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Couple slam DoE advice on knotweed after Belfast house value plunges 40%

By Linda Stewart

Published 04/03/2016

Liz and Adrian Atkinson at their home in north Belfast, which is being overrun by Japanese knotweed
Liz and Adrian Atkinson at their home in north Belfast, which is being overrun by Japanese knotweed
Japanese knotweed

A Belfast couple who have lost 40% of the value of their home because of an invasion of Japanese knotweed have accused the Department of the Environment (DoE) of misleading politicians.

Liz and Adrian Atkinson, from the north of the city, have spent hundreds of pounds trying to eradicate the weed, which is capable of growing to eight feet or more in a single season and can cause serious structural damage.

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The plant, listed as one of the top 10 most unwanted species in Ireland, has been invading their garden from unregistered wasteground next to Jellicoe Parade, and they have been advised by an estate agent that its presence within seven metres of the house has wiped 40% off its value.

Read more: Japanese knotweed: Everything you need to know about the 'Asbo' plant

Now, facing another growing season, they say they feel insulted after DoE officials told Stormont's environment committee that the Atkinsons could tackle the infestation themselves for less than £100 by using an off-the-shelf treatment. Their case has been described by experts as one of the worst seen here.

Every summer the neighbouring wasteland turns into an impenetrable jungle, and over the past couple of years it has invaded the garden, sending up shoots two metres tall, and even pushing through a concrete step.

"The ground in question is now a public nuisance and is causing great distress and anxiety, and properties are devalued," Liz Atkinson said.

"As the person who raised this issue with the committee, and as a homeowner directly affected by Japanese knotweed growing on wasteground adjacent to our property, I am horrified at the presentation made by representatives from DoE.

"Not only were the facts not given fully, but the committee have been totally misled."

Mrs Atkinson said she was left speechless when the DoE representative said the Atkinsons could treat the wasteland infestation themselves for less than £100 by using Round Up, bought off the shelf. "He also said that it could be treated in two to three years," she added. "This is a disgraceful comment to make and totally misleading and untrue.

"Product bought off the shelf will not kill Japanese knotweed, especially the extent that it is growing on the wasteground in question in north Belfast. It needs specialist treatment and will take a treatment plan of seven-10 years.

"He also advised that we could treat seven or eight metres into the wasteground. Again, this is displaying a huge lack of knowledge into Japanese knotweed as just partially treating the knotweed will encourage it to grow again. It will not kill it and it will continue to grow until the whole area is treated.

"It is ludicrous and stupid for him to suggest we treat it ourselves for less than £100. He said that they sometimes visit to view problems for themselves. That has not happened in our situation, even though they have been advised the situation in north Belfast is one of the worst identified in Northern Ireland.

"Despite several invitations to come and visit and have a look at the problem, no one has come to visit us from the department."

Mrs Atkinson said she was disillusioned, distressed and had lost all faith.

"In the situation in north Belfast, Japanese knotweed growing wild on unregistered wasteground is causing a huge public nuisance, mental distress and anxiety and is a fire hazard," she added.

"The DoE also recommended to the committee that they stick with the status quo position of no change in terms of how Japanese knotweed is controlled or managed."

The DoE issued a statement refuting the suggestion that officials misled the committee.

It said: Officials presented an analysis of the current position on Japanese knotweed. Officials explained to the committee how someone could control the species themselves and provided an indication of what herbicide you would use, the cost and the likely coverage. The information provided is consistent with advice available from the Property Care Association.

"The minister and the department has no legal powers here. They cannot force a landowner to undertake control of Japanese knotweed on their land. The decision and responsibility to undertake control lies solely with the landowner.

"At the request of Nigel Dodds MP, a site meeting was held in July 2015 at the property. Mike Meharg, of the natural environment division of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, attended with representatives from Belfast City Council and the Housing Executive. The residents were on holiday at the time."

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