WORK to demolish a row of cottages overlooking Whitby harbour after a landslide left them in danger of collapse will be “a long, laborious task”, according to engineers.
Preparatory work began today to knock-down five homes at Aelfleda Terrace which are precariously balanced above the River Esk.
But contractors said it will almost certainly be tomorrow afternoon now before the buildings themselves come down.
The gardens and patios in front of the 150-year-old terrace slid 30ft down towards the harbour in the early hours of Tuesday.
And the slope has continued to move since, with a block of rock and earth the size of a minibus crashing into the next row of houses down.
Scarborough Council says it has been left with no choice but to demolish the five former Whitby jet workers’ cottages.
Coun Mike Cockerill, cabinet member for harbours, assets, coasts and flood protection, said at the scene: “It’s more than likely the demolition will take place tomorrow, probably in the afternoon.”
Coun Cockerill said: “There’ll be a man going up in a man-riding basket with a bucket and a hammer and basically he’ll be knocking it down brick-by-brick. It’s going to be a long, laborious task.”
He said: “It’s a case of having to go gently, gently, safely.”
Coun Cockerill said: “It has moved overnight. It’s not dramatic but it’s continually moving.”
Today, work around the houses continued to prepare for the demolition, including an attempt to fell a 40ft willow tree which was causing concern.
Contractors also began work to lay a temporary aluminium road across fields near Whitby’s famous abbey.
This will be used to bring in heavy plant, including a cherry-picker.
Engineers on site said the houses would be demolished by hand by men on the cherry picker.
A number of nearby homes have been evacuated.
The cottages are nestled on the east side of the River Esk and are just a few hundred metres from historic Whitby Abbey.
Resident Jude Knight, who has lived at her property for 26 years said she had lost everything. “I’m just devastated,” she added.
It is understood Ms Knight was the only person in the cottages overnight between Monday and Tuesday when the landslip occurred. The others are thought to be holiday cottages.
Residents said they had been in dispute with Yorkshire Water about drainage issues in the area.
Yorkshire Water’s manager of community engagement, Richard Sears, visited the scene today and confirmed there was an ongoing legal dispute with the residents of the terrace.
Mr Sears said this was to do with drainage issues.
But he said he was “not going to jump to conclusions” about what happened.
He said it was possible, given the devastation, that the cause of the landslip may never be known.
“This is clearly a terrible situation for the property owners who live here and we’re working with the council to make sure they have the best care and attention at this present time,” Mr Sears said.
“We’re not going to jump to conclusions about exactly what’s happened here.”
He added: “There clearly are questions around the amount of rainfall that’s falling these days and what that does to ground conditions.”
Elsewhere, residents in Malton were cleaning up yesterday after homes flooded there on Tuesday.
County Bridge between Malton and Norton was closed due to flooding from the River Derwent and North Yorkshire County Council said it would remain shut as river levels were expected to continue to rise.
In York, the River Ouse peaked at 14.7ft (4.6 metres) and yesterday morning city centre businesses along the riverbank, including pubs and restaurants, were under several feet of water.
Tourism organisation Visit York stressed river levels remained well within the city’s defences and said the city had only been hit by localised riverside flooding and other attractions remained open.
More than 40 roads remained closed in North Yorkshire as a result of flooding and several routes were only passable with care. Several roads were also shut in South Yorkshire.
Last night, 21 flood warnings remained in place across Yorkshire, largely in the north of the county. A further 21 flood alerts were also still in force across the region. A total of 267 warnings and alerts were in place across England and Wales.
The Environment Agency has warned that high river levels mean further flooding is possible over the next few days even as weather conditions improve.
Anne McIntosh, MP for Thirsk and Malton and chair of the Commons Environment Committee, has written to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson demanding to know what is being done to ensure communities are protected from flood risk and how householders can continue to secure affordable insurance against flood damage.
The Conservative MP wrote: “We need an update on progress towards providing insurance to properties at flood risk once the Statement of Principles ends in 2013. It is extremely worrying to read press reports of an impasse and it is essential that the Government resolves this situation quickly so that households and businesses are not left stranded.
“The Minister must also confirm whether recent decisions about funding for flood defence schemes left any communities more exposed to flood risk than under the previous arrangements.”
She has also asked whether funding can be found under the Bellwin Scheme to compensate councils for repairs to flood-hit roads. North Yorkshire County Council, which is facing a £1.8m repair bill, has previously been told it will receive no financial help from Whitehall.