There are fears Stocktons childcare centre is about to become the first victim of the suburbs erosion woes, with locals warning it is a matter of when and not if its playground will start to crumble into the ocean.
A powerful swell saw waves pounding at the edge of the centre on Barrie Crescent on Thursday, with a buffer of less than two metres preventing the play area being swallowed by the sea.
The Newcastle Herald has obtained an email circulated among families on Thursday, in which manager Kim Brown announced the centre would be closed on Friday due to the safety risk.
Rough seas and high tides have caused significant erosion to the beach at Stockton, it said.
Over the last 24 hours this has become concerning and several metres of land has eroded. Our fence line is now very close to the high tide seas. Due to the uncertainty we have decided to close [the centre] tomorrow.
On Thursday, the children were forced to remain indoors, while tense staff members could be seen monitoring the conditions along the fence line.
Meanwhile, spectators gathered nearby at the rocky outcrop off Stone Street, watching as large waves barreled towards the centre, which is operated by Mission Australia Early Learning.
One wave triggered a landslip underneath temporary fencing, leaving it teetering on the edge of the water.
Parents of children attending the centre and Stockton locals launched a withering attack on authorities handing of the issue, blasting the lack of meaningful action as an absolute disgrace.
They argued it should not take the loss of the centre to force council and the state governments hand. Several questioned why council rangers were not at the scene on Thursday morning.
"I would assume that council would be out here doing something about this," said Stockton woman Tina Battye, whose 3-year-old son, Will, attends the centre.
She said the entire facility, and not just the playground, could be lost to erosion.
"It's a wonderful centre, it used to be the old surf club, but this is a serious safety issue, she said.
Newcastle councils infrastructure director was on site to inspect the erosion on Thursday evening.
A spokesperson said the council would do everything we reasonably can to keep the centre operating and would host a meeting that has been scheduled for several weeks on Friday night to address the issue.
In December, the council removed Stockton from its coastal management plan, which proposes measures to address erosion along the coastline and is submitted to the state government to secure money from an $82 million funding pool.
It came after the state governments Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) refused to sign off on an earlier version of the plan, which did address the Stockton erosion problems.
A council representative told a public meeting last year that OEH had indicated one of the key issues it had was the $30 million cost of an artificial headland for Stockton, the preferred solution of council and prominent local campaigners.
But Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald rejected that version of events.
Ive never had any advice that funding was the reason, Mr MacDonald said, adding he believed it was because the Stockton issues were complex and needed more work.
To the best of my knowledge, they look at the merit of the plan quite separate to the proposals for any funding.
Mr MacDonald said the state government was now waiting on council to finish a separate coastal management plan prepared specifically for Stockton.
Its fair to say it will be behind the rest of Newcastles plan and proposal, he said I appreciate the urgency we will work as quickly as we can with Newcastle council.
A council spokesperson said it had identified a suite of preferred options for the Stockton coastline in its management plan, rejected by the OEH.
The cost of the long-term solutions are beyond the means of a local government and, at this stage, we have been unable to secure funding, he said.
We will continue to work with OEH, the community and researchers to find the best technical and most cost-effective solution for not only the early learning centre but the whole of Stockton.
The spokesperson pointed out a number of works have been undertaken historically by the council to address the erosion, including sand scraping and dune restoration outside the child-care centre as recently as November. However the short-term repairs were washed away in the storms.
Stockton resident Daniel Danuser, who walks his dogs near the daycare centre each morning, said about three metres of coastline had been stripped in less than 24 hours.
"The space between the drop off and the play area has just been chewed away. It's never been like this."
Parents described how when picking up their children in the past few days they were sprayed by water from the nearby crashing waves.
Children were forced to play inside or wait until the babies were asleep before being allowed into the small play area on the Barrie Crescent side of the centre.
Further south, at the Stockton Surf Life Saving Club, additional council works to address the erosion have also been washed away.
Club life member Jimmy Newton said the council should be ashamed of itself.
The 72-year-old, born in Stockton, said hes never seen the beach as bad as in the past few years.
Its an absolute disgrace. Council can spend all this money on Supercars in Newcastle and they want to turn a blind eye to the disaster that is taking place on one of the coasts most precious assets.
Simone O'Connor's son Ned, 3, has been at the centre since he was a baby. She said the erosion issue was not just about Stockton.
"This problem is bigger than just our suburb. Stockton is home to Newcastle's only caravan park and a popular tourist destination.
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