The terrified neighbours of a mother whose dream home fell off a cliff fear they will be next and are desperately trying to shore up the collapsing seafront.
Striking drone images reveal houses teetering on the cliff top in Eastchurch, on the Isle of Sheppy, off the Kent coast, six months after mother-of-five Emma Tullett’s £195,000 Spanish villa-style bungalow fell off the edge.
Ms Tullett was left heartbroken when her home, named Cliffhanger, was destroyed over four days in late May, leaving a 20ft sinkhole in its wake.
Homeowners at Eastchurch’s Surf Crescent in Kent had taken matters into their own hands, working around the clock to consolidate the crumbling cliff and save their properties from suffering the same fate.
But Swale Council issued residents with a notice to stop all work last month due to ‘ecological concerns’.
The terrified neighbours of a mother whose dream home fell off a cliff fear they will be next and are desperately trying to shore up the collapsing seafront. Pictured: Before and after Emma Tullett’s home plunged off a cliff in Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppy in Kent
In the meantime heavy rain has seen even more land slip over the edge. On Sunday, 15ft of land collapsed in heavy rain from one resident’s garden.
Blaming months of inaction for the cliff continuing to collapse, residents are now pleading for permission to protect their homes before it is too late.
Now they say heavy rain is causing daily slips of land.
Neighbours Ed Cane, 67, and Julian Green, 62, fear it will only be a matter of weeks until their bungalows end up at the bottom of the drop as they continue to watch their cliff-facing gardens grow smaller day by day.
Delivery driver Mr Cane, who lives in a two-bedroom bungalow with wife Lynn backing onto Emma’s annexe, watched 15ft of his garden fence crumble on Sunday, leaving a sheer drop to the 20ft sinkhole below.
He attempted to use clay to prevent any more falling but claims the Environment Agency attended on Wednesday with two police officers to warn him to stop fly tipping on his own land.
Mr Cane said: ‘They won’t do anything to help us and are making it impossible for us to save our own livelihoods.
‘I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here for. If that amount of land can fall in one go then my house could drop off at any moment.
‘I’m really scared of what could happen. We are living in fear.
‘I work nights and worry all the time that something might happen while I’m away.
‘And then when I’m here trying to sleep in the day I wake up every hour thinking it could fall.
‘It just wears you down as you’re constantly on edge.
‘This terrible weather isn’t helping and that’s why we wanted to get the
hole filled before winter.
‘The council say we are posing a danger to the public by filling the hole in but the real danger to the public is there for everyone to see.
Emma Tullett (pictured above), 43, and her family have been living in the new accommodation since their bungalow in Kent, called Cliffhanger, plunged over the edge in May
‘We don’t get any support and they don’t seem to care about us. There are 49 houses here, used to be 50, and they seem happy to let these go off the cliff one by one despite the current housing shortage.’
Retired lorry driver Mr Green added: ‘I don’t think my house will be here by Christmas.’
He paid £80,000 a year and a half ago for the one-bedroom bungalow he lives in with wife Christine, 58, son Jason, 38, his wife Jess, 35, and their two children David, 16, and Shyla, 11.
Mr Green said: ‘We fear for our safety all the time. We don’t sleep. My son who has cerebral palsy is up until the early hours of the morning hearing parts of the cliff fall every night.
‘It’s affected my disabled wife too. It’s getting worse here.
‘If we don’t do something soon, my house could go and Ed’s house go. By December or January, I think another home will be down there.
‘God forbid if it happens in the middle of the night with women and children in there, it could be a tragedy. It was so lucky last time.
‘We’ve been completely forgotten about and until a second house goes, no one will listen.
‘The work that we had been doing was going to prevent that but now the earth is starting to drop again.’
Furious parish councillor Malcolm Newell, 71, who chairs Eastchurch Gap Community Group Ltd company, decided along with the owners of 48 neighbouring properties to sort things out themselves.
The retired woodturner’s Hawthorne Lodge bungalow was left teetering near the edge 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 Ms Tullett lose everything only intensified his ongoing campaign for help.
Ms Tullett was left heartbroken when her home, named Cliffhanger, was destroyed over four days in late May, leaving a 20ft sinkhole in its wake
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 Ms Tullett’s house and her orange Seat Ibiza.
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 as soon as they had finished clearing all the debris and were set to fill the estimated 20ft deep sinkhole, work was brought to a crashing stop.
Furious Mr Newell 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. Time is ticking. Yet this disgraceful red tape is preventing us from making it safe.
‘If it continues to rain like it has been then I do believe Ed and Julian’s homes could be gone by Christmas. We can fix this before it’s too late.
‘Sadly they may be forced to live elsewhere come the New Year simply because the Environment Agency and Swale Borough Council have completely neglected us.
‘They really need to sort themselves out. Apparently us filling in the hole is a danger to the environment and public when I’m sure the only danger here is the great big drop getting closer to our homes.
‘We could have been finished by now if they let us carry on working to fill the hole. That part is already greening and solidifying.’
Swale Borough Council said last month work of such size required planning permission.
