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200219 | Campaigners gather at Truro magistrates court for council tax protest as 14-year row on Hayle water pipe takes new twis



Campaigners gather at Truro magistrates court for council tax protest as 14-year row over Hayle water pipe takes a new twist

Posted By theboss on 19th February 2020

By Graham Smith

Dozens of protestors joined Hayle resident Mel Sheridan outside Truro magistrates this afternoon (Wednesday) as she sought to use an unpaid Cornwall Council tax bill to further her 14 year campaign for compensation following damage to her home caused by a Victorian-era water pipe.

Ms Sheridan has been in dispute with the council, and South West Water, ever since her end-of-terrace home starting sinking into the ground in 2006.

Ms Sheridan has been refusing to pay council tax for several years in protest. She says that County Hall recently “wrote off” her unpaid bills, totalling several thousand pounds. Instead, she says, the council gave her a new account number and tried to start again.

“I’m not paying it,” she said. “I want my day in court and I’m determined to have my say.”

There was no obvious cause to the subsidence in 2006, and Ms Sheridan knew that there was no record of mine workings in the area. She told Cornwall Council and South West Water. Nothing happened.

Twelve months later, the subsidence was turning into a small pond. Ms Sheridan again called the council, and – suspecting a burst pipe - again told South West Water. Again, nothing happened.

A further 12 months passed before Ms Sheridan noticed a slight crack in the wall of her house, immediately next to where the road was continuing to sink.

In January 2009, South West Water began a programme of works which included “re-sleeving” some of the old cast iron supply pipes which zig-zag beneath the surface of Hayle, and which were once part of the town’s mighty industrial heritage.

It is not clear if SWW, or its sub-contractors, knew which supply pipes they were supposed to repair, which were historic sewage or drainage pipes, and which were simply obsolete. It would have taken a detailed, meticulous and exhaustive research programme, delving deep into the archives, to be certain. Over the past 10 years, SWW has never suggested to Ms Sheridan that it did actually undertake such a research programme.

What is known is that in the 1980s, as part of a flood alleviation programme, SWW did investigate the route of some of the historic culverts and produced its own set of maps which – had they been studied in 2009 – might have alerted the company to some of the issues ahead.

At some point between January and March 2009, a SWW “pipe-bursting” exercise, a pre-requisite to re-sleeving, completely smashed the pipe outside Ms Sheridan’s home, where the road had already been sinking. It was a further three years before this damage to the pipe was recognised.

In July 2009, Cormac arrived on site to consider repairs to the highway but was unable to trace source of water. Cormac nevertheless attempted a temporary fix with a granular fill.

Over the next three years the house was chronically falling apart. There was further subsidence to the road and renewed pooling of water. Throughout the period 2009-2012 Ms Sheridan contacted SWW and urged them to investigate properly, suggesting the use of a subterranean camera.

SWW told Ms Sheridan they believed any old water course was probably a culvert underneath her home, and therefore it was her responsibility.

On 16th April 2012, SWW, Cormac and the Environment Agency all turned up, with a suction pump, intending to clear all of the water from the hole in the road. This operation not only found the old cast-iron pipe, it snapped it – in the highway. Tests established that the water flowing through this pipe was not chlorinated and that its source was probably an historic supply.

The complexity of the issue was compounded by the fact that only a few yards away there are separate surface water storm drains and sewage pipes.


  On 25th April 2012 the pipe was fixed with new joints and a sleeve. The hole in the road was left open and a lintel was put in to stop Ms Sheridan’s house falling into it, and to protect the pipe. On 21st May, Cormac again resurfaced the road, and everyone went home thinking the job was finally done. But three days later, there was more water. SWW contractors May Gurney immediately identified an open sewer, previously – apparently - not noticed.

By this time the various agencies, and the house insurers, had all started to squabble about liability. Ms Sheridan also decided that enough was enough, and stopped paying her water and council tax bills. It had finally dawned on everyone that the issues involved in identifying exactly what is buried underneath the surface in Hayle could be extremely expensive.

By 2013, the house needed underpinning. The saga of the continuing roadworks started to attract interest from local media.

“It’s not just my house which is at risk,” said Ms Sheridan. “The authorities know this. They know that underneath the streets of Hayle, there is a vast complex of heritage industrial infrastructure – and they are terrified of what they will find if they do a proper investigation.”

There seems little doubt that County Hall knows more about the issues than it has been prepared to admit publicly. Cornwall Council has been approached for comment. Today’s court hearing is continuing.



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