Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Elderly care facility residents evacuated and homeowners forced to flee after a huge mountain of soil bursts through retaining wall

Families who were forced to leave their homes after a landslide have spoken of their fury.

Pensioners aged into their mid-90s were also uprooted after the landslip threatened a care home below the housing development.

On Monday more than 2,000 tonnes of soil fell away from a retaining wall at the rear of Barban Hill Terrace in Dromore, Co Down – just 12 feet from resident Mark Feeney's back door.

Occupiers received an email 48 hours later advising them to evacuate their properties "as soon as possible".

Manager of Skeagh House care home Iris Cromie had to secure alternative accommodation for residents and gather their medication and belongings within hours on Wednesday.

"On a personal level, you feel vexed at the upset and upheaval," she said.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said the frail pensioners – who include respite patients – now face weeks of limbo.

Nearly all of the eight residents of the Barban Hill Terrace development were busy moving boxes from their homes on Thursday morning to move into nearby hotels.

One couple who are refusing to leave claimed sub-contractors were carrying air horns used at football matches which they would use to alert them to any imminent risk to the houses.

"I really do not want to go," the young woman doctor, who had just finished a night shift, said.

"Do you come back to a house that is falling down?

"On Tuesday it was an issue with the ground," she added. "We were told: 'I can assure you, your house is fine'. Yesterday I had come off nights and I heard a rattle through the letterbox and we got this letter saying we had to evacuate."

Hours after the landslip, WJ Law, the company which owns the site, wrote to residents advising them that temporary measures had been taken to secure the area following "some ground movement".

Within 48 hours residents received another email and letter from the company – Northern Ireland's oldest house building company – urging them to find alternative accommodation.

An attached email, sent by consultancy firm Geoman Ltd at 4am on Wednesday, warned WJ Law of a "realistic chance the houses could collapse, possibly without warning" because of the "rapid progression of the slip".

Mr Feeney will spend the coming days in a hotel in Templepatrick with his wife, baby son and daughter. "It's unnerving and it's just not nice," he said.

"I do not think some of the families have insurance. I think they are in a really terrible situation, but no one cares."

Residents claim WJ Law did not contact residents in person on Wednesday. This is disputed by the company's co-owner, David Law.

He said the landslip happened on land beyond its site.

"I have got strong evidence to corroborate that there's a landslip well beyond ground that we ever owned, that caused the higher part of the land here to slide," Mr Law (44) told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday.

He described the risk of the houses moving as "minimal", adding that the company will "probably never know" what caused the landslip.

"We do not know if it's our problem at all," he said. "This is a wider problem that I have taken upon myself to manage."

Asked if he was concerned that the incident could damage the company's reputation, he added: "Of course I'm concerned. This is my livelihood."

A spokesman for the DoE said permission for building on the site had been dealt with by the Planning Appeals Commission.

"PAC decided to approve after applicant decided to have the matter heard by PAC.

"The planning approval was not the decision of Planning Service nor was it the recommendation of Planning Service.

"The minister has asked that the planning file is retrieved from storage, an inspection of the site conducted and a report provided."

'I don't know when we'll be allowed back. It could be months'

By Claire Graham

Shivering on the hilly suburbs of Dromore, looking onto Barban Hill Terrace, the houses look like any other modern new build.

The red brick row is only five years old. The well manicured lawns, double glazing and clean lines are a first-time buyer's dream. You can almost see the first rung of the property ladder propped against the doorbell.

Except the eight red brick, picturesque family homes have been surrounded by builders in their hi-vis jackets. They are working to stop the dwellings falling to their fate.

Watching your family home possibly slip away from under your feet is not something Mark Feeney ever envisioned. He's a 35-year-old consultant who has been told to immediately evacuate with his wife and their two young children.

A large steel fence has been erected 12ft from the back of the house, a barricade against a landslide which has led to 2,000 tonnes of soil falling.

Children's toys scattered on the table, the high-chair ready for family meals, have all been abandoned because the building is simply inhabitable.

"I don't know when we will be allowed to live here again. It could be weeks, it could be months.

"Who's going to buy this house now? No one will buy it. The whole thing is crazy." he said.

Down below, the outline of Skeagh House is visible, a Southern Health and Social Care Trust residential care home.

The elderly home, which normally houses 17 residents and 28 staff, is now deserted.

Big plump cushioned armchairs sit empty, the carpeted hallways usually walked by the 70-year-old-plus residency are lifeless.

They were evacuated at short notice late Tuesday afternoon because of the threat of the landslide from above.

Extra staff were brought in to travel with the elderly to five different residential homes so they had someone familiar with them, easing the upset to their routine.

It is not known how long the elderly will be away from their own beds, friends and staff.