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‘Frightening and disgraceful’: Villagers on HS2 sinkholes beyond their hedge

Tuesday, 20 February 2024 13:00

By Charlie Smith - Local Democracy Reporter

Sinkholes caused by the drilling of tunnels for HS2 are ‘frightening and disgraceful’, residents in South Heath have said.

Two sinkholes recently appeared on the outskirts of the Buckinghamshire village, above an area where the Chiltern Tunnel on the HS2 route between London and Crewe is currently being drilled.

The ground collapses were found near an electricity pylon in a field owned by the Department for Transport and leased to a farmer next to Frith Hill on February 7 and 12.

There have now been four sinkholes in the general area in the last nine months that are believed to be caused by HS2.

Bridgette Crick, 66, whose house overlooks the new sinkholes, said she was worried about the ground collapses and recent vibrations, which she thinks are due to the ongoing tunnelling.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We had one appear over our hedge. You can see it out of my daughter’s bedroom window.

“Before that, both I and my daughter have experienced vibrations. We were sat on the settee one day and it was almost vibrating like a bee. It was quite a shock.

“Two weeks ago, I was laying on my bed, and it started vibrating. There have also been other occasions this year, and my daughter’s bed was vibrating.

“We never did anything about it really, but now with these sinkholes appearing, we are now very, very worried. I have got quite anxious over it.”

Bridgette and other residents have recently been given letters from HS2 and its contractor Align warning them that working hours to build the new rail line under South Heath will be extended to 24 hours a day, seven days a week during February.

The extension is to allow the dismantling of the one of HS2’s tunnel boring machines Florence as it completes its tunnelling this week.

The other machine ‘Cecilia’, which is still tunnelling, will also be taken part once excavations are complete, although dismantling both machines could take up to six months.

Bridgette’s neighbour Ruth Plummer, originally from Bury, is also worried about the sinkholes.

She said: “I don’t like the secrecy around it to start with. I don’t like the fact that HS2 are covering their bums by saying that there is no public access across the field, when everyone uses the field to walk their dogs in.

“It’s frightening because no one tells you what’s going on and you’re just met with continued passive aggressiveness.”

Retiree Tony O’Connor, who lives round the corner from the two women, is also angry at HS2, including over the recent sinkholes.

He said: “It is disgraceful what they have done. Here’s an area of outstanding natural beauty and they just ride roughshod straight through.”

A spokesperson for HS2 Ltd said: “We have always recognised that the geology of this part of the route is particularly challenging – with poorer quality, less stable, chalk susceptible to ground movement in the final approach to the North Portal.

“We are working closely with the landowner and tenant, temporary fencing has been installed, and extra monitoring put in place.

“Throughout the excavation of the Chiltern tunnels we have been engaging with all key stakeholders including Buckinghamshire Council, Affinity Water and the Environment Agency, and we will keep them updated as we go forward. Safety remains our top priority.”

Buckinghamshire Council said it had held a meeting with HS2 Limited and its contractor following the appearance of two sinkholes in field near Frith Hill.

The council leader Martin Tett said: “Although this land is not publicly accessible, we have sought reassurance from HS2 Limited that the area is now safe, and that any damage done will be quickly repaired and by them, not the Council.

“We have asked for greater transparency and accountability from HS2 Limited and they have told us that they will be commissioning an independent study of the whole of the area being tunnelled from the South Portal to the North Portal.

“This will give us all a clearer idea of whether to expect further sinkholes along the line both during tunnelling and afterwards and how this will be managed, now and in the future.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We are investigating sinkholes on private land at Frith Hill in Buckinghamshire to understand whether they have resulted in any pollution to the local environment.

“Our specialist officers work closely with HS2 Ltd and contractors to ensure all relevant legislation is followed. We also continue to talk to local people, the water industry and local authorities to ensure the environment is protected throughout the HS2 project.

“Anyone with new concerns about this incident can call our 24-hour incident hotline: 0800 807060.”
 

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