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Neighbours angry at 'I wouldn't want to live there' remark as council agrees £9m hospital revamp

PUBLISHED: 14:48 14 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:53 14 February 2019

People living in Merton Road fear work on the hospital site could cause subsidence. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

People living in Merton Road fear work on the hospital site could cause subsidence. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Furious neighbours slammed a planning chairman who backed a £9m hospital revamp they fear could trigger subsidence under their homes - seconds after he said he would not want to live in their street.

An illustrative view looking north from Bowthorpe Road towards the proposed new hospital. Photo: GL HearnAn illustrative view looking north from Bowthorpe Road towards the proposed new hospital. Photo: GL Hearn

The principle of the revamp of the Norwich Community Hospital site, in Bowthorpe Road, was agreed when Norwich City Council’s planning committee voted 10 votes to one in favour of granting planning permission.

Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust wants to knock down some existing buildings and build a new hospital, alongside a new care home, care units and worker accommodation. The Mulberry Unit and Woodlands House would be retained.

But people living in neighbouring Merton Road and Holly Drive told the committee they feared work, particularly on the current hospital car park near their homes, could cause subsidence and water contamination.

City Hall officers had said the area used to be a chalk extraction pit and numerous tunnels, some unmapped, lead away from there into neighbouring roads.

Norwich Community Hospital in Bowthorpe Road. 
PHOTO: Nick ButcherNorwich Community Hospital in Bowthorpe Road. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

In 1936 an 80ft-deep sinkhole swallowed three homes on Merton Road, claiming the lives of Thomas Hall and his wife.

Officers said it seemed that collapse was triggered because water, which firefighters used to put out a blaze, had caused material in the tunnels to move.

Eight years before that, there was a major collapse in Merton Road, while ground collapses were recorded in or close to Holly Drive in 1987 and 2009.

Nick Brooks, who has lived in Merton Road for 18 years, said he welcomed the redevelopment, but had major concerns over construction on the current car park.

Keith Driver, chairman of Norwich City Council's planning committee. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYKeith Driver, chairman of Norwich City Council's planning committee. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

He told councillors he feared it could trigger subsidence and could lead to water supplies becoming contaminated, due to material which was used years ago to backfill the extraction pit.

He said: “Construction over the car park runs a real risk of contaminating the aquifer and to subsidence, which will put people at risk, including at least 16 children living in Merton Road.”

Joanne Clarke told the committee her own home in Merton Road is underpinned by 18 metres of piling to ensure it does not fall into the void below.

She said: “Lives have already been lost. People and their homes will be at risk of building work disturbs the underground features.”

Work is done following subsidence behind houses on Merton Road in 1936. Pic: Archant Library.Work is done following subsidence behind houses on Merton Road in 1936. Pic: Archant Library.

The committee agreed to grant the outline permission, but with a string of conditions.

One of those conditions means that the trust must conduct full geotechnical surveys ahead of construction.

And officers said the results of those surveys could yet rule out some of the buildings the trust had originally planned, if it shows construction would be dangerous.

Further detail of what work is planned is likely to have to come back to the committee in the future.

Paul Cracknell, the trust’s deputy chief executive, said he understood the concerns of neighbours.

He told the committee: “I can reassure you and the neighbours that no development is going to take place until further investigative works have been undertaken to establish if new buildings are viable or, indeed, feasible.”

Green city councillor David Raby voted against the proposals.

He said: “I think the concerns are so serious that I cannot approve it.”

But the other councillors did, including Labour committee chairman Keith Driver. Just before he voted for it, Mr Driver said: “I wouldn’t want tunnels under my house. I wouldn’t want to live in Merton Road.”

That drew gasps from the neighbours who had raised concerns and after the meeting, Mr Brooks criticised Mr Driver’s remark.

He said: “We have presented lots of evidence of our concerns and then the committee chairman says he’s going to give permission, but he wouldn’t want to live there. That’s really upset us.”

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