A spokesman said: ‘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 remains of the family’s pool, which is under threat and is near the home of property owners Julian Green, Ed Cane and Malcom Newell, who all lived next door to Ms Tullett
‘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.’
A spokesman for the Environment Agency, which is responsible for regulating the movement of waste, added on October 21: ‘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.’
Ms Tullett said: ‘I want to know what Swale Council plans on doing. I think the council should be doing more to help us all.’
The family have been provided temporary housing in the nearby village of Rushenden, where they have spent the past five months.
Ms Tullett said: ‘We are in a three bed with our dining room being used as a bedroom.
‘We’re here for a maximum of two years, so we need to find somewhere more permanent to live. We have got nothing back from the council or the house.’
The family were evacuated from their seafront home on the Isle of Sheppey on May 29, just four days before it all came crashing down.
Ms Tullett said: ‘That time has flown by really, but in other ways it’s dragged.
The scene pictured this week, after Swale Council issued residents with a notice to stop all work on consolidating the crumbling cliff last month due to ‘ecological concerns’
‘The one thing that got me that day was that we had noticed these cracks in the road and there was one that was going straight up through my pavement at the front.
‘When I phoned the council, they said it was nothing to do with them because it was an unmade road.
‘I phoned the Environment Agency, they said it was nothing to do with them. He said it was probably because it had been so dry.
‘He gave me a number to call on the Monday – this was the Friday – but obviously by then it was too late.’
She added: ‘Nobody wanted to know when I was trying to say something bad looked like it was going to happen.
‘Now they want to stop us putting it right?’
Ms Tullett said she was looking for ‘a fresh start’ when she moved into Cliffhanger with her partner and four children in August 2018.
She bought the property outright for £195,000, which had three bedrooms, an annexe, with two extra bedrooms and a swimming pool.
The 43-year-old, who was living in Surrey at the time, said: ‘I signed up to get emails from estate agents for different houses in Kent and a bit further, and one day I got the email through for this house and I was like oh my god, that’s what I want.
The scene near the homes of Julian Green, Ed Cane and Malcolm Newell, who are all neighbours of Ms Tullett
‘The views were absolutely amazing.’
On the evening of the first cliff fall, Ms Tullett was sitting in her living room with a glass of wine and her 17-year-old daughter, Becky, watching Take That’s lockdown show on Youtube.
Ms Tullett said: ‘I could hear little cracks and creaking but, living in a timber framed building, you get that anyway.
‘I didn’t think too much of it. Then the blind on the window behind me fell off the wall, scaring the living doo-das out of us.
‘My partner came in and looked and said we’ve got to go, we have got to get out. The front fence had gone.’
She continued: ‘I started running round trying to grab bits and bobs and the kids.
‘I just turned into a headless chicken for a while. When we got outside, there were bricks all over the place.’
The fire brigade arrived on the scene and evacuated nearby residents after her daughter called 999.
But not knowing if their family home would be saved or not in the coming days was ‘torture’, the family says.
Ms Tullett said: ‘It was quite surreal. It’s hard to explain, but if you had a house fire, you’d have the fire and it all goes.
‘But this was dragged out over the whole weekend. It was like torture, waking up each morning thinking has my house gone yet?
‘We lost everything, our home, belongings and memories. The kids didn’t even have their shoes on.
‘Apart from phones and my bank card, everything went.’
Ms Tullett and her family have been living in temporary accommodation since she lost her home. Pictured: The remains of her dream property and the outdoor swimming pool
Five months on and the family are still struggling to come to terms with what happened.
Ms Tullett said: ‘It’s still upsetting. One of my next door neighbours sent me a video of the night we were evacuated. That made me cry.’
She added: ‘It is a bit easier now, a bit like a bereavement, a few months down the line. The kids still say they want their home back. We miss summers in the garden, in the pool.
‘It was just a different way of life, in the middle of nowhere. It’s the life I wanted for my kids, walks on the beach after school, coming back muddy and no neighbours right on top of us.
‘I miss that way of life.’
The family are hoping to raise £10,000 to pay for professional assistance as they have ‘many unanswered questions’ and their neighbours homes are still at risk.
A crowdfunding page has been set up.
An aerial view of the home of Malcom Newell, next door to where Ms Tullett’s home was
Ms Tullett said: ‘We have sought professional help, but this requires funds.
‘We have put everything we have towards this, cutting costs where we can, but we still need to obtain specialist reports to answer our questions.
Ms Tullett added: ‘We desperately need help to gain the answers we need, we are so close. This could help secure our future and the future of the remaining properties.
‘At the end of the day, all of these agencies knew there was erosion in the area so why didn’t they stop people from selling the houses or buying them.
‘Why are businesses still allowed to market those houses if they are not safe? If they had hazard notices on them a few years earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.
‘Something should have been done.’
A spokesperson for Swale Council added: ‘We have been in contact with the resident and we have been honest on what we can and can’t do for them, and we will continue to liaise with residents affected about potential next steps.
‘It is not for the council to do anything in relation to the lost property but we have housed them based on the our housing responsibilities.
‘The current policy remains the same as it has been for years, with no active intervention in defending the cliff, and we commissioned a specialist report to help inform the residents of what might happen in the future.’