Divers check safety of homes
Last updated at 09:07, Monday, 10 September 2012
DIVERS have been brought in to check whether homes are safe on the terrace where a house collapsed into the River Ehen at Egremont.
The Environment Agency diving team has been inspecting the foundations of all the Vale View houses to make sure there is no danger of another collapse.
The river level has dropped so low since Mill House collapsed that the foundations have been exposed. And at an emergency meeting of Egremont’s Flood Action Group, Vale View residents voiced concerns that their homes could be at risk unless repairs are carried out to the fractured weir which – combined with torrential rain – caused the collapse.
Locals blamed the Environment Agency for not acting sooner after being warned of the problem before the end of June.
Copeland ward councillor Mike McVeigh told Monday night’s meeting: “The Environment Agency were well aware of it and they haven’t done anything about it.”
He warned that unless the hole in the weir was plugged “there is a distinct possibility” that the busy Vale Road in and out of Egremont town centre could go as well.
Vince McShane, who lives next to the now-demolished Mill House, was away from home when it collapsed. He said: “It’s scary... like living on a cliff edge. I haven’t slept since I came home.”
The Environment Agency told The Whitehaven News it had done all it could in difficult circumstances. Jointly with Copeland Council it was striving to solve the weir problem as well as protecting the residents.
Jeremy Westgarth, the agency’s environment manager for Cumbria, said: “We don’t know who owns the weir but we’re working with Copeland to see what needs to be done.
“Protecting adjacent properties and along that stretch of the river is important. To find the right solution we need surveys done to find more about the structure of the properties upstream, including another dive survey.
“As a temporary fix, we’re putting some sandstone blocks into the river to divert the water flow away from the properties at greatest risk. It’s the best we can do short term, to give everybody some breathing space.”
Pat Graham, Copeland council’s director for people and places, said: “We are doing everything we can as quickly as we can. We want the community to feel supported... and that we can get a solution to the problem but it’s not an overnight solution.
“Neither the Environment Agency nor the council has any legal responsibility, we are here to support our residents who are going through a hard time, making sure the weir doesn’t cause any further damage and we protect people. Whatever the technical solution, it has to be the best one. It is too early to make any calls about what that is, how much it costs and who pays.
“The first thing we, and the residents, want to know ‘is there any other immediate risk?’”
Demolition of Mill House was done under the council’s dangerous structures emergency powers. Ms Graham added: “Insurers of Mill House will pick up the cost of that.”
The council and the agency are paying for the temporary weir fix.
Answering residents’ criticism that the Environment Agency, despite being first alerted to weir damage in June, failed to act, Mr Westgarth said: “We did get a report in June, we had officers out the next day to start assessing what that damage was and to start thinking about how we could support that community going forward in terms of any potential flood risk... but river levels prevented us getting our dive teams in.”
Divers did go in the week before the catastrophe. Mr Westgarth said: “We had a dive survey carried out on August 23, and received a report on the Tuesday after the property had been flooded. There was concern raised about the state of the weir and the properties. We had very little time around that, but we wanted to help and support the community about what was going and collect information about any potential risk. It was at an early stage to tell exactly how much damage was done to the weir. Unfortunately we had the heavy rain over that weekend and tragically for the people who own the property (Mill House) it was washed away early on the Tuesday morning.”
At the Flood Action group meeting, one resident said: “If the weir goes completely every single house on Vale View is under threat.”
Fears that costs could run into millions of pounds if houses have to be under-pinned were expressed. Residents were advised to keep checking for any structural damage.
Builder Vince McShane said: “The Environment Agency knew what was going to happen, they've done nothing about it. There is a duty of care here. Whether they own the weir or not they should have done something. A temporary simple fix would have stopped this happening. They have known about it since the June 26.
“The thing is it’s not just the Vale View properties, it’s also the highway outside – this is the main exit out of Egremont town centre.”
Anyone affected by flooding in the Egremont area can contact the Flood Action Group, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vale View residents will meet Environment Agency and council officers in Egremont Market Hall tonight at 7pm.
First published at 11:05, Thursday, 06 September 2012
Published by http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk
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I feel bad about mil house spent alot of time their when my father worked their as the miller about 60 years ago
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