Who IS looking after Hunstanton and its residents?
A Hunstanton woman in her seventies says she’s exhausted and frightened as her house is shaking as a result of the drilling and piling work on the Southend Road development site.
In her own words Alison Smith describes what’s been happening since work began on Wednesday 10th August…
Who IS looking after Hunstanton
This is a genuine question. Last week has taught me a lot about local government as on Wednesday work on the new Southend Road development started and its not been a great experience so far.
After a full day Wednesday 10 August of listening to drilling and piling work I felt like a wreck. I was surprised the house was seemingly untouched. Vibration, singing radiators and a shaking garden had left me exhausted. My visitors had gone home as the garden was so noisy - my two elderly Labradors were throwing up, and I felt like joining them. By lunchtime I was exhausted and I ran to my cousins house - she lives over the road - in tears asking that she come in to look at the house, frightened something was going to fall down. She came - and experienced the bouncy floorboards, the awful drilling noise amplified by our concrete kitchen floor and the shaking. My husband and I are still working at 70 not retired - and on his return from work he explained all about rock formations and something called harmonics which he believed had been set up inside the house. I had taken videos of my chattering radiators and sent them to the Town Clerk that morning - she distributed them to all councillors by lunchtime that day including those with responsibilities for Hunstanton. I asked, and she asked for a Councillor to call me and visit to experience what I was going through. No response.
Thursday’s drilling started promptly at 8.30am and on going into the garden I discovered the metal patio furniture was chattering on the concrete slabs. Another email to the Town Clerk. Another plea for help. Unknown to me my husband had contacted Lovells in Norwich and by pure persuasion had extracted the phone number of the Site Manager who responded to say he had been in a meeting all morning to discuss the site - the piles to support the road had been substituted for longer ones and he was unaware of the vibration problem. He was not aware that the whole of Avenue Road was experiencing the same problem - not just me.
Neighbouring Park Road was similarly affected with shaking and pressure. When I asked why my house had not received a circular saying when the work was to start his response was they had only leafleted those houses he thought would be affected by the drilling.
Courtesy visits followed on Thursday afternoon from 2 members of the Borough Council building team who inspected the house and the fine ceiling cracks that have appeared - and advised a structural survey should be done to ensure no damage had been done. He advised that as the Borough Council was the client he would go back and ask if this could be funded. He also mentioned it would be an insurance for any future works undertaken that might cause problems. However in his follow up thank you for your time email received later he backtracked on this and advised that in his opinion the vibration was not strong enough to warrant this. I am not sure how he could come to this conclusion. He did not experience the full force of the shaking and vibration inside my property. As far as I am aware the Borough Council did not monitor the vibration as they were unaware of it anyway - and the contractors were said to be surprised they had hit hard rock when driving in the piles. Why wasn’t the drilling stopped for reassessment? Was there not a geological survey conducted to show what they were drilling into? He advised that the drilling so far had been to support the road, so presumably carried out by Highways not the Borough Council - and that the main work to support the actual flats had yet to start. However he “didn’t expect there to be a problem” and it was ‘unlikely they would hit hard rock’ there. However as the boundary of the flats is likely to be just feet away from where Highways were drilling - how could he give such an opinion?
A member of the Town Council called later in the afternoon - and I showed him around - but of course most activity had stopped by then. I asked him to take his shoes off on my rear lawn which he gamely did, and he was shocked to feel the vibrations in the soil under his feet still going on. By this time I understood the drilling had turned the corner on the actual site - and they had gone into soft sand so there was little drilling noise. He was genuinely concerned and I was grateful for his visit and kindness. However he explained very clearly that the Town Council really could offer little in the way of support to householders
So - Who IS looking after the interests of myself and all my neighbourhood in this? Drilling is going to start again next week no doubt on the main works. A schedule of works has been requested from Lovells, but is yet to appear.
I have to go back to work in Cambridge for meeting on Wednesday - am I confident to leave my 120 year old house? No I am not. But that’s life, I have to go. Many residents who also work out of the house were unaware that in their absence during the week - their radiators were singing too - and their patios were shaking.
Damage to the gatepost area was discovered early on Monday 15th
Has the McCarthy and Stone Development not taught the Borough Council some lessons over drilling into hard rock? It seems it hasn’t. I remember the sadness and concern - the damaged Town Hall and the surprise by the developers that drilling into hard rock had consequences further along the line. It was a very difficult time for Hunstanton and its residents. This is going to be repeated shortly at Southend Road, and again at the Library Development.
