Council tax refund for sinkhole victims as ground probe finds no further risk

The Hemel Hempstead sinkhole. Courtesy of SKM Studio - Airscape Division:
The Hemel Hempstead sinkhole. Courtesy of SKM Studio - Airscape Division:

A specialist ground investigation at the site of the Hemel Hempstead sinkhole has found no evidence that a similar event might occur elsewhere on the estate.

The findings of the report from a leading geotechnical expert come as Dacorum Borough Council agreed a full council tax refund for residents of Oatridge Gardens for the time they have been affected by the disaster, which occurred in February.

Most of the homes are in council tax band C with some in band E, so it is estimated that the conciliatory offer will cost the borough council in the region of £17,700.

The 100% tax refund will cover the period from the day the sinkhole appeared to the time all utilities are restored to each of the 48 homes affected.

Of these, 10 properties were considered unsafe for people to live in, and to date there is still no gas supply to any property in the road. An additional six households remain without electricity.

In the meantime, findings of the ground probe report will be issued to residents and stakeholders by housing association Hightown Praetorian and Churches.

According to the company, the results conclude the sinkhole was triggered by the exceptionally wet weather in the autumn/winter period of 2013/14, and that there is no evidence that a similar event might occur elsewhere on the estate.

Hightown’s chief executive David Bogle said: “We are pleased to be able to provide this expert report for shared owners and residents today and hope that they will be reassured by the findings.

“The works to stabilise the ground in the vicinity of the sinkhole and at the entrance to the estate are reaching an end and we hope that the gas supply to the estate can soon be restored.

“Our top priority has always been the safety and well being of the residents and we have concentrated since the beginning on getting the estate back to normal as soon as possible.

“Already 16 households are living on the estate and we are hopeful that those living with friends and families and the 10 households still in hotels will be able to return shortly, and we are working with them to find more suitable accommodation if they want it. There are 13 households currently in private rented accommodation organised by the insurer’s loss adjuster and four households are living in other Hightown properties.

“The appearance of the sinkhole in February has been a major and unprecedented challenge for Hightown. It’s been a difficult experience for all the residents affected and we are tremendously grateful for their patience and cooperation while we continue to work towards getting people back in their homes.”

The council tax discount does not apply to any untenanted homes in the estate and Hightown remain liable to pay for the council tax on these properties.

Council leader Andrew Williams said: “This is the right thing for us to do in the circumstances and I think it is wholly appropriate to give our support financially to those affected by the sinkhole.”