Blackshots hole is a “living nightmare” says family

A FAMILY who were forced out of their Thurrock home after a huge hole opened up outside their front door have spoken of the huge disruption to their lives.

Terry Coldham, 51, his wife Leah, 45, and three children Luke, 23, Natasha, 16, and Maddison, 15, fled their extended bungalow in Blackshots Lane, Grays, in early December and after a spell switching from local hotel to local hotel are currently being housed on a country farm outside Bulphan with their six dogs.

The whole saga has been described as a “nightmare” by Home Office worker Terry, who moved his family to Thurrock from Hackney several years ago.

Their 1935-built home, which they have renovated and extended, was to be Terry and Leah’s financial security – now they fear it could become an unsaleable millstone round their necks.

Understandably, the family are looking for someone to blame, though the scenario they are in could well be judged an ‘act of God.’

For the moment, Mr Coldham is looking closer to home for someone to point the finger at and first in the firing line is Thurrock Council.

He believes they may be responsible for a “lack of communication, confusion and misinformation” though the authority has responded by saying it has done all it can to help the family and has reacted to the crisis as best it is able.

And the Council has been backed up by ward councillor Joy Redsell who has chaired a meeting of local residents to help allay fears and outline plans for a remedial process that could last up to eight weeks.

The drama began at the beginning of December when Mrs Coldham discovered a small hole in the block paving as she returned from taking Maddison to William Edwards School.

“We weren’t too worried at first, we thought it was a small problem caused by the wet weather but over the next two to three days the hole started to get bigger,” said Terry.

“We alerted our insurance company and Thurrock Council who came and had a look but by the end of the week it was several feet wide and still growing.

“The insurance company seemed more concerned than the Council, so much so that they called in a specialist team from Holland. They drove all the way over here and were about to start investigating the hole when they were stopped.

“A Council officer called Neil Anderson put a kybosh on what they wanted to do and said they were in charge as the hole had spread into the pavement and edge of the road by then.

“They wouldn’t let the insurance company do any work and by then the hole was so big we were advised to move out. We have six dogs and three children so it wasn’t easy, we were moved from hotel to hotel and the dogs were initially in kennels but that was costing the insurance company so much it was cheaper for them to find us a home to rent.”

Leah explains: “That wasn’t easy. The Council said they couldn’t help and in the end it was left for me to find a place which was big enough for us and had space for the dogs. We moved out to Blankets Farm just before Christmas and have been here since.

“It’s a nice place but not home and it is costing us a small fortune in getting the kids backwards and forward. They are isolated and in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got to go miles to get a pint of milk. Christmas was very difficult and now we just want to go home.”

However, leaving the £3,200 a month rented accommodation doesn’t seem likely to happen for some time.

Last week Thurrock Council finally closed Blackshots Lane to begin investigative work that could take up to eight weeks. No-one can give a timescale as to when the work will be completed- nor the cost for the Council to make the area safe.

At the meeting with neighbours, to which the Coldhams were not invited, residents were given details of ground safety works to old chalk diggings undertaken by Reading Council to make a residential area safe. That cost the local authority £3.3m.

The fact that the Coldhams were not invited to the meeting rankles with the family, and they believe the Council are deliberately avoiding them.

“Why can’t they keep talking to us about what is going on? We have hardly any contact at all and they appear to be trying to keep us and our insurers out of the loop. It’s almost as if there is a conspiracy theory. What are they trying to hide?”

However, Thurrock Council says they are seeking to work with residents. A spokesperson said: “Thurrock Council has been quite open with residents involved. The process is one of investigation, stabilisation and remediation. Until thorough investigations are undertaken, suggestions as to the scope of the void are speculative.

“If Mr Coldham has specific concerns he feels are the Council’s responsibility the Council is more than happy to discuss these with him. There is no benefit to be gained by withholding the facts.

“The adjacent residents were assured at the meeting that they would be made aware of the facts just as soon as these have been established.”

The spokesperson also denied a lack of communication and explained the processes they have gone through.

He said: “When Thurrock Council became aware of the void, the forecourt of the property and the footpath were eroding, unstable and open to the public. Thurrock Council took action to securely fence the void to ensure the safety of the public.

Temporary traffic signals were set up to direct traffic around the fenced site.

“A firm of contractors did arrive on site unannounced and opened the fencing with the intention of undertaking work. However, following discussions between the Council and the consultants project managing for the Insurance company, the contractors left site, as it was agreed the conditions had changed, making the proposed process unsuitable.

“The works at 7 Blackshots Lane are being undertaken on behalf of the owner’s insurance company not Thurrock Council. The Council is facilitating this and asked that method statements and risk assessments for the works were agreed before work started. The Council has no influence on any decision to approve the financing of the works.

“A delay was recently encountered while awaiting some information vital prior to undertaking the work.

“Thurrock Council arranged a meeting to discuss the proposed works with the adjacent residents specifically affected by the road closure preventing access to their properties. Currently, and until the works are completed the Coldham family will not be in residence and therefore are not affected.

“The Coldham family was re-housed by their insurance company before Christmas. Thurrock Council is sympathetic to the plight of the family, but has no direct involvement with them or responsibility. However, the Council has liaised with the insurance company and consultants throughout and will continue to do so.”

Cllr Joy Redsell added: “The main purpose of the meeting I called was to provide the adjacent residents with a greater understanding of the scope of proposed works, the need to close the road and to discuss – and attempt to secure – alternative parking. I will be monitoring the situation on behalf of residents.”

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