The Southend Road building works is going to severely impact many small to medium Victorian houses in my neighbourhood. Victorian Houses come with Victorian footings - which along with not being designed for any of this - are also on average 100 years old. Most houses in this Conservation Area of Hunstanton are built of Carrstone too - which in itself should be cherished and preserved - and it is easily damaged by water ingress and unattended cracks. Cracks will lead to problems in the future. What a nonsense to even call it a Conservation area - if the area isn’t to be conserved but bashed about in this way.
After Covid we all feel battered. And poorer. We have fuel, heating, and food prices to contend with this winter. Even an unstable Carrstone garden wall should it fall over or need repair will cost hundreds of pounds to fix. Any house that is damaged by this could cost many thousands to repair. And who is going to pay? Insurance companies will vie with Developers and in this case the Borough Council as to who is responsible. And fault would need to be proved - which is almost impossible. In the end it will be the Council Tax paying householders who will foot the bill for the Borough Council’s prospective income.
There are various things that could be quickly put in place.
A detailed Geological survey must be in place of the hard rock bed in the whole residential area of Hunstanton, so any drilling or building work would be understood as to what is being drilled into.
In my view the height of the Library complex should be reviewed, so that deep piling should not be necessary. The whole planning decision to allow such work next to a property which has originally caused such problems is madness.
No contact numbers are displayed on the boards around the site
A manned Telephone Help Number should be put in place, so that if residents are concerned by the effects of the building and feel anything like as concerned as I did on Wednesday - they at least have a clear route to report facts to get some action. At present there is no contact number displayed at the site at all which is a bad oversight. The Town Council Clerk was wonderfully kind to me - but was unable to raise any interest in any Councillor calling in to experience the problems. It felt to me that word had gone out not to be involved with a trouble maker and they wouldn’t know what to say anyway. At the time I felt totally abandoned and considerably frightened.
Members of the Building Team must visit - at the time of any reported problem to assess the facts. Retrospecting visiting is really of no use. Saying that in an officers opinion there hasn’t been a problem are really of no value unless supported by facts that there actually hasn’t been a problem. Facts are needed, not opinions that actually come from interested parties who will benefit from the scheme. Where is the accountability?
If drilling cannot be avoided, monitoring should be established. Vibration should be carefully monitored and noted so that any building effects on small properties and households in the area can be established.
On a district level - has a fund been created to help householders who have problems resulting from this building work to put things right again? Has it been worked out what criteria would be needed to assess any damage caused? How are faults caused by building work to be differentiated from a long standing fault? Are we to photograph our properties - or have them inspected? What needs to be put in place. This needs to be established now - before the drilling starts again.
At present we have the Library Site waiting for redevelopment - and I understand the Borough Council have yet to inform the Town Council of its timescale. However plans will include pile driving as the proposed development will be as high as the flats development next to it - and we will again be revisiting the old problem of drilling into bedrock. It must be revisited and reduced or we will have all the same problems again. Is having a construction management plan in place adequate if it’s a site that threw up such a massive problem before?
Nearer to my house the Kit Kat Ballroom site is waiting for development. I was told that the development is in private hands - so the Councils would have no responsibilities over the site - which when I last heard was for 5 storeys? So if that is so - it seems builders can all do basically what they want. Surely the Councils Building Control should take an active interest in the planning stage - before any development goes for approval? And consideration given to surrounding properties which will be hugely near? Monitoring of piling must take place or surrounding buildings will suffer. Again has a survey been done - is it to go into rock? And was this survey done before permissions granted?
Murmurings are being made that Hunstanton residents clearly would like a new Swimming Pool and Leisure Centre. I am sure they would - but I am also sure that the District Council would eventually like to add that site to its Housing New Build by building more flats on the site. More pile driving into bedrock up the hill to Avenue Road? More flats? Happy Days.
So who is looking after Hunstanton? A genuine question that should be really concerning everyone. We are all going to be affected. Who is looking after the resident’s interests who own Victorian properties? I can honestly say that after last week I don’t think the interests of the Council Tax payers of my area are being looked after. Money is going into projects from the Borough Council that will presumably return them an income, rather than improving the infrastructure of the Town for tourists - like the long awaited plan for the prom? I have made an Official Complaint to the Borough Council on their website - to ensure my comments are at least read by someone - and the response did say an Officer would get back to me. However - it did say the process might take up to two weeks to complete? Sadly the building work will recommence in 2 days.
So who IS looking after Hunstanton and its residents interests? I’ve no idea - and if I’m honest - it doesn’t feel like anyone is. Previous hard lessons over drilling into bedrock have not been learnt if they are to repeated on the Southend Road flats without monitoring and safeguards in place - and will be repeated on the Library Site for a tall development adding additional flats for income which will risk the centre of the town again.
We all need to have an opinion on this sadly and speak up before it’s too late.