St Albans sinkhole: will residents be left picking up the bill for repairs?

PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 November 2015

David Walker lives near the sinkhole in Fontmell Close, St Albans

David Walker lives near the sinkhole in Fontmell Close, St Albans

Archant

The county council looks likely to play Scrooge this Christmas after threatening to hit residents living near the St Albans sinkhole with a hefty bill for road repairs.

David Walker, who lives several doors along from the 12m-wide cavity in Fontmell Close, has criticised the authority for saying it wants to shift the burden of covering the costs onto them.

This has caused confusion and concern as the council is responsible for maintaining and repairing roads and highways throughout this district.

David and his wife have just returned to their bungalow in time for Christmas, after being evacuated for over six weeks.

He said: “We moved back into the house last Monday (16). It was dusty and stank of concrete, because they were working outside the house to pour concrete into the sinkhole.”

David, like his neighbours, has praised St Albans district council for its support since the cavity appeared in the cul-de-sac in the early hours of October 1.

In particular, he singled out emergency planning officer Paul Blande, who even answered queries while on holiday.

But, David said, “If anyone is letting us down, it is Herts county council. They are saying we are responsible for the road. That is outrageous. They want us to pay for it to be repaired.”

He said that a recently formed group comprised of Fontmell and Bridle Close residents, for which he is a spokesman, was told by county officials at two recent meetings “that we are responsible for up to the middle of the road outside our houses”.

David levelled criticism at Rob Smith, the county’s deputy director for the environment, who told locals at one meeting: “I have no authority to spend any more money”.

An angry David has questioned the council’s stance on who is responsible for repairs as legally, he and his wife do not even own their front garden.

He explained: “My front garden isn’t registered land. After we have lived here for 12 years, we can apply for squatters’ rights – something we can do in another four years time.

“But no one knows who owns the front garden. I’ve checked with the Land Registry, and my front garden is not shown on any plan. It is simply unlisted. It is therefore owned by the Crown by default.

“The county council is a mess as far as I’m concerned. What is their justification for saying that we own up to the middle of the road? They say they are only responsible for the top part – to the depth of two spade lengths.

“We are waiting on tenterhooks about a possible bill, as we don’t know when someone is going to tell us.”

While a spokesman for the authority refused to comment on costs and who will pay for the repairs, he said: “By law the council is responsible for the highway to a depth of two spade depths. Responsibility for the subsoil lies with the landowner.

“We are working closely with residents’ insurance companies and loss adjustors to work out who is responsible for the cost of remediation of the subsoil.”

• David is keen to make contact with people familiar with Fontmell and Bridle Closes in the 1950s/60s who can describe the previous terrain, and the-then ownership of the site prior to the building of the two roads in the early 1970s. If you can assist David, please email him on david.walker3@btinternet.com

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