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Council orders community to stop filling sinkhole after Sheppey cliff collapse


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Neighbours of a house that plunged over a cliff edge have been slapped with an order to prevent them from filling a sinkhole to save their homes.

A team of residents in and around Eastchurch's Surf Crescent have been working to remove debris and consolidate the cliff top after a large part of the cliff collapsed at the end of May.

Malcolm Newell with the order from Swale council
Malcolm Newell with the order from Swale council

Four days later, on June 2, Emma Tullett’s family bungalow - called Cliffhanger - collapsed over the edge of the precipice.

Malcolm Newell, whose home is just two doors away from where Cliffhanger was, has since been working with residents in the community to fill in the private land along the cliff top in a bid to save their properties from suffering the same fate.

The 71-year-old said: "We have cleared up the environmental mess - the house, the car, all the fly-tipping, and have been filling up the 20ft sinkhole where the house was. We've only tipped good quality clay, it's better than what's there and it's come from this area.

"We built platforms out of pure clay so we could actually get down there to remove the mess first, so that it's not damaging the environment. We've only filled in part of the area, we still need to fill some more and batten up against Emma's property to stop any more houses falling over the edge."

Mr Newell said the contractors that the community had got on board had applied for a U1 environmental permit, from the Environment Agency, to reinstate the road and create a turning circle. But, on Monday, Swale council issued the residents with a notice to stop all works.

The edge of the cliff where Cliffhanger used to be, off Surf Crescent in Eastchurch now
The edge of the cliff where Cliffhanger used to be, off Surf Crescent in Eastchurch now

Mr Newell, chairman of the Eastchurch Cliff Erosion Community Group, which has been campaigning for better protection for the homes since 2015, said: "It just seems to us that we've finished the job they should be doing, or the Environment Agency, of cleaning up the mess and now they've stopped us but we need to get on and do the rest.

"The stop notice has a threat on it to say they will take us to court if we continue and it could cost us up to £20,000."

He added: "It was an eyesore, an environmental mess and a danger to people going down there - people still try and go down there now.

"The council and the Environment Agency were just going to leave it and let more homes collapse on top of it all.

"These bureaucrats, or whatever you call them, should be brought to justice. We haven't cost them any money, or the taxpayer, we're tipping on Emma's land and we're doing what we can to protect the environment and our homes.

The house in Surf Crescent, Eastchurch, when it fell off the cliff edge earlier this year. Picture: RLH Media
The house in Surf Crescent, Eastchurch, when it fell off the cliff edge earlier this year. Picture: RLH Media

"We waited months for the council to do something and they still haven't done anything to help us. That's why we had to do something.

"If we get another load of rain, which we are promised, it's going to be dreadful.

"We have all worked hard and bought our homes, but the council is pretty much saying they will have to go into the sea. It's just so annoying to think that we can get treated so badly."

Drone footage of the debris caused by the cliff collapse on Sheppey. Credit: RLH Media

A Swale council spokesman said: "We have issued a temporary stop notice to residents in Eastchurch who have been depositing large amounts of waste soil off the side of the cliff.

“Work of this size requires planning permission to give us the opportunity to consider the impacts on the local area.

The edge of the cliff where Cliffhanger used to be, off Surf Crescent in Eastchurch now
The edge of the cliff where Cliffhanger used to be, off Surf Crescent in Eastchurch now

“We are concerned about the ecological effect the soil dumping will have on the surrounding site of special scientific interest and other potential harm that could arise.

“The temporary stop notice requires residents to halt any activity for 28 days while we liaise with other relevant agencies including Kent County Council, the Environment Agency and Natural England.”

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "The Environment Agency is responsible for regulating the movement of waste. Contractors working on behalf of the Surf Crescent residents registered waste exemptions with the Environment Agency which enable waste materials to be used in certain circumstances.

"The Environment Agency inspected the site on October 7 and found that waste had been placed in the sinkhole outside the terms of this exemption.

"As a result, we advised several local residents and the contractor that we would de-register the exemptions and asked them to stop importing waste to the site.

"We will continue to engage with the community, Swale council and Natural England on this matter."

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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