Residents facing big bill for collapsed river wall

VILLAGE residents face the prospect of a hefty legal bill to decide who should bear the £100,000 cost of repairing a riverside wall.

The wall, more than 10ft high and two feet wide, ran next to the River Ribble. It collapsed in July 2009 but residents of Sandholme Close in Giggleswick are still trying to find out who will be responsible for

the repair bill, estimated at 100,000.

The residents, who clubbed together to pay for a solicitor, say that due to a discrepancy in land conveyancing documentation, it is not clear who owns the land on which it was built.

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Tom-Foster-Carter, 30, whose mother has a holiday home in Sandholme Close, said: "When we started all this it seemed fairly

straightforward. The lawyers said whoever owns the land which the wall sits on has to repair the wall.

"We looked into it and found we did not own the land but legally it's not clear who owns the land. There will have to be a court case to decide it but we don't have the money to go to court."

Mr Foster-Carter, who is based in London, added: "Thankfully it is not the residents who own it but that will not get it fixed. It has just been an ongoing nightmare. The painful part is just not seeing any obvious conclusion."

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Residents believe the wall helps to protect their properties from the river as well as supporting the bank. Since its collapse last year the earth has begun to erode.

Erika Lynn, 46, whose home is about a yard from the damage, said: "It is our boundary wall which is keeping it all together. If that goes and the river rises, we will be flooded.

"We have contacted everybody; North Yorkshire County Council, Craven District Council and the parish council. They have given us some sympathy but they have not given us a solution.

"We just want the wall to be built and for someone to help us financially now. We have spent as much as we can. We don't know how much damage the winter we have had has done. Every week I can see there's been further damage and my heart falls. Craven District Council have provided sandbags but they are being washed away as quickly as they can be put in. This needs action now while the water levels are low over summer."

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Approaches to the authorities have so far failed to provide a solution for the residents.

Craven District Council said it was contacted by last July after the boundary wall to one property and the adjacent footpath slipped into the River Ribble.

A council spokesman said: "The wall predates the properties in Sandholme Close which were constructed in the early 1980s, before which, the land appears to have always been a field. This field has changed hands a number of times since the 1920s.

"The council does not own the wall nor do we have responsibility for it. However to assist residents, between July and November 2009, Craven District Council have placed a total of 950 sandbags in the river to protect the bank from further erosion.

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"Rivers and their banks are normally owned by adjacent land owners, this is termed riparian ownership. However in this case the residents at Sandholme Close maintain that they do not own the river bank andhave employed a solicitor to try to identify the owner."

The council said that it has worked with the Environment Agency to try to identify the owner of the wall.

"However, we have now gone as far as we reasonably can and are unable to commit additional resources for further investigation into an issue which lies beyond our remit," it added.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said the wall was a retaining wall, and not a flood defence. "It is the responsibility of the riparian landowner to carry out the repairs."

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North Yorkshire County Council also said the structure is not its responsibility.

Heart of the problem

Mr Foster-Carter said: "The reason for all this is because of a conveyancing discrepancy. When the land has been sold, which it has been five times since 1927, you have a picture which shows the land and a written description. The problem in this case is that the picture shows a strip which has been excluded in the sale, just a strip two metres wide running down the edge of the river.

"But the written description claims there is no exclusion so each time the land has been sold that strip would go with it."