St Albans sinkhole: county looks at all options for financing repairs

Surveyors working on the playing field with a machine to dig bore holes in the search for other grou

Surveyors working on the playing field with a machine to dig bore holes in the search for other ground anomalies - Credit: Archant

Emergency funding will be sought from the Government to help cover the cost of repairing St Albans’ sinkhole.

While Herts county council awaits the outcome of an application for a grant from the Bellwin scheme, it has confirmed that those living near to the mammoth cavity in Fontmell Close will not have to pay for the cavity’s repairs.

In an in-depth interview with the Herts Advertiser, Rob Smith, the council’s deputy director of environment, said an application would be made for money from the Bellwin scheme, which provides emergency financial assistance to local authorities.

It provides reimbursement for councils’ costs incurred in connection with immediate action to safeguard life and property, such as initial repairs – but councils do have a duty to prepare cover for unforeseen events with insurance and reserves.

After some residents expressed concern about the apportioning of repair costs, Rob confirmed that they “will not foot the bill” to pay for the filling of the 12-metre-wide sinkhole with a foam concrete plug.

However, the council is in talks with loss adjustors representing insurance companies used by five properties surrounding a large underground anomaly found near the sinkhole, which does not appear to be centred under the road.

Further - intrusive - investigations are to start to establish what lies beneath the ground after an initial microgravity survey last month revealed a missing mass of some 3,200 tonnes near the existing collapse.

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While private microgravity surveys have been conducted from the surface, the council has been asked by property owners not to reveal findings publicly.

Asked whether it was another potential sinkhole, Michael Jarrett, who has been coordinating work at the site for the authority, replied: “It really is too early to say”.

Rob and Michael spoke about how fortunate it was not to have “lost people” in the cavity which opened up suddenly in the middle of the cul-de-sac in the early hours of October 1.

Despite claims that the authority could have done more to stop the sinkhole appearing, the men are adamant this was not the case.

While there have been reports elsewhere that a postman dropped into the ground up to his thighs, into an initial smaller hole, Rob explained: “A postie fell onto a buried chamber with a BT lid on it. We had a look, and got BT out. Then Affinity Water was brought in because there was a very small leak.

“When Affinity Water opened it up, they noticed the hole was larger than what everyone first thought, and it was referred back to us as a highways issue.”

The authority decided to fill up that much smaller cavity with two or three cubic metres of foam concrete, but a week later, on the day it was due to be plugged, it collapsed.

Rob said: “It was clearly on the verge of going. We could have lost people down there.”

The authority is investigating other anomalies in or near Bridle and Fontmell Closes, with loss adjustors suggesting it will be several months before the cul-de-sacs can be re-opened to the public.

Rob said: “I’m not going to walk away from this area until I know what is there and we have done whatever, if anything, needs doing.”