Value of Belfast house plummets by 40% as Japanese knotweed invades property
A Belfast couple whose home is under siege from a fast-spreading 'Asbo plant' have discovered it has wiped 40% off the value of their home.
Experts say the infestation of Japanese knotweed spreading from wasteland next to Liz and Adrian Atkinson's garden is one of the worst cases ever seen in Northern Ireland.
The couple have spent hundreds of pounds trying to eradicate the pernicious weed, which is capable of growing to eight feet or more in a single season and causing serious structural damage to buildings. It has been listed as one of the top 10 most unwanted species in Ireland.
Adrian Atkinson says they bought the house at Jellicoe Parade 18 years ago because of its beautiful views. The house sat at the edge of a steep bracken-covered hillside frequented by local children.
Now it is an impenetrable jungle of knotweed - and no-one knows who the land belongs to. It's accepted that the ground belongs to a public body, but which one remains a mystery.
Adrian says the only person who has tried to help is local MP Nigel Dodds. "We've written to the Housing Executive and they said it belonged to the council, we wrote to the council and they said it didn't. It's been batted back and forward over the last few years," he said.
It was only three or four years ago, after watching a TV programme, that they realised what the towering shrubs pressing up against their back fence were.
"It was right along the whole side of the fence," Adrian said.
Liz said the plant began invading the garden itself over the last couple of years, sending up shoots two metres tall on their side of the fence and even pushing through a concrete step.
They tried to tackle it with a weedkiller, but found it was too weak to complete the job. "We were probably doing more harm than good. It's not strong enough - it just pushes the growth down," she said.
Now the couple have turned to Knotweed NI, which is using a specific treatment twice a year.
"It's like holding back the tide - we're never going to clear it because the whole lot needs treatment," Liz said.
Last week, they received a shock when an estate agent told them that the presence of Japanese knotweed within seven metres of their house has wiped 40% off its value. Adrian, who is disabled, knows he will eventually need to move into a more suitable bungalow. But the couple can't sell their home and don't know where to turn.
"On the UK mainland, once the owner of the land is identified they can be taken to court and served with an Asbo (Anti-social Behaviour Order). In Northern Ireland we have no legal protection whatsoever and even if we found the owner we would have to take civil action," Liz said.
Adrian added: "We are trying to stay positive but when you get passed around like pass the parcel it gets to the point where you have to say, 'no, we want something done'. This house is our daughter's inheritance."
Knotweed NI marketing consultant, Mark Johnston, said surveyors are working to new guidelines and have to notify a mortgage lender if Japanese knotweed is found within 7m of a house.
"That piece of wasteland is probably the biggest bit of Japanese knotweed that we've seen and we've been doing this for a long time. It's so well established that it will take a lot of work to get rid of it," he said.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment (DoE) said: "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."
The DoE's Alien Invasive Species Team advises homeowners to contact the Property Care Association for guidance for dealing with Japanese knotweed in residential settings, even if the infestation is not on their own land.