Owner faces months away from collapsing Norwich house

A Norwich man evacuated from his house after it started to collapse over Christmas has said he does not expect to be able to return home for months.

Neil Harrison, 53, had to leave his end terrace house in Finkelgate after large cracks begain to appear on Christmas Eve.

The occupants of neighbouring homes have also been evacuated and the street, which links Queens Road with Ber Street, is expected to remain closed for at least a week because of subsidence.

Mr Harrison said the problems began when he returned to his house, next to the entrance to Notre Dame High School, at about 11am on Christmas Eve.

He said: 'I could not open the door because it was jammed at the top. I eventually got it open and closed it, but about an hour later, it was jammed again. Another hour later and I noticed a crack inside the house on the wall near the front door and going up to the middle of the room.

'I went outside and the wall was coming away. It was dangerous.'

Mr Harrison, who lives alone and is unmarried, called Norwich City Council and was advised to ring his insurance company, which then correctly told him to ring Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

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He said: 'About 20 minutes later the road was abuzz with trucks and fire engines.'

The fire service shored up the building to reduce the risk of further movement and collapse and Mr Harrison, who owns the house and has lived there nearly a quarter of a century, was advised to find alternative accommodation.

He said: 'I should have packed some clothes, as I've had nothing to wear since.

'I also left my Christmas presents and my bicycle in the house – the one I cycle to work on. 'I'm alive. It's too dangerous to go back in there to collect anything; any vibration could set the thing off. Nobody's going to risk their life for stuff, and I wouldn't want them to.'

Mr Harrison, who works in Wymondham for document processing company Williams Lea, went to say with his sister Susan in Bergh Apton, near Norwich, over Christmas but has since moved in to bed and breakfast accommodation in the city.

'I don't know what's going to happen to the house - whether they will let it collapse and then rebuild it, or something else.

'I'm not going to be able to move back in for months.'

The house was still standing yesterday and an investigation is being carried out by highway and structural engineers as to the cause of the subsidence.

Finkelgate remains closed to traffic and cordoned off and Norfolk County Council spokesman John Birchall said the safekeeping of the property had been handed over to the city council.

Following the incident, other terraced homes in Finkelgate had to be evacuated.

The subsidence also caused a depression and cracks in the road surface and pavement. The street was cordoned off and closed to traffic.

At lunchtime on Christmas Day the fire service responded to a further call and found that the condition of the property had deteriorated, along with signs of subsidence in Finkelgate itself.

Norfolk police advised immediate neighbours that they should evacuate their homes.

Helen Walker, 24, and Toby Hockley, 26, rent their house in Finkelgate from Miss Walker's parents, who own it, and are now staying with them in Frettenham, near Norwich.

Miss Walker, who works at John Lewis in Norwich, said: 'On Christmas Eve we got a knock at our door about 7.30pm and firemen were telling us we should leave because the house at the end of our row was subsiding and they had already blocked the road off with equipment so that they could shore it up. We stayed the night with friends just around the corner.

'The next day (Christmas Day) we went back to the house but were later told by police that the subsidence was getting worse and the pavement and road had dipped considerably.

'They think it might be a ventilation shaft for an old chalk mine.'

National Grid engineers have been visiting the scene daily to monitor any possible gas leaks, and Anglian Water has also been on scene.

Kevin Love, managing director of CNC Building Control, on behalf of Norwich City Council, said:

'The end terrace has significant cracking and this is being monitored very closely. The fire and rescue service has put in timber shoring and the occupiers of two other properties have been moved out as a precaution.

'They will not be able to enter their homes until we have assessed how the cracking has affected these properties and we are satisified they have been made safe. Finkelgate is likely to remain closed for at least a week due to the subsidence in the road and footpath.

'We will be meeting our engineer on Wednesday to see how things are progressing. It is too soon at this stage to identify the cause of the subsidence and this will be the subject of an investigation once the properties have been stabilised.'

The incident is the latest in a long line of subsidence problems in the city, some of which have been caused by old chalk workings.

Records show that in 1937 a house in the Ber Street area began to sink and occupants of neighbouring houses were not able to shut doors and windows.

Cracks were reported in walls and pavements and 21 families had to find alternative accommodation.

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