Battle to save dream homes after property plunges from 120ft crumbling cliff

Lorry driver Edd Cane had believed that his clifftop house would easily see him and his wife Lynn through their retirement.

But their joy has turned to “heartbreak” because their dream home is in danger of disappearing over the edge.

The couple moved to the bungalow 15 years ago. At that time it sat about 27 yards back from the drop, behind another house.

But the 120ft-high clay cliff began to crumble 12 months ago. In June last year their neighbours’ home tumbled over the edge along with their car, leaving only the swimming pool undamaged.

The family, including four children, were unharmed but they left the house – which was called Cliffhanger – with just the clothes on their backs.

Structural engineers have told Edd his property is safe… for now. But as little as five yards separate it from the edge.

Other people face the same plight. They say they feel “abandoned”, adding the council has done nothing to defend their homes from further erosion.

Edd, 67, said: “It is heartbreaking. Each morning I wake up worried and look out of the window to see how much more of the cliff has disappeared.

“When it first happ­ened, I thought there might be some compensation available, so I phoned estate agents to get our home valued.

“But when I told them where it was they said the value is nothing.

“I asked for the price of what it would have been before the cliff went but I was told this is not possible under law. I felt sick.”

Edd, who has spent a great deal of time renovating the home, added: “Everything we’ve worked for has gone.

“I’ve installed solar panels and a heat pump to make the property eco-friendly but I was told by the council if it erodes too much more they will put a demolition order on it and I will be expected to pay to have my house demolished. Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds.”

When Edd and Lynn, 66, bought their home in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, a survey predicted erosion of around 1ft a year could take place.

This would have meant erosion of 15ft since they moved in, but there has been roughly 60ft. Each time a storm hits or there is constant bad weather, like in March when a month of rain fell in days and washed away chunks of cliff, their home ends up closer to the edge.

Edd and other villagers are fighting to save their properties. They say they have been pleading for years for protection from coastal erosion.

But little has been done because the soft clay cliffs contain fossils, meaning the area is part of a site of special scientific interest.

When Edd’s neighbours’ home on Surf Crescent tumbled off the cliff edge last summer, they were among a group of 30 who were evacuated and put into emergency accommodation.

They had to spend two months in a caravan park before moving back.

Edd, who underwent surgery for lung cancer last year and was shielding at the time, said they have been told to think about permanently moving, but they are financially stuck.

He said this could be the reality for other communities around the country at risk of coastal erosion.

With no compensation or plan to help rehome these villagers, they say they have no option but to stay and fight to save their properties.

Edd and others are now desperately trying to rebuild the cliff with soil, although they have been ordered by Swale council to stop.

The authority says it is concerned about the “ecological effect” the soil dumping would have on the adjacent site of special scientific interest.

Edd said: “What I don’t understand is that the SSSI is supposed to protect the environment and wildlife. How the hell is letting all of that go protecting the environment or the wildlife?

“It’s not costing the council anything, but shoring up the cliff will hold our homes back.”

Neighbour Malcolm Newell, 72, also refuses to leave.

He said: “There’s such a great community here. But we are a forgotten village.” Malcolm is chairman of the Eastchurch Cliff Erosion Community Group, which has been campaigning for better protection for the properties since 2015.

His home, which he moved into 20 years ago for the view across the North Sea, holds precious memories of times spent with his late wife.

A deal with a private contractor was made so the cliff would be shored up with unwanted clay in the hope of eventually building the former road back to land level.

The villagers had cleared the debris, and were set to fill the 20ft-deep hole when they were ordered to stop.

Malcolm said: “We really need to be allowed to get a move on with the work as it’s only a matter of time until we lose more of our community.

“The window to protect our homes gets smaller with every day. The Environment Agency and Swale council have completely neglected us.”

The council said a specialist survey carried out after the collapse “put it down to [the] natural erosion process along this stretch of coast”.

The authority did not respond when asked what is in place to safeguard homes, whether there are relocation plans for affected families and if compensation is being lined up.

Over 5.2 million properties in England are believed to be at risk from flooding and coastal erosion.

Although erosion of our coastline has always taken place, it is now accelerating due to climate change.

Extreme weather such as super storms occur more often, resulting in stronger winds, more intense rain, higher tides and bigger waves.