Residents living on the brink of crumbling cliffs were stunned when their dream homes were brought 30ft closer to the brink in just two weeks – after a ‘mad’ decision to bulldoze their private sea defences.
Devastating storms in Ulrome, near Skipsea, East Yorkshire, have led to the remaining land between the cliff edge and their cottages being ‘eaten away’.
Locals fear they could lose their electricity supply if the pylons along the edge are swept away.
They are pleading with the Government for action, fearing their homes may be washed away by the sea within two years, rather than the five they were expecting before Christmas.
For years, the area benefited from the privately-financed coastal defences built to protect the Holiday Camp above Galleon Beach.
But in December 2013, sections of the sea wall – made up of strings of concrete cylinders – began to crumble due to storm damage.
In 2015, the local council issued a demolition order and the remaining defences were removed. Residents say that since then, the erosion sped up to a frightening extent.
Devastating storms in Ulrome, near Skipsea, East Yorkshire, have led to the remaining land between the cliff edge and their cottages being ‘eaten away’
Locals fear they could lose their electricity supply if the pylons along the edge are swept away
Gemma Brown, 28, said she was glad that she was renting and hadn’t bought a house that was going to ‘fall into the sea’
Resident Michael Whitaker is pictured on the edge of his balcony, which is close to the cliff edge
A local is pictured with his dog by the danger sign on the cliff edge
The authorities claimed it had been dangerously weakened but residents say that it took the council six weeks to demolish it, with them working late into the night with 50-tonne diggers.
They argue it could have been beefed up and removing it has put what was left of the community facing extinction.
Caravan site manager and local resident Darryl Savage, 33, has lived in Coastguard Cottages for 12 years with his partner and three daughters, aged ten, eight and four.
He said: ‘They grew up here. They love it here. It is going to be devastating for them when the houses are gone. They will lose all their friends if we have to move away.
‘You would not recognise the place compared with when we first moved in.
‘The road used to run all the way to Skipsea. We used to have amusements, a phone box to the left hand side. There used to be a cafe in front of the houses.
‘It is just a dying community. We measured the distance to the cliff at Christmas but since then the storms have taken 30ft in two weeks.
‘The Government should be doing more. They charged my bosses £360,000 to take the old sea wall away.
‘They said it was unsafe but it took six weeks to get rid of it with 50-ton diggers working until 11 at night. It did not make things better – it made them worse.
‘The company that built the wall more than 20 years ago fought the council tooth and nail to keep the wall. But once the boss died, the council just came and took it.’
He said the company wanted to restructure the sea defences rather than reduce them to rubble.
The crumbling houses of Coastguard Cottages, which has five occupants, including children, have been left with their back fences 120ft from the cliff edge.
‘We have got power lines that are supposed to be re-routing. But we are going around in circles and we don’t know where we stand,’ he added.
‘I thought we had another five years but this winter has taken so much, I reckon we have only got a couple of years. It is a nightmare.
‘It is just madness. The sea has eaten the land like mad. We have all these universities turning up wanting to do studies and sea defence experts from the Netherlands.’
The community are pleading with the Government for action, fearing their homes may be washed away by the sea within two years
Michael Whittaker moved onto a caravan site last August and his home now has its back facing over the cliff
Michael Whittaker said he felt sorry for the people who had houses in the village
Residents are living on the brink of crumbling cliffs
Their homes were brought 30ft closer to the brink in just two weeks
The community is so exposed that the winds reportedly break the house windows and blow cars towards the cliff edge.
Nathan Walsh, 30, who moved in seven years ago with partner Gemma Brown and their baby son, now seven, said: ‘We keep getting power cuts all the time – three or four times a month.
‘It is crazy. I rang [them] yesterday and they said they cannot do [anything] about it. I turn my power shower on and all the lights go dim and start flickering.
‘There is something wrong with the power and we don’t have any gas. We don’t know how far the sewage system has got. Once you cannot flush the toilets or have no power, you have to move.’
His partner Gemma, 28, who works in a fish and chip shop in nearby Bridlington, said: ‘I am just glad we are just renting.
‘I am glad were do not own a house that is just going to fall into the sea. We feel very let down by everyone concerned.
‘The removal of the sea wall just made everything a lot worse.’
Michael Whittaker moved onto a caravan site last August and his home now allegedly has its back facing over the cliff.
He said: ‘I live in my caravan most of the time. The back of the caravan is over the edge. I have got about ten to 30ft left counting the length of the static caravan.
‘The other problem is the pylons are in danger of going over the edge. If we lose the electricity, that’s it.’
Mr Whittaker, 75, used to be a research technician in medical physics at Leeds General Infirmary until he took voluntary redundancy and used his payoff to buy the £5,000 static caravan.
‘It is not insured – and if it goes on the cliffs and the site closes due to lack of electricity, the caravan cannot be sold because the framework has rotted, being over 15 years old.
‘It is too rickety to be towed off to another site. My house is in Barton on Humber so I always have somewhere to live. But I feel sorry for the people in the houses here.’
East Riding Council’s website states: ‘It is expected that rising sea levels will lead to higher rates of coastal erosion, and a higher risk of coastal flooding, along some undefended stretches of the East Riding coast.
‘We will respond to these conditions by working with, rather than against, natural processes.’
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘We know the devastating impact that flooding and coastal erosion, including in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire which is why we are investing £5.2 billion between 2021 and 2027 to better protect communities in England from these extreme weather events.’
A spokesman for East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: ‘After the privately owned defences in Ulrome suffered significant storm damage in 2013, they were left in place and monitored by East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
‘Once the structure was deemed to be dangerous, the council had no choice but remove it in the interests of public safety.
‘The Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) policy for this part of the coast is ‘No active intervention’ and the SMP states that ‘the privately owned defences at Ulrome currently protecting the caravan parks would not be maintained under this policy and erosion of the shoreline would occur’.
‘Over the years, East Riding of Yorkshire Council has undertaken a significant amount of engagement with residents along the coast, including holding drop-in sessions, community meetings and one-to-one meetings with residents.
‘Through the East Riding Coastal Change Fund, the council offers some financial assistance and free advice to residents affected by coastal erosion.
‘We are also working to deliver the Defra and Environment Agency-funded Changing Coasts East Riding project, which aims to establish sustainable, local approaches to the long-term transition of communities and assets away from coastal erosion risk.’