Church landed with cliff repair bill

The slipping cliff at st Mary's''w1305154b
The slipping cliff at st Mary's''w1305154b

The oldest church in Whitby is shelling out £90,000 of church funds after being served with a legal notice by Scarborough Borough Council ordering it to fix the landslip problem on the East Cliff.

Rector of Whitby, Rev Canon David Smith, received the notice without warning before Christmas and was given just two days to carry out the works.

According to the document from SBC “satisfactory provision has not been made for drainage in respect of the premises and the drain formerly used for the drainage of the premises is a nuisance.”

The notice, under section 59 of the Building Act 1984, goes on to say St Mary’s needs to carry out excavation works in the churchyard to locate the drain, intercept it and make a temporary connection to the existing drainage gully in the lower yard. SBC say this will stop further land movement but Canon Smith disagrees.

He says the church is carrying out the work “without prejudice” to simply make sure the residents of Henrietta Street are safe.

He told the Gazette: “SBC is basically saying it has got nothing to do with them and if we take the same attitude there would have been a real problem. It would be interesting to know who built Henrietta Street. If that part of the cliff belonged to the church, surely we would know about it.”

After further movement this week next to one of the paths in the church yard, the area has been cordoned off and a new fence is being built around the edge while workmen clear away the mud.

Canon Smith is in the process of getting quotes for the works SBC is demanding and said it would have been impossible to complete it within two days.

It is going to cost around £43,000 to install netting on the cliff face and seed it and a further £17,000 to make sure there are no issues with St Mary’s Church drainage system, which goes under the 199 Steps, plus other associated costs.

He said: “One of the things in the notice was to push everything back.

“You can’t just dig up a church yard by church Canon law. We have applied to the Diocese and recieved a license for the work we are hoping to do.”

“The money was put on one side for helping get the building sorted.

“St Mary’s is the oldest building in use in the town, it is older than the abbey and a lot of the money was going to be for some work there and at the other churches, St John’s and St Hilda’s, but that won’t happen now.

“It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Yesterday morning, a meeting was held between the owners of the properties on Aelfleda Terrace which were demolished before Christmas following the first major landslip, the cottage owners in Primitive Chapel Yard and representatives from SBC.

On the agenda was a discussion of works that had been undertaken and who would be liable for paying for it – with some of the costs expected to fall upon individual residents.

Coun Mike Cockerill, SBC’s portfolio holder for harbours, assets, coast and flood protection said: “As we are not owners of the land, the council’s powers of intervention are limited. However, to ensure the effects of the problem were mitigated and action taken in a timely and responsible manner, the local authority served an appropriate legal notice on the church, under Section 76 of the 1984 Building Act, which compelled it to promptly put right the defective state of its premises to prevent any further damage or nuisance being inflicted on the properties below.

“This was the responsible and correct course of action for the local authority to take in light of the ongoing risk to people and property in Henrietta Street. Had the council not acted in this way and swift remedial work had not been forthcoming, the consequences for those people could have been more serious and in our view the church would also be in a far worse position, from both a financial and legal perspective.”