RESIDENTS and church officials have been hit with bills for tens of thousands of pounds to pay for emergency work carried out when landslips damaged homes and disturbed an ancient clifftop graveyard.

Five cottages at Aelfleda Terrace in Whitby, North Yorkshire, were knocked down in December after gardens started to fall away following heavy rain. 

Contractors were also called in to help retain the cliff side below St Mary’s church and graveyard, made famous in the Bram Stoker novel Dracula, when landslips uncovered human bones. 

Now residents whose homes had to be demolished have been landed with a bill of around £40,000 each by Scarborough Borough Council.

St Mary’s is facing costs of £90,000 for work to stabilise the cliffside.

It is hoped that insurers will foot the bill for the homes, but the church is having to pay its own costs out of money earmarked to ensure the future of buildings including the Grade I listed St Mary’s.

A broken drain has been repaired and netting is due to be put across the cliff side next week to try to stabilise it.

Vicar Rev David Smith said it is frustrating that there is no funding available from a central pot to pay the bill.

"We are really between a rock and a hard place," he said. "There is no help from central funding for parishes, we do this work without prejudice, but there are houses and businesses below and we need to get it done.

“We did start the investigations before Scarborough Council issued us with a notice, but it is a churchyard, we can’t just dig it up. If you live below a cliffside that has been moving since 1700 it is one of the things that can happen.

“This is money needed for repairs to our four churches."

Scarborough Borough Council said it used emergency powers to demolish homes in Aelfleda Terrace because of the instability of the site. 

A spokesperson said: "In that respect as it was taxpayers' money we are obliged to recoup that cost and we have been negotiating with the homeowners and their insurance companies.

"Some insurers have already accepted liability and have paid out in full on the claim, including the cost of demolition. 

"Some insurers have agreed that policy cover is in place including demolition cover and have requested further information. 

"A small number of insurers have yet to confirm that policy cover is in place and we will continue to engage with these companies via the property owners over the coming weeks."

The council said it did not need to intervene with the churchyard and had simply acted to inform the church of its responsibilities.