A terrifying landslide has blighted a sleepy, picturesque rural housing development — and no-one in authority appears willing to take responsibility for it.
On January 16 this year, an old wall behind houses in Linen Fields just outside Banbridge collapsed, bringing around 80 tonnes of rubble cascading down into the cul-de-sac below.
Luckily, no-one was injured, but one car was damaged beyond repair and a couple had their patio area, garden and fences destroyed.
And now, over four months later, the aftermath of the mini-avalanche is there for all to see — at best an eyesore, at worst a continuing source of danger.
Yet the residents affected by the so-called ‘Linen Fields landslide’ remain in the dark as to who is responsible for the incident.
And four homes in an estate behind the new development now have their gardens backing onto a menacing 15-foot drop.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Tanya Martin said she and her husband Tony — the homeowners most affected by the landslide — have been living in fear since the wall collapsed, destroying their back garden.
“Around 10.30pm on the Saturday in question, we heard an almighty noise,” Mrs Martin said.
“It sounded like an earthquake or a bomb going off and, to be honest, we were terrified as it was pitch black outside.
“When we realised what had actually happened we called the police and contacted the authorities immediately, but virtually nothing has been done about it since.
“Part of the old mill wall is still standing but the cracks on it are getting bigger by the day. If that falls too it could damage our house considerably — not to mention possibly kill someone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Mrs Martin, a solicitor who works for the Law Society, purchased her property off plan in 2005 and was aware that part of the development would include the original mill wall.
However, the 33-year-old said she understood one of the planning conditions stipulated that a retaining wall be built in front of the old structure which was first erected over a century ago.
Mr Martin (34), who is a structural engineer, said they would never have bought their house had they known this fundamental work would not be done. “If the retaining wall had been built as stipulated, then this whole mess could have been avoided,” he said.
“The old wall was — and remains — a danger.”
The Martins have since contacted the Department of Regional Development, the Department of the Environment, Banbridge Council, the builder and the man whose land Linen Fields is built on — to no avail.
“We’re completely enveloped by this eyesore, through no fault of our own, and no-one will help us rectify the situation,” Ms Martin said.
A council spokeswoman said: “The building control officer who investigated this case inspected the site and concluded that it is a civil matter between the property owner and the developer. Section 75 of the Town Improvement Act 1854 is the only legislation that the council can use in relation to preventing the public from coming into contact with the debris left by the collapse of the retaining wall.
“Through this legislation, the council requested that the area be made safe and the developer took prompt action to do this. I am sorry but the council doesn’t have the powers to assist the property owner beyond this.”
A Roads Service spokeswoman said: “Roads Service has been actively pursuing the builder to complete the outstanding work and has been in regular contact with the builder.
“Although the boundary retaining wall which collapsed is not Roads Service responsibility, Roads Service has agreed with the builder/developer that a wall should be built along the footpath to protect the road and road users.”
A spokeswoman from the Department of the Environment said: “Planning Service can confirm it is investigating a complaint of a wall collapsing in the Lenaderg area of Banbridge.”
Slievenaman Developments Ltd
The builder, Kieran O’Hare, said: “This has absolutely nothing to do with us. We built the houses for Pilgrim Developments. That wall was always there. We never touched it. If it had been our wall, the issue would have been resolved a long time ago. We flagged the old wall up to the developer, but we were told there was no money to build a new one.”
The owner/developer, Derek Harrison, said: “Everyone is working flat out to get the problem resolved. It’s just the time factor. The engineers have designed a wall, now it’s government approval we need, but I don’t know how long that will take. The question of who is to blame is complicated — is it the builder, is it me the developer, or is it the person who dug foundations above the development at an earlier date? I’d say we’re all responsible. I’m not walking away from it. We’ll get the wall built.”