Demolition bill sends couple over the edge

Cliffhanger as council plans to tear down house - and charge for the trouble
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The Independent Online
Sue Earle and her uncle, David, have spent this week clearing the furniture from their clifftop home.

Within a month, the land on which it stands will have toppled into the North Sea but East Riding council has promised them it will not let it happen.

Before the house goes over the cliff, a team of council workers will move in next week. They will then smash the house down themselves and send the Earles a bill for pounds 3,500.

It is an ignominy for the couple who blame the local authority for causing the cliff erosion which has destroyed their pounds 250,000 farm.

When Mr Earle, who is 65, moved in 39 years ago, soil erosion was minimal and the North Sea was 150 yards away, its green-blue waters lapping onto a sandy shore.

Now the sea comes within five feet of the farmhouse. The waves are stained murky brown by clay and are tearing the cliffs down at the rate of more than 60ft a year.

In the spring, the Earles will take the council to a land tribunal, suing them for compensation for the loss of their home.

The Earles claim that the erosion of the cliffs was transformed by a decision to set up a sea defence wall to protect the village of Mappleton, a mile down the east Yorkshire coast.

The effect, according to the Earles, was to stop the drift of sand to the cliffs beneath their home, leaving the clay exposed to the ravages of the sea.

A plucking shed has already disappeared over the 60ft cliff, along with a straw barn, a garage and a tool shed.

Ms Earle, 43, who has lived with her uncle for eight years, said: "The council will not let us protect ourselves and yet they won't give us any protection. It has been heart-breaking."

The Earles wish to move into a former school-house which is on the farm, but a mile inland. The building is double-glazed and decorated but the council has told the couple they cannot stay there because it does not comply with building regulations.

Meanwhile, the Earles are living in a caravan.

Next week, three of their neighbours, whose homes are also being knocked down, are taking the council to court to recover the costs of demolition.

East Riding council defends its action on the grounds that it is acting in the interests of safety and that the 1984 Building Act allows it to recover its costs.

Steve Frost, the council's principal building control officer, said: "You would have a ruinous house sat perched on the cliff which would become an attraction to children and others and it's predominantly their safety we are thinking of by removing the danger."