have worked tirelessly throughout the year. I want to live in my home and I shouldn’t see why I can’t. We should be supported.
“We still want this fixed. We want to do the whole area and put it back how it was and we could if we were allowed.
“We want the stop notice removed and that’s down to the council.
“The council has never done anything but put blocks in our way to stop us trying to save our homes. But why are they doing that? They said it was a risk to the public but that’s a risk to the public having a great big hole with water in the bottom.”
“Nobody gets in contact,” he added. “You don’t hear anything from anybody. Only if they want to stop us. We are a forgotten community.”
Malcolm has been living in Surf Crescent for 20 years next month and he has no plans for moving.
“I am staying here,” he said. “If the house goes over the cliff, I’m going with it.
“Even though I am were I am at the moment, I have enjoyed every bit of my life here. I’ve got so many memories here.”
Malcolm is also chairman of the Eastchurch Cliff Erosion Community Group, which has been campaigning for better protection for the homes since 2015.
“I knew the erosion rate,” Malcolm said. “It was very minimal each year - we never dreamt that this would happen.
“But we had been campaigning to the council for years before, and they were told two weeks before the incident last year that there were large cracks on the cliff face but nothing was done.
“If we don’t get on and do the work now, it will deteriorate. If we can get on and deal with it, we’ve got half a chance of saving our homes.”
Julian Green lives next door to where Cliffhanger was with his wife Christine, son Jason and his family.
The 63-year-old said: “We’re still touch and go because we don’t know if we’re going to wake up in the morning and find our place hanging over the cliff. We’ve got my son and his family living here too, which is worse.
“They were in a caravan next to our property, but the council said it was too dangerous to live in. He’s been on an emergency housing list for a year, because he’s disabled, but still hasn’t been re-homed.
“Now there’s five of us and two dogs all in a one-bedroom bungalow. We’ve got nowhere else to go. We just take each day as it comes, but you’d think the council could have done something after a year. I want the cliffs to be made safe.”
Why did it collapse?
The residents at Eastchurch Gap believe it was actually a sinkhole, caused by leaky sewers and pipes, which then caused the collapse.
The event did, however, prompt Swale council to commission a geotechnical survey which found contributory factors were “sea erosion from below, and ground water from the top”.
Calls for help have been made for years.
Gordon Henderson, the area’s MP, even brought the matter up at Westminster in 2017 asking for ‘something to be done’ but was told the Environment Agency had made it clear that it would not act to stop the cliffs eroding due to a long-standing policy of non-intervention there.
According to a report, commissioned by Swale council in 2011, the cliffs at Eastchurch comprise almost entirely of London Clay.
The clay, the report added, encompasses around a million years of sedimentation, dating from the early Eocene epoch of the Palaeogene period, 52-51m years ago.
Prehistoric evidence reveals at this time Sheppey lay beneath a warm shallow sea.
Swale council was contacted for comment.
Images from the time show the scale of the destruction