Living on the Edge: Homeowners on the Coast Are Treated Like Pariahs

Standing at the edge of the garden of a clifftop house on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, I am warned to back off. The cliff, like many on the UK coast, is eroding and in danger of collapsing.

The house belongs to Malcolm Newell, 72. He warns me that the ground under my feet could give way at any moment. He is not exaggerating.

Two years ago, your neighbor saw his family’s £195,000 home destroyed in a landslide. All that now remains of this impressive five-bedroom property is the rump of an annex and a swimming pool.

What is happening on the Isle of Sheppey offers an alarming snapshot of the future.

Danger: The house next door to Malcolm Newell was destroyed in a landslide two years ago

Some 200,000 coastal properties across the country are at risk of land erosion in the next 30 years, according to research from the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Center. Victims of sea level rise, a direct result of climate change.

Last month, coastal erosion in Suffolk forced a couple to abandon their £2m cliff-top holiday home in the popular village of Thorpeness after their back garden was washed away, rendering it worthless.

In August, 4,000 tons of stone washed into the sea along a 1,000-foot stretch of coastline near Sidmouth in Devon.

Retired wood turner Malcolm fears his £150,000 three-bedroom house and 12-metre garden could fall into the sea at any moment. However, he is not scared, just furious.

He is angry that the council has so far refused to fund a £1m sea defense barrier, dooming his house and 47 others in the village of Eastchurch to end up in the sea.

“We are being treated like pariahs,” he says. “When my neighbor’s house collapsed, some workers came up and told me to leave because it was too dangerous to stay.”

I’m not going anywhere If the house slides off the cliff, I’ll live my days on the beach.

Kent Owner Malcolm Newell

He adds: ‘They said they would pay me £6,000 to demolish my house. When I said no, they ordered me out. I refused, I would have been homeless without a penny.

‘I do not go anywhere. If the house slides off the cliff, I’ll spend my days at the beach.

Malcolm moved to Eastchurch in 2001 as a result of his wife’s failing health. He died five years ago, leaving behind six children, 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, many of whom still love coming to town and enjoying the sea.

Both Swale Council and the Environment Agency have agreed to a “hands off” stance when it comes to coastal defences. Locals believe that a concrete barrier for the 700ft stretch of frontage required to save the community would cost no more than £1m.

However, the council disagrees. What is needed, he says, is spending £24m to protect homes, including 1,000 caravans, on a four-mile stretch of coastline.

Unfortunately, the wooden ‘groynes’ installed in the Victorian era to stop coastal erosion have been destroyed or stolen, not replaced.

Coastal homes ‘abandoned’ by lenders and insurers

Environment Agency chief executive James Bevan says “there is no going back for the land that coastal erosion has washed away”.

A £5.2bn government ‘coastal flood and erosion scheme’ announced two years ago to help communities over the next decade has so far earmarked just £140m to deliver ‘benefits to households at risk of coastal erosion’, and most of the rest continues. inland flood defenses.

With large swaths of coastline in Norfolk, Suffolk, the Yorkshire East Riding, parts of Wales, Devon and other areas of Kent under threat, funds to support coastal communities will be thinly distributed.

Coastal properties are not only being abandoned by local authorities, but also by mortgage lenders and insurance companies.

Landslide: The dramatic landslide at Sidmouth, Devon, earlier this year saw 4,000 tonnes of stone fall into the sea

Landslide: The dramatic landslide at Sidmouth, Devon, earlier this year saw 4,000 tonnes of stone fall into the sea

Malcolm is one of thousands of homeowners who can’t get a mortgage on a seaside property and struggles every year to get homeowners insurance. Flood victims whose homes and businesses are devastated by the storms are rescued by a government-backed ‘Flood Re’ scheme.

This is designed to help half a million people who live in flood risk areas get insurance coverage. The £180 million a year service is funded by the insurance industry and allows homeowners to claim damage or destruction caused by flooding, but does not include coastal erosion.

Malcolm Tarling, spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, says: ‘If you have property where there is a risk of storm damage, you should still be able to get insurance cover, but you won’t be covered for coastal erosion.

“People looking to buy a house by the sea need to understand this.”

The stretch of shoreline threatening Malcolm Newell’s home was not expected to erode at such a rapid rate until a giant 20-foot-wide sinkhole suddenly appeared in May 2020. Locals believe broken water pipes may have worsened the problem in the clay-rich coastal soil. The local council ordered the residents not to fill in the hole.

Malcolm’s experience offers a stark warning to those considering a home near the coast: the vagaries of the sea are unpredictable and potentially financially ruinous.

Think well before buying a house by the sea

  • A survey will highlight any potential problems with a property before you buy it. You can pay from £500 for a basic condition report to £750 for a home buyer survey, up to £1,500 for a full building survey. Those who are considering a property on the coast should opt for the latter, since it includes a thorough study of the foundations.
  • If you’re not a cash buyer, be aware that mortgage providers are nervous about lending on coastal property. Home insurance providers are also not interested because the risks to property are higher.
  • Don’t let the heart rule the head. When in doubt, get opinions from sensible friends and someone involved in the real estate or construction industries. Make numerous visits looking for reasons not to buy.
  • You may get a bargain when it comes to buying a house near the sea, but in reality you are playing roulette. For example, the owner of the £195,000 five-bedroom family home in Eastchurch that fell into the sea two years ago bought it for cash a couple of years earlier. Coastal erosion was not expected to be a problem for 40 years.

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