COUNTY NEWS: Residents face ongoing threat of homes falling into river

Months after the collapse of a river wall, the man whose home is at risk of being overtaken by flood water has spoken about the ongoing stress and anxiety the situation is causing him.

Tuesday, 20th September 2016, 1:07 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 1:27 am
Johnny Boylan and Belinda Pickering outside their house in River Road

The wall collapsed at the back of Johnny Boylan’s property in River Road, Arundel, in January but it has still not been replaced due to confusion over who owns the wall.

Mr Boylan, 61, is concerned his property, and four other historic cottages in River Road, are now in danger of falling into the river.

Since 2004, the Environment Agency has carried out annual surveys on the wall along the river and provided a rating for the wall before filing these surveys.

The extent of the damage to Johnny Boylan and Belinda Pickering's flood wall SUS-160914-172955001

They were never presented to the residents until Mr Boylan asked to see them after his wall had collapsed.

He added: “The most recent survey I saw was from September and they gave the wall a rating of three out of five which basically means it was poor. They had also taken a photo of the wall that had a great big crack along it. There is no way anyone could think that wall was safe but they never told us.

“The most frustrating thing is that nothing was told to us about the wall when we bought the house.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “The last planned survey was carried out on September 24, 2015, and did not highlight any major issues with the section of the wall which has now failed.

The extent of the damage to Johnny Boylan and Belinda Pickering's flood wall SUS-160914-173033001

“We only alert landowners if the integrity of the structure is considered to be at risk of failure.

“We will continue to monitor river levels and tides and will act as an emergency responder should properties be at risk of flooding in the future. The flood wall at River Road in Arundel is a privately owned structure, and maintenance is the responsibility of the asset owner.”

Mr Boylan bought the property with his partner Belinda Pickering, 54, in February, 2015, and had refurbished and renovated it before the wall collapsed.

The couple were informed of a crack on the internal parapet wall in 2015 which they had repaired.

The extent of the damage to Johnny Boylan and Belinda Pickering's flood wall SUS-160914-173058001

They received a grant of £5,000 from Arun District Council in partnership with the department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA) to complete this work.

Nigel Lynn, chief executive of Arun District Council, confirmed: “A grant of £5,000 from DEFRA was provided in 2015 to residents who undertook repairs to their privately owned section of the wall.”

The work was completed and then, in December last year, a few blocks of the lower part of the wall fell into the river.

Mr Boylan contacted the Environment Agency and they made a repair using sub contractors and filled the hole with sandbags and quick drying cement just before Christmas.

The extent of the damage to Johnny Boylan and Belinda Pickering's flood wall SUS-160914-173008001

At the time, residents were asked to check their deeds to verify ownership of the river wall but the wall did not appear on the title deeds.

After consultation with a barrister, Mr Boylan was advised that, if he went to court, he would own the wall by adverse possession.

James Stewart, mayor of Arundel, held meetings with the residents in determining ownership of the wall and responsibility for repair.

Mayor James Stewart said: “This is a terrible situation for the residents to find themselves in, some have lived there for a long time, others just a year or so.

“I and my fellow town councillors, and I am sure, most Arundel residents sympathise with their predicament.”

Estimates for costs for repairs to the wall have ranged between £200,000 and £500,000.

Mr Boylan and his neighbours, many of whom are retired, cannot afford to pay this leaving their houses valueless.

And to make matters worse, Mr Boylan said he is now facing the possibility of the back of his property getting pulled into the river as the tides begin to rise.

He said: “The tide is expected to rise during October and totally flood the downstairs of our property.

“As it is, Belinda and I have been put up in a place in Crossbush by our insurance company. However, that is a short-term fix until around January and I guess then the money will run out and we will have to come back here.

“It has caused a lot of stress in our relationship. It is the first property we have bought together and we can no longer live in it. I stay here two nights a week on a mattress upstairs.”

Their insurance company has also refused to insure Mr Boylan’s wall and advised that it is an ‘uninsured peril’ due to decades of ‘neglect’ to the lower part of the historic wall.

Mr Boylan, however, disagrees: “We have not neglected it and it does not seem to be our fault for the wear and tear.

“The Environment Agency seem to have passed ownership of the wall to us and now the damage and lack of care that the wall has received is suddenly our fault.”

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