The landlord of homes that are now above a huge sinkhole that appeared on Saturday morning has defended the decision to build them on a former clay pit.
Hightown Praetorian & Churches Housing Association built the modern estate in Oatridge Gardens in 2008 after planning permission was granted by Dacorum Borough Council.
But it has since emerged that the site, off Wood Lane End, Hemel Hempstead, was previously home to a brickworks that used clay pits and possibly chalk mines.
Many are speculating that the ground was not stable enough to build homes on and that heavy rain may have caused subsidence that led to the sinkhole.
But Hightown spokesman Emma Crump said: “We do not know why the sinkhole happened. We have got all sorts of experts on the site at the moment – including the UK expert on sinkholes.
“When building the homes there, we involved structural engineers and all the experts you would expect to be involved in such a development.
“We took all the precautions that are necessary and I am sure it’s not the only home in the country that was previously used for an industrial or extraction process.”
Seventeen properties were evacuated just after the sinkhole appeared – five people have now been allowed back into their homes, but 12 properties remain empty.
People who share ownership of Oatridge Gardens properties with Hightown have complained that the housing association is ignoring their calls about when they will be allowed to collect their belongings.
Evacuees who have nowhere else to say are being housed in a hotel.
Emma Crump said Hightown, builders of the homes the Jarvis Group and Affinity Water have been exploring subsidence issues on the estate in recent weeks.
She said they are exploring the possibility that the problems may have been caused by a water leak.
She added: “There have been sinkholes all over the place. I think we are particularly unlucky in that we have had one in Hemel.”
She said she could not say how many other Hightown properties had been built on top of former clay pits.
Homes had to be evacuated in Croxley Green, near Rickmansworth, yesterday after a 20-foot-deep sinkhole appeared in a cul-de-sac.
‘WE USED TO PLAY IN CLAY PITS HOMES WERE BUILT ON – AND THERE WERE CHALK MINES THERE’
A life-long Hemel Hempstead householder has fuelled speculation that the sinkhole near his home may have been caused by building on former clay pits and chalk mines.
Noel Swinford, 78, said they lined Wood Lane End between its junction with Briery Way, where he now lives, and Maylands Avenue. He said he used to play in them as a child.
He said: “There must have been 50 or 60 of them holes along that road and them houses should never have been built there.
“There were also big mines underneath there, where they mined the chalk.
“I have lived here all my life, for 79 years nearly, and used to play in that area when I was a kid. I remember seeing trucks of chalk being taken out of the mines – that would have been in the late 1940s.
“It was not an operational brickworks then – it was just used for taking out chalk.”
Hightown Praetorian & Churches Housing Association has now issued a statement about the sinkhole, which says that 12 homes in Oatridge Gardens are still uninhabitable.
The statement says: “The 48 homes in Oatridge Gardens in Hemel Hempstead were built for Hightown by Jarvis Group in 2008.
“The site was thoroughly investigated prior to designing the estate, and the piled foundations were designed by a structural engineer taking into account the geo-technical reports.
“The development has 24 two-bedroom apartments and 24 two, three and four-bedroom houses. Twelve houses are rented and 36 homes have been sold through shared ownership.
“In recent weeks we have been working with Jarvis Group and Affinity Water to investigate a potential water leak which had caused damage to the porch of one of the houses.
“We had no indication that there were any issues elsewhere on the estate until Saturday morning.
“Hightown is working closely with all parties and our insurers (who are involving a leading expert in sinkholes) to make the area safe and to understand the cause of the sinkhole.
“The gas supply to the estate was turned off on Saturday.
“Hightown arranged that day for hotel accommodation for households who did not have friends and families to stay with over the weekend, and continue to do so.
“Twelve of the properties most affected by the sinkhole cannot be occupied at this time. The remaining properties have no gas supply but have electricity and other services. Some of the residents of these properties have remained on the estate.
“The situation is changing all of the time and we are communicating directly with residents to keep them updated and to facilitate their short and medium term housing needs.
“We are very grateful to the residents and Dacorum Borough Council for their support and understanding in this situation.”