Couple claim they were forced to close business after cliffs collapse

A couple who ran a food and entertainment business from the Bandstand in Southend-on-Sea have launched a £150,000 legal battle against their local council.

John and Marilyn Gayner say their business was forced to close when Southend-on-Sea Borough Council terminated their lease after a huge slippage of cliffs close to the Bandstand.

The rest of the buildings on the site were later dismantled or demolished as the site was thought unsafe, according to a High Court writ.

Now Mr and Mrs Gayner are suing the council for damages for negligence, and say its cliff stabilisation scheme unreasonably withdrew support from their premises. They are also suing geotechnical engineers AF Howland Associates Ltd, who designed the scheme,

The couple had started their business, of a café, restaurant, bar, tea room, and entertainment venue in1990, on the south side of Clifftown Parade, with a central bandstand, a garden, and two buildings either side of the bandstand and leased the clifftop premises from the council.

AF Howland Associates carried out ground investigations of the cliffs in 2001 for the council and designed buttressing work designed to stabilise the cliffs, the writ says.

The geotechnical engineers wrote to Mr Gayner in 2001, confirming a landslip in 2000 had not caused structural damage to the bandstand, that most of the premises could be reopened, and that the council planned to carry out stabilisation works, the court will hear. The couple reopened on May 8 2001.

Clancy Docwra carried out buttressing works on the cliffs between April and October 2001 but in early 2002 substantial land slippages and movements occurred in the area, the writ says. This was followed by more movement in November 2002, caused by failure of the upper slopes undermining the seaward part of the premises, and withdrew support to the land adjacent and subjacent to the premises, damaging the buildings and making them unfit for future use, it is claimed.

Mr and Mrs Gayner, of 110 Neil Armstrong Way, Leigh on Sea, say their lost their business when the council terminated the lease, as well as the majority of contents, and put their losses at £142,761.

The catastrophic collapse was caused directly by the buttressing works and before the work was carried out there was no indication of a possible or imminent catastrophic collapse, the writ says.

There was a history of surface slippages in the area, but these had been contained by land drainage scheme, regarding, and retaining walls, they claim. There was no reason to expect that the slippages could not continue to be controlled in the same way they had been controlled for more than 100 years, the writ states.

Mr and Mrs Gayner say that buttressing works can be a viable solution to land slippages provided they are properly designed and constructed but say they have to be built on undisturbed ground to be effective, and if build on pre existing landslide debris or an already disturbed layer of London clay, the weight will contribute to a destabilising of the slip mass and create a situation more likely to lead to serious land movement.

They brand the council and its geotechnical engineers negligent and say the council failed to consider other solutions, instead carrying out an unnecessarily dangerous scheme inadequately.

The writ was issued by Richard Jones and Co, tel 01328 878018.