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Eastchurch Gap residents won't stop fighting to save their homes two years on from major cliff collapse

Emma Tullett and her family had just seconds to flee their Eastchurch bungalow after they heard cracking sounds coming from the ground below.

The mum-of-five didn’t have time to grab any possessions and some of her children didn’t have shoes on their feet as they ran to safety, as their home, ironically named Cliffhanger, became just that.

Cllr Peter MacDonald, director of the Sheppey Coastal Protection Group, speaking about the Eastchurch cliff colapse

Her home was lost, but fortunately noone was hurt in the landslide.

Today marks the anniversary of the day the house was finally lost to the abyss - photos in the days before showed the bungalow hanging over the edge of Surf Crescent.

But 24 months on, residents now living just metres from the encroaching cliff edge, say they feel like they’re fighting a losing battle to save their own properties.

Malcolm Newell, who has been campaigning for more action in the area for a number of years, is now desperate for the old tourist hotspot to return to its former glory.

The house in Surf Crescent, Eastchurch, fell off the cliff. Picture: RLH Media
The house in Surf Crescent, Eastchurch, fell off the cliff. Picture: RLH Media

The soon-to-be 73-year-old said: “We’re not going to stop contacting the council, contacting the Environment Agency, Natural England, every one involved, we want to protect our homes.

“What we need are groynes to stop the erosion and protect the coastline.

“We need about 200 metres of them and we are trying our hardest to get it done but it seems like Swale Borough Council and the Environment Agency just aren’t helping.”

Groynes are wooden barriers built at right angles to a beach, helping to catch material along the coast. By helping the beach build up they slow down erosion.

In the North Sheppey Coastal Study, a survey which was produced by the Environment Agency in 2012, it was predicted that the rates of cliff erosion would mean an estimated 1,000 caravans and 124 properties would potentially be lost over the next 100 years.

Malcom Newell, of Surf Crescent, Eastchurch
Malcom Newell, of Surf Crescent, Eastchurch

However, at the time of the collapse, just eight years after the report was published, the erosion already seemed to be approaching the half-way mark of the 50-year estimate.

When Emma Tullett bought her ill-fated house in 2018, the family were told it would last around 40 years before erosion made it too unsafe to live in.

It was lost in less than two.

Malcolm, who is originally from Essex, has lived by the cliff for 22 years.

When he bought his property he was warned that he had around 75 years until erosion could cause issues, but fears he now won’t get many years left.

Some of the remaining house at the Eastchurch Gap
Some of the remaining house at the Eastchurch Gap

The grandad-of-14 said: “This isn’t only affecting Surf Crescent residents but also the caravan sites, Eastchurch’s tourism has taken a big hit.

“You always used to see children, their families, dog walkers, in the area using the lovely footpath down to the beach, now there is nothing left.

“It is just as much of an eyesore as it was the day it fell. We’ve even put up danger signs and gates, there are no street lights here.

“Someone that doesn’t know the area could drive straight off the edge.

Malcolm expressed how, despite all the problems he and his neighbours are facing by the cliff, he wouldn’t make his home anywhere else.

Malcolm Newell and other residents near the Eastchurch Gap have created their own safety measures
Malcolm Newell and other residents near the Eastchurch Gap have created their own safety measures

The retired wood turner said: “I want to live here. I want this view to last until I go, my grandchildren deserve to see it too.

“I want to see the area back as it was, groynes were put in at Shellness so why can’t we have them in Eastchurch?”

Officials say nothing can be done to save the cliff because it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), so Swale council has a non-intervention policy in place.

Even if that was not the case, the authority says work to stabilise the cliffs would be beyond its budget.

Cllr Peter MacDonald, of Sheppey Central, believes the residents have a right to be upset with the lack of action.

Drone footage of the cliff collapse when it first happened

Peter, who is also director of the Sheppey Coastal Protection Group, said: “To repair it and to make it better it would cost a bit of money, but it seems that the Environment Agency is doing their very best to avoid it.

“I’m only interested in getting things for the people of Sheppey, and at the moment the erosion is far too great.

“It can be slowed and so it needs to be slowed, quite frankly, there’s no scientific reason why it shouldn’t.

“So they [the Environment Agency and Swale Borough Council] seem to put all these delays and explanations in the way, that’s all very well for them, but if it was their back garden, they wouldn’t want it to take this long.”

In 2020, it was confirmed that Southern Water had not contacted the council about any water leaks in the area and the prospect of sinkholes was ruled out. Instead the collapse was put down to heavy rain during the winter.

The cliff fall at Surf Crescent, Eastchurch. Drone picture: Henry Cooper
The cliff fall at Surf Crescent, Eastchurch. Drone picture: Henry Cooper

At the time a spokesman said: “The cliff failure shows the typical cyclic behaviour of London clay, examples of which can be seen along the coastline.”

The Environment Agency did not wish to comment.

Swale Borough Council and Natural England were also approached for a statement but did not respond.

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