There are repeated calls for someone to accept liability for the damage to homes in Newburn.
A block of flats on Spencer Court is hanging on the edge of collapse after it’s foundations were washed away. And nearby houses have all been flooded too.
It all started back in May when an underground culvert collapsed on land owned by the Duke of Northumberland. Since then, they’ve been working furiously to try to divert the water that heads for the flats and the housing estate next door every time it rains heavily.
But on Monday night it all got a lot worse. The pipes were ripped out with the force of the water and a waterfall formed, scooping the foundations out from under the flats. They’ve been moving for months but it’s accelerated this week and the only thing stopping it toppling are stilts, which are used in foundations where the land isn’t suitable for building on.
I’ve been at the public meetings and stood in the pouring rain as residents watched their houses being filled with brown water, reporting on this for BBC Newcastle:
So the question being asked now is should this land have ever been built on? Or would those stilts have been enough and so is it the owners of the culvert who are to blame?
Here’s what Northumberland Estates say about it:
We are desperately sorry for the residents of Spencer Court and Mill Vale that this has happened yet again.
Since the culvert collapse we have been working extremely hard to resolve what is an extremely complex engineering problem, given that the culvert lies 12 meters below ground, and the land itself is proving to be highly unstable.
We have put together a team of proven expertise in the form of Fairhursts and McAlpines to devise and implement a robust engineering solution to sort out the issue for the long term. Unfortunately the exceptional weather conditions experienced this summer, which have seen the North East subjected to two of the most exceptional storms on record, have caused many problems for the team.
There is little we can do in the face of such very extreme weather conditions until the culvert can be cleared. We hope to achieve in the next 3 to 4 months.
Of course this is no consolation to the residents. Northumberland Estates representatives have been on site throughout and we remain committed to doing everything we can to support them. We continue to keep them regularly update through daily emails, weekly reports, on site access to our liaison officer and through site visits.
We are working hard to ensure the best possibly outcome for them in the short, medium and long- term, and will continue to work with them, as well as with the Council, Trinity and Dunelm to alleviate some of their more immediate concerns where possible. We are also working closely with the police and other services at the present time, in particular to enable residents to access to their homes, where and when it is deemed safe.
Statement from Dunelm Homes:
“The statement released on Friday 28 September is underpinned by a number of important points regarding the events leading up to the situation at Spencer Court and Millvale which, we repeat, are not our responsibility or within our control.
“Firstly we repeat our deepest sympathy and concern for property owners who have suffered from these devastating events.
“We have put in place practical supporting for those who have been affected – including free legal support and advice on dealing with their insurers (all today’s appointments were taken up) site security, help with removals, cleaning up and general advice.
“We are currently engaged in a series of communications and meetings with individual property owners in respect of their specific queries and circumstances.
“We have full planning and technical approval and NHBC (National House Building Council) warranty for the whole of this site. The roads and culvert are under maintenance from Newcastle City Council and we paid £105,000 to the City Council in September 2003 in respect of this adoption.
“The extent of our ownership on the Spencer Court and Millvale site is limited to the freehold of the land underneath the blocks of apartments at Spencer Court and one house on Walbottle Road which we are currently using as the Dunelm Homes Site Office.
“We purchased the site in 2002 and started selling homes in 2005. Most sales were completed by 2010.
“We inspected the culvert running under our site before we made the purchase in 2002 and it was in good condition. It was re-inspected after the initial flood in May / June 2012 and it was once again reported to be in good condition.
“We have suffered substantial damages in connection with these events – but that is insignificant in comparison with the experiences of the property owners who stand to either lose their homes or who have suffered damage to their homes. So we have arranged for free legal advice to be provided to any residents of Spencer Court or Millvale who would like help in dealing with their insurers. All appointments for today Monday, 1 October were taken up and initial feedback is that property owners have found this most helpful.
“In addition we have been providing practical help on site with security, removals, cleaning and advice.
“We have a team of people on site and our site office at 25 Walbottle Road (opposite the recycling centre) has been open every day from at least 10am to 5pm and will continue to be open every day until further notice.
“Property owners from either Spencer Court or Millvale can make direct contact with the Site Support team on 07949 499567 or via firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the Site Office itself.