Property prices in freefall as bungalows demolished to stop them plunging into sea
Earlier this week 57 Knipe Point Drive was a two-bedroom bungalow on a clifftop estate worth about £150,000. This morning the house is probably worth next to nothing, even though it boasts a new sea view extending for miles over the woodland and shingle of National Trust-owned Cayton Bay on the Yorkshire coast.
Diggers have demolished two bungalows that stood between number 57 and the cliff edge. The move prevented the houses following in the wake of their well-kept gardens and patios, which plunged 30 metres into the bay below, leaving the hamlet one of the most precarious in the UK. Dramatic landslips caused by unexplained water saturation in the cliff have claimed about seven metres of land at Knipe Point over the past month, and demolition has created a gap in the lines of bright white homes that were worth a total of around £9m.
Just four metres from the edge, Moya and John Green fear the same fate for their three-bedroom detached bungalow which they bought new 28 years ago and which is now one of 10 homes teetering on the brink. "It's magnificent here but the outlook isn't great," says Moya Green, a 72-year-old retired nurse.
Deformed kitchen pipes, crushed breeze blocks and splintered sideboards make up the mangled carcass of the newly-demolished bungalows next door. A digger ladles the broken homes on to a truck. Green shudders with each screech and scrape. "The digger went into number 23 like a big mouth. It went in through the window and there was the sound of glass shattering. It was horrible, and it's sickening to think the same could happen to us," she says.
The couple celebrated their silver wedding in their garden a quarter of a century ago. The garden fence is now slithering down the cliff face to join the neighbours' hedges, bushes and heaps of freshly-exposed soil.
Knipe Point is suffering from the same ailment that reduced the Holbeck Hall hotel, a mile and a half up the coast towards Scarborough, to rubble after a landslip 15 years ago. The soil has become saturated with water, causing the earth to slump and sag under its own weight and the 56 - now 54 - houses on the private estate.
The National Trust commissioned a survey but theories of disturbance from a new bypass, natural underground springs, faulty drainage pipes or merely the heavy rains and rising sea levels resulting from climate change remain conjecture. Whatever the reason, cracks up to half a metre wide appear every day as the boulder clay and its pockets of sand and gravel take on water, causing the earth to slide down among the dead and dying trees and pools of sludge at the base. With about a third of the UK's coastline crumbling, the phenomenon could become increasingly common.
So far nothing has been done to stop the landslips and residents are frustrated. Helen Clarke, of the National Trust, insists the protected great crested newts living in the woods are not taking priority over residents. Until the survey identifies the cause of the water build-up, action would be futile, she says. "The worry is if we do something rash it could be detrimental. The land is saturated and the cliff has literally slumped so there are health and safety issues too.
"Tomorrow a different section of the point could start to crumble away. It's a site of Special Scientific Interest but homes are more important and our priority is to save them. However, we are being quite clear that we don't believe there is a solution - we don't want to give the residents false hope. It's a case of wait and see."
The Greens are prepared for the worst. A 1949 law absolves the government of responsibility and insurance is likely to cover rebuilding costs only. "If your house burns down, rebuilding is an option. How can we rebuild if our land's at the bottom of the cliff?" asks John Green, 73.