Residents in a cliffside community who banded together to protect their homes from a dramatic cliff collapse have been ordered by the council to stop filling the gaping hole themselves.
Mum-of-five Emma Tullett was left heartbroken as her dream £195,000 Spanish villa-style bungalow – named Cliffhanger – plunged off the edge over four days in late May, making national headlines.
Neighbours were evacuated and told to consider moving as more land is expected to be lost to the sea over the coming years.
But after three months of inaction, furious parish councillor Malcolm Newell, 71, decided along with the owners of 48 neighbouring properties in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent to take matters into their own hands.
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A deal with a private contractor was made so the cliff would be shored up with unwanted clay in exchange for the removal of the rubble left from Emma’s house and her orange Seat Ibiza.
But as soon as they had finished clearing all the debris and were set to fill the estimated 20ft deep sinkhole, Swale Borough Council stamped down a temporary stop notice last week.
Malcolm, who chairs Eastchurch Gap Community Group Ltd company, said: “It’s absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe it.
“We can’t even contest this notice at all or risk getting a £20,000 fine.
“I sent the council seven letters complaining about our homes being abandoned and left to fall off and they were ignored.
“We waited three months for help and only started the job after getting nothing back.
“If they’re not going to do it, why can’t we?
“Our homes might not be here much longer if nothing is done. We just want to protect and support our properties.
“All of this actually makes me ashamed to be British. I have lived in England all my life and always supported my local community.
“But when you look at the decisions being made with all the red tape and restrictions, the lack of support is disgraceful.
“Swale Borough Council need stringing up. They’re taking away our lives by not giving us anything, all while taking our taxes too.”
Delivery driver Ed Cane, who lives in a two-bedroom bungalow with wife Lynn backing onto Emma’s annexe, was told his home could be the next to go and must warn visitors about the dangers.
Retired HGV driver Julian Green, who lives next door with wife Christine, was also slapped with a hazard notice and fears he may be forced to move if there’s a tough winter.
Retired woodturner Malcolm’s Hawthorne Lodge bungalow was left teetering near the edge too when the Cliffhanger home finally fell on June 1.
He was forced out of the home he bought in 2001, which he says is worth £1million to him, and seeing Emma lose everything only intensified his ongoing campaign for help.
As part of the rebuilding process, a platform had to be created at the bottom of the cliff to allow the digger with a 15ft arm to remove the rubble – but even that couldn’t reach the bottom of the hole.
Clay has been used to build up around the edges of Surf Crescent with the hope of eventually building the former road back to land level and grassing the bank to allow dog walkers to use it as a footpath.
But this is impossible until work can resume to fill the huge hole and make the cliff safe.
After just three days, the Environmental Agency told them to stop and last week the council officially ordered them to cease activity on the site.
Malcolm added: “We have human rights and legislation in parliament stating that the reinstatement of a private road is the responsibility of the people who live there. This is our job to do.
“I don’t see what the council’s problem is with us doing it off our own backs. We are not even touching the Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“The contractor wanted to help the community here when no one else is doing anything.
“The council’s excuse was always that they couldn’t afford to do the work but this way it is not costing them a penny.
“But they have only made the order this week once we finished removing the rubbish left at the bottom of the cliff.
“People had also fly tipped down there so we disposed of all of that properly too.
“I want to send the council a bill for doing their job for them which they said would be too expensive.”
Malcolm is now hoping to get a lawyer involved to help fight the community’s case.
A Swale Borough 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.
“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.”
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