Burnley pensioners’ garden collapses into underground river: £20,000 repair bill

Damage to the garden on Todmorden Road where the culvert has collapsed.'Photo Ben Parsons

Damage to the garden on Todmorden Road where the culvert has collapsed.'Photo Ben Parsons

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A DISTRAUGHT pensioner couple from Burnley have been left fearing for their home after an underground river swallowed up part of their garden leaving a gigantic hole.

Now the borough council has ordered Mr Melvyn Duckworth (71) and his partner of 24 years, Mrs Sheila Tomlinson (64), to fix the problem, triggered by a collapsed culvert, within 21 days or face costly legal action.

Melvin Duckworth and Sheila Tomlinson at their home in Todmorden Road where a culvert has collapsed leaving a large, dangerous hole in their garden.'Photo Ben Parsons

Melvin Duckworth and Sheila Tomlinson at their home in Todmorden Road where a culvert has collapsed leaving a large, dangerous hole in their garden.'Photo Ben Parsons

The couple, of Todmorden Road, said the stress is causing them sleepless nights, making them ill and their granddaughter has even written to Prime Minister David Cameron in a desperate plea for help.

The couple, who have 11 grandchildren, made the shocking discovery three weeks ago and said the hole has already grown in size, made worse by heavy rain.

Mrs Tomlinson, who used to work at Prestige, said: “I just started screaming. It was bottomless. There was no end to it. Only two days before I was sat on the patio with my daughter and grandchild. If it had happened then we would’ve been dead.”

Torrential rain since the hole appeared has had a landslide effect sending more of the garden tumbling into the void and it is creeping closer to the house.

Melvin Duckworth and Sheila Tomlinson at their home in Todmorden Road where a culvert has collapsed leaving a large, dangerous hole in their garden.'Photo Ben Parsons

Melvin Duckworth and Sheila Tomlinson at their home in Todmorden Road where a culvert has collapsed leaving a large, dangerous hole in their garden.'Photo Ben Parsons

Amazingly the couple said the watercourse did not show up on searches and deeds for the property, which they bought after retiring 11 years ago.

Initially they thought the hole was caused by a mine shaft but after council experts visited the house the couple were told it was an underground river and, as owners of the house, they were legally required to repair the damaged culvert.

They estimate the work will cost anything up to £20,000, money they do not have.

For the moment, the foundations of the house are secure but the couple fear the autumn weather could make the situation worse.

Mr Duckworth, who worked at Michelin for 25 years, said he is anxious to get the culvert repaired before any more of his garden disappears. The couple have also been in touch with Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle to try and resolve the issue.

Mr Duckworth’s daughter Mrs Sharon Ruth, of Barden Lane, said: “My dad has worked all his life. He brought us four children up on his own and the way he is being treated is absolutely disgusting. It’s heartbreaking. It’s making them ill.”

Mrs Tomlinson, who is a keen gardener, added: “We only need one more downpour, the hole will come further up the garden and we’ll have to move out. Everything will disappear.”

Mr Birtwistle said he is trying to establish who is responsible for the river in a bid to resolve the issue.

“We are trying to find out who is responsible for fixing the hole. It’s certainly not the residents’ reponsibility to fix it. It’s not their culvert. Hopefully we can get this resolved for the residents .”

A Burnley Borough Council spokesman said: “We fully understand this is an upsetting experience for the householder. The hole has appeared due to a collapsed culvert on a watercourse which flows through the garden.

“Watercourses, even where they are in culverts, are the responsibility of those whose land through which they flow. Unfortunately this means the householder is liable for the repair to the culvert in the garden. It is also unfortunate that the owner was not aware of the culvert’s existence but such liabilities are not always mentioned on property surveyors’ reports.

“At this stage it would be inappropriate to comment any further on how this incident is to be resolved.”