Disabled woman feels trapped in her own home

time:2023-06-02 17:37:34source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation) author:Press center6

A woman with a mobility impairment has said she feels isolated and trapped in her home.

Barbara Galbraith struggles to walk up the steps to her apartment in Hunter's Hill in Downpatrick, County Down.

But she cannot sell the property to move somewhere more accessible until poor ground conditions and sewerage issues are fixed.

Some residents are locked in a dispute with government bodies over who should make estimated repairs of £500,000.

The roads and sewers in Hunter's Mill have never been adopted - which means they are not maintained by the government.

Before this happens, the Department for Infrastructure and NI Water have to be satisfied that they meet a certain standard.

Residents have reported cracks in the walls and sewage problems.

Financial redress has not been sought from the developer, as the company went financially insolvent after the houses were built in 2000.

It could be 2030 before the government will consider carrying out any repair work to allow time for "the settlement of the land".

Homes surrounded by unadopted roads and sewers are difficult to sell.

Solicitors will often advise a client not to proceed with a purchase without this in place and banks can be reluctant to mortgage the house.

Home developers are required to put down a deposit, known as a bond.

This is meant to protect the interests of buyers by providing a source of funding to allow the government to complete the roads and sewers to an adoptable standard when the developer has failed to do so.

Hunter's Mill was built in 2000 and was subject to a bond valued at £42,000, but repair works are currently estimated at around £500,000.

The site was not adopted because of what the DfI said was "the extremely unsatisfactory condition of the sewers resulting from the poor ground conditions that the developer chose to build on".

DfI said that while it has a legal responsibility to seek completion of the roads and sewers, if a developer ceases trading it does not have to repair outstanding works.

In relation to Hunter's Mill, DfI said it still wanted to deliver "a permanent long-term solution, which demonstrates value for money".

A spokesperson added: "The value of the joint bond is insufficient to cover the cost of repairs.

"Ground conditions at Hunter's Mill remain the issue and the only feasible option, given the continuing settlement at the site, is to carry out the repairs once ground conditions have settled, which may not be until 2030."

Barbara Galbraith has a degenerative back condition that has deteriorated since she bought her first-floor apartment in Hunter's Mill a number of years ago.

"I struggle with the steps up to my apartment, which means I feel isolated and trapped in my own home," she said.

She decided to sell up - but that sale fell through and it was then she realised the full extent of the development's problems.

She said: "My solicitor phoned at the last minute and said the house couldn't be sold because the roads and sewers weren't adopted.

"I couldn't believe it, I bought this house in good faith, without knowing any of this."

She added: "Every time I talk about it, I just want to cry. "

Darren Kearney started to notice issues with the path sinking around his house in Hunter's Mill and cracks in the walls soon after moving in.

He said: "Even still today, there's a very strong smell of sewage and the ground actually bubbles when there's heavy rain.

"We're now in a position where we have a property that is worthless, because we can't mortgage or sell it.

"The government needs to step in and either buy us out of our properties and allow us to move on or fix the situation."

A spokesperson for NI Water added: "Our budget is simply not enough to make repairs to such significant defects left by the poor design and workmanship of the developer and the continuing issue of poor ground conditions that the developer chose to construct the site on. "

Polly Brothers ltd was the developer behind Hunter's Mill.

In a statement, former director, Brian Polly, said: "The development at Hunter's Mill was completed in accordance with all statutory approvals and was inspected both during construction and at completion by building control officers.

"The level of the required bonds is fixed entirely by the department and not by the developer. Unfortunately the directors of Polly Bros. Limited were unable to have any further involvement in this development following the appointment of administrators in October 2009."

Newry Mourne and Down Council said it no longer held details on the Hunter's Mill planning decision "due to the lapse of time" since the application was made in 1998.

There are still hundreds of road and sewers across Northern Ireland that have remained unadopted for several years.

Internal documents obtained by BBC News NI also show the scale of the problem as government officials struggle with how to resolve issues surrounding Hunter's Mill.

In an email from an NI Water employee to DfI on 26 May 2017 about Hunter's Mill, the official stated: "We are at the point where we need to decide how much money the department wants to sink into this.

"Before we go any further the question is simple: Does the department have in excess of £500,000 to spend fixing this site bearing in mind we may need to include road repairs in future?"

In a statement to BBC News NI, DfI said it would "continue to liaise with the residents".

NI Water has agreed to undertake a further survey to determine the current condition of the sewer network.